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Siracusa has an area of 1,309 mi² (2,109 km²) and a total population of 396,167 (2001). Siracusa has 18% of the Sicilian population and 18.2% of Sicily’s total area. It is bordered on the north and north-west by the Province of Catania and on the west by the Province of Ragusa.
The area of what is today Siracusa was settled in ancient times, as showed by the findings in the villages of Stentinello, Ognina, Plemmirio, Matrensa, Cozzo Pantano and Thapsos,all of whom lready had links to Mycenaean Greece.
Siracusa was founded in 734 or 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth, led by the oecist Archias, who called it Sirako, referring to a nearby swamp. The nucleus of the ancient city was the small island of Ortygia. The settlers found the land to be fertile and the native tribes to be reasonably well-disposed to their presence. The city grew and prospered, and for some time stood as the most powerful Greek city anywhere in the Mediterranean. Colonies were founded at Akrai (664 BC), Kasmenai (643 BC) and Kamarina (598 BC). The descendants of the first colonist, named Gamoroi, held power until they were expelled by the Killichiroi, the lower class of the city. The former, however, returned to power in 485 BC, thanks to the help of Gelo, ruler of Gela. Gelo himself became the despot of the city, and moved numerous inhabitants of Gela, Kamarina and Megera to Siracusa, building the new quarters of Tyche and Neapolis outside the walls. His program of new constructions included a new theater, designed by Damocopos, which gave the city a flourishing cultural life: this in turn attracted personalities such as Aeschylus, Ario of Metimma, Eumelos of Corinth and Sappho, who had been exiled here from Mytilene. The increased power of Siracusa made unavoidable the clash against the Carthaginians, who ruled over the Western part of Sicily. In the Battle of Himera, Gelo, who had allied with Theron of Agrigento, decisively defeated the African force led by Hamilcar. A temple, entitled to Athena (on the site of the today’s Cathedral), was erected in the city to commemorate this battle.
Gelo was succedeed by his brother Hiero, who fought against the Etruscans at Cumae in 474 BC. His rule was eulogized by poets like Simonides of Ceos, Bacchylides and Pindar, who visited his court. A democratic regime was introduced by Thrasybulos (467 BC). The city continued to expand into Sicily, fighting against the rebellious Siculi, and on the Tyrrhenian Sea, making expeditions to Corsica and Elba. In the late 5th century BC, Siracusa found itself at war with Athens. The Syracusans enlisted the aid of a general from Sparta, Athens’ foe in the war, to defeat the Athenians, destroy their ships, and leave them to starve on the island (see Sicilian Expedition). In 401 BC, Siracusa contributed a force of 3000 hoplites and a general to Cyrus the Younger’s Army of the Ten Thousand.
Not long after, in the early 4th century BC, the tyrant Dionysius the Elder was again at war against Carthage and, although losing Gela and Camarina, kept that power from capturing the whole of Sicily. After the end of the conflict Dionysius built a massive fortress on the island of Otrigia, as well as another 13 miles (22 km) long wall that encircled the whole of Siracusa. After another period of expansion, which saw the destruction of Naxos, Catania and Lentini, the city entered a new war against Carthage (397 BC). After various changes of fortune, the Africans managed to besiege Siracusa itself, but were eventually pushed back by a pestilence. A treaty in 392 BC allowed Siracusa to further enlarge its possessions, founding the cities of Adrano, Ancona, Adria, Tindari and Tauromenos, and conquering Reggio Calabria on the continent. Apart his battle deeds, Dionysius was famous as a patron of art, and Plato himself visited Siracusa several times.
His successor was Dionysius the Younger, who was eventually expelled by Dion in 356 BC. However, the latter’s despotic rule led in turn to his expulsion, and Dionysius reclaimed his throne in 347 BC. A democratic government was installed by Timoleon in 345 BC. The long series of inner struggles had weakened Siracusa’s power in the island, and Timoleon tried to remedy this situation by defeating the Carthaginians in 399 BC near the Krimisos river. The struggle among the city’s parties, however, restarted after his death and ended with the rise of another tyrant, Agathocles, who seized the power in 317 BC. He resumed the war against Carthage, with alternate fortunes. He managed to score a moral success, bringing the war to the Carthaginians’ native African soil and inflicting heavy losses to the enemy. The war ended with another treaty of peace which did not prevent the Carthaginians from interfering in the politics of Siracusa after the death of the tyrant Agathocles (289 BC). The citizens therefore called Pyrrhus of Epirus for help. After a brief period under the rule of Epirus, Hiero II seized power in 275 BC.
Hiero inaugurated a period of fifty years of peace and prosperity, in which Syracause became one of the most renowned capitals of Antiquity. He issued the so-called Lex Hieronica, which was later adopted by the Romans for their administration of Sicily; he also had the theater enlarged and a new immense altar, the “Hiero’s Ara”, built. Under his rule lived the most famous Syracusan , the natural philosopher Archimedes. Among his many inventions were various military engines, including the claw of Archimedes which was later used to resist a Roman siege. Literature figures included Theocritus.
Hiero’s successor, the young Hieronymus (ruled from 215 BC), broke the peace with the Romans, who, led by consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, besieged the city in 214 BC. The city held out for three years, but fell in 212 BC. It is believed to have fallen due to a peace party opening a small door in the wall to negotiate peace, but instead, the Romans charged through the door and took the city, killing Archimedes in the process.
The City Under the Romans and in the Middle Ages
Though in slow decline over the years, Siracusa maintained the status of capital of the Roman government of Sicily and seat of the praetor. It remained an important port for the trades between the Eastern and Western parts of the Empire. Christianity spread in the city through the efforts of St. Paul and San Marziano, the first bishop of the city, who made it one of the main centers of proselytism in the West. It was during this time that the persecutions’ massive catacombs were carved, their size being only second only to Rome’s.
After a period of Vandal rule, in 535 AD, Siracusa and the island was recovered by Belisarius for the Byzantine Empire. From 663 to 668, Siracusa was the seat of emperor Constans II, as well as metropolis of the whole Sicilian Church.
Another siege in AD 878, which ended with the fierce conquering of the city, inaugurated two centuries of Muslim rule. Siracusa lost its capital status in favor to Palermo. The Cathedral was turned into a mosque and the quarter on the Ortygia island was gradually rebuilt according to Islamic styles. The city, however, maintained important trade relationships, and housed a relatively flourishing cultural and artistical life: several Arab poets, including Ibn Hamdis, the most important Sicilan poet of the 12th century, lived here.
In 1038 the Byzantine general George Maniaces reconquered the city, sending the relics of St. Lucy to Constantinople. The eponymous castle on the cape of Ortygia bears his name, although it was built under the Hohenstaufen rule. The Normans entered Siracusa, one of the last Saracen strongpoints, in 1085 after a summer-long siege by Roger I of Sicily and his son Jordan, who was given the city as count. New quarters were built and the cathedral was restored, as well as other churches.
In 1194, Henry VI of Swabia occupied Siracusa. After a short period of Genoese rule (1205-1220), which favored a rise of trades, Siracusa was reconquered back by emperor Frederick II. He began the construction of the Castello Maniace, the Bishops’ Palace and the Bellomo Palace. Frederick’s death brought a period of unrest and feudal anarchy. In the struggle between the Anjou and Aragonese monarchies, Siracusa sided with the Aragonese and defeated the Anjou in 1298, receiving from the Spanish sovereigns great privileges in reward from the Spanish sovererigns. The preeminence of baronal families is also showed by the construction of the palaces of Abela, Chiaramonte, Nava, Montalto.
The city in the following centuries was struck by two damaging earthquakes in 1542 and 1693, and, in 1729, by a plague. The 17th century destruction forever changed the appearance of Siracusa, as well as the entire Val di Noto. These cities were rebuilt along the typical lines of Sicilian Baroque, which is still considered one of the most typical expressions of art of Southern Italy. The spread of cholera in 1837 led to a revolt against the Bourbon government. Therepercussion was the move of the province capital seat to Noto. But unrest had not been totally stopped, as the Syracusans took part to the 1848 revolution.
After the unification of Italy of 1865, Siracusa regained its status of provincial capital. In 1870, the walls were demolished and a bridge connecting the mainland to Ortygia island was built. In the following year, a railway link was constructed.
Heavy destruction was caused by the Allied and German bombings in 1943. After the end of World War II the northern quarters of Siracusa experienced a heavy and often chaotic expansion, favored by the quick process of industrialization.
Siracusa today has about 125,000 inhabitants and numerous attractions for visitors interested in historical sites, such as the Ear of Dionysius. A process of recovering and restoring the historical center has been ongoing since the 1990s. Nearby places include Catania, Noto, Modica and Ragusa.
How to get there
Regular buses run to and from Catania, Noto, Modica, Ragusa and Gela as well as more local destinations.
The railway station is a 10 minute walk from the center of the old town. About half of the intercity trains from mainland Italy (Rome and Naples) continue on from Messina and Catania to Siracusa. Less frequent local trains continue to Noto, Modica, Ragusa and Gela.
Sights & Activities
- The Temple of Apollo, converted to a church in Byzantine times and to a mosque under Arab rule.
- The Fount of Arethusa, in the Ortygia island. According to a legend, the nymph Arethusa, hunted by Alpheus, took shelter here. This locale recently served as a checkpoint for the 9th season of CBS’s The Amazing Race.
- The Theater, whose cavea is one of the largest ever built by the ancient Greeks has 67 rows, divided into 9 sections with 8 aisles. Only traces of the scene and the orchestra remain. The edifice (still used today) was modified by the Romans, who adapted it to their different style of spectacles, including circus games. Near the theater are the latomìe (stone quarries) also used as prisons in ancient times.
- The most famous latomìa is the Orecchio di Dionisio (“Ear of Dionysius”).
- The Roman amphitheater of Roman Imperial age was partly carved out from the rock. In the center of the area is a rectangular space which was used for the scenic machinery.
- The so-called Tomb of Archimede, in the Grotticelli Nechropolis, is decorated with two Doric columns. It was once a Roman tomb.
- The Temple of Olympian Zeus, about 1.863 miles (3 km) outside the city, was built around 6th century BC.
- The Cathedral was built by Bishop Zosimo in the 7th century over the great Temple of Athens (5th century BC), on the Ortygia island. This was a Doric edifice with 6 columns on the short sides and 14 on the long ones: these can still be seen incorporated in the walls of the current church. The base of the Greek edifice had three steps. The interior of the church has a nave and two aisles. The roof of the nave is from Norman times, as well as the mosaics in the apses. The façade was rebuilt by Andrea Palma in 1725-1753, with a double order of Corinthian columns and statues by Ignazio Marabitti. The most interesting art pieces of the interior are a fountain with marble basin (12th-13th century), a silver statue of St. Lucy by Pietro Rizzo (1599), a ciborium by Luigi Vanvitelli, and a statue of the Madonna della Neve (“Madonna of the Snow”, 1512) by Antonello Gagini.
- Basilica of Santa Lucia extra Moenia, a Byzantine church built, according to tradition, in the same place of the martyrdom of the saint in 303 AD. The current appearance is from the 15th-16th centuries. The most ancient parts preserved include the portal, the three half-circular apses and the first two orders of the belfry. Under the church lie the Catacombs of St. Lucy.
- Church of San Paolo (18th century)
- Church of San Cristoforo (14th century, rebuilt in the 18th century)
- Church of Santa Lucìa alla Badìa, a Baroque edifice built after the 1693 earthquake.
- Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (13th century)
- Church of the Spirito Santo (18th century)
- Church of the Jesuite College, a majestic Baroque building.
- Church of St. Benedict (16th century, restored after 1693), houses a painting of the Death of Saint Benedict by the Caravaggisti Mario Minniti.
- Chiesa della Concezione (14th century, rebuilt in the 18th century) features the annexed Benedictine convent.
- Church of San Francesco all’Immacolata has a convex façade intermingled by columns and pilaster strips. It housed an ancient celebration, the Svelata (“Revelation”), in which an image of the Madonna was unveiled at dawn on November 29.
- Basilica of St. John the Evangelist was built by the Normans and destroyed in 1693. Only partially restored, it was erected over an ancient crypt of the martyr San Marciano, later destroyed by the Arabs. The main altar is Byzantine. It includes the Catacombs of San Giovanni, featuring a maze of tunnels and passages with thousands of tombs and several frescoes.
Other buildings and sites
- The Castello Maniace, constructed between 1232 and 1240, is an example of the military architecture of Frederick II’s reign. It is a square structure with circular towers at each of the four corners. The most striking feature is the pointed portal, decorated with polychrome marbles.
- The important Archaeological Museum, with collections including findings from the mid-Bronze Age to 5th century BC.
- Palazzo Lanza Buccheri (16th century)
- Palazzo Mergulese-Montalto (14th century) conserves the old façade from the 14th century, with a pointed portal.
- The Archbishop’s Palace (17th century, modified in the following century) houses the Alagonian Library, founded in the late 18th century.
- The Palazzo Vermexio, the current Town Hall, which includes fragments of an Ionic temple of the 5th century BC.
- Palazzo Francica Nava still has parts of the original 16th century building intact.
- Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco, originally built in the Middle Ages but extensively modified between 1779 and 1788 has a pleasant internal court.
- Palazzo Migliaccio (15th century) features notable lava inlay decorations.
- The Senate Palacehouses an 18th century coach in its court .
- The Castle of Euryalos, built about six miles (nine kilometers) outside the city by Dionysius the Elder, was one of the most powerful fortresses of ancient times. It had three moats with a series of underground galleries, allowing the defenders to remove the materials the attackers could use to kill them.
Osteria da Mariano
Traditional Sicilian cuisine in the heart of Ortigia, the ancient part of Siracusa. Osteria da Mariano serves specialties like cavatelli, fresh ricotta, pork, ravioli and “torrone”.
Address: vicolo Zuccolà, 9 – 96100 Siracusa
Tel.: (0931) 67 444
Trattoria del Carmine
Trattoria del Carmine is located in Noto, about twenty miles away from Siracusa. It serves delicious Sicilian food such as ricotta ravioli served in a pork sauce, homemade pasta, rabbit in the “stimpirata” style and fish of the day.
Address: Via Ducezio, 1 – 96017 Noto (SR)
Tel.: (0931) 83 87 05
Locanda del Borgo is located inside of a picturesque feudal castle. Renowned chef Giovanni Alpha cooks with local ingredients such as: fava beans from Cottola di Modica, carob flavored mulled wine, Grano Russello floor, wild asparaguses, Ragusano DOP cheese, pistachio from Bronte, and pork from Nebrodi Mountains.
Address: Via Controscieri, 11
96019, Rosolini (SR)
Tel.: (0931) 85 05 14
Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit Siracusa. July and August are the warmest months with temperature up to 104° F. For more information, visit the Weather page.
The Istituto Italiano del Dramma Antico performs plays in the Greek Theater every other year.
Note: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Metasyntactic variable” and Creative Commons by Commons Deed. This information was accurate when it was posted, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses/establishments in question before planning your trip.