Sicily: 7 things you can’t miss if you visit Syracuse
Table of Contents
The sense of continuity and the art of recycling
A few years ago, I experienced my first helicopter ride flying over the beautiful coast that stretches from Taormina to Syracuse, in Sicily !
No, not because I woke up one morning being an ultra billionaire, just like Britney Spears in 1998 after releasing “Hit Me, Baby, One More Time”
I swear, it was for work! But Luca got so jealous! 😀
In our 10 years together, we’ve had many opportunities to visit Syracuse.
Every time, my first thought is: What an incredible continuity!
Here in Syracuse, the unbreakable link between the past and the present that is visible in every corner, every monument and every story makes me feel so happy that my desire to come back is always vivid!
Let's begin with the 7 things you can't miss in Syracuse
The best way to enjoy Syracuse is to start from the Archeological Park which includes the Roman Amphitheater, the Greek Theater, the Ear of Dionysus.
The Archeological Park
1. The Greek Theater dates back to the 5th century B.C. and originally sat 15.000 people.
What we can see today is only the lower part, completely carved out from the rock. The rest was dismantled during the Spanish occupation in the 16th century.
The space was used both for plays and public meetings. It is impressive how Sicilians are still using it today in summertime for performances of classical plays and tragedies which attract people from all over Italy!
2. One of the most remarkable things to see in the Archeological Park is a man-made cavern called the Ear of Dionysus.
The name was given by the famous painter Caravaggio, for its pointed shape and the acoustic effects inside the cave. According to local legend, the tyrant, Dionysus, used the cave as a prison and its acoustics to spy on the conversations of his prisoners.
All the sights inside the Archeological Park can be visited by purchasing a single entry ticket:
Regular ticket € 10,00.
Reduced ticket € 5,00.
Free entry for citizens of the European Union under 18 or over 65.
Admission is free for people with disabilities and for those who accompany them.
NOTES: comfortable shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, water.
Museum complex of St. John, the Evangelist
Built in the 6th century by the Byzantines, abandoned during the Arab occupation, rebuilt by the Normans, the Church of St John was unfortunately damaged by a significant earthquake in 1908 that destroyed the rooftop.
The area is now a museum complex that also includes the Crypt of St. Marcian (or San Marziano, the first Bishop of Syracuse in the 3rd century AD) which survived through centuries and earthquakes, and the remarkable Roman Catacombs, excavated between 315 and 360 AD and in use until the end of the 5th century.
To minimize the work, the tunnels of this underground cemetery were opened following the routes of a disused Greek aqueduct and some existing cisterns were converted into funeral chapels.
As we can see, reusing materials and repurposing architecture in nothing new!
Guided tours every 15-30 minutes from Tuesday to Sunday, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.- 4:30 p.m. (5:30 p.m. in summer). Closed on Mondays.
Tickets € 8,00.
Reduced tickets € 5,00.
Across the water from the mainland and just a few miles from the Archeological Park, the Island of Ortygia remains Syracuse’s most spectacular corner.
The island itself is very small but full of cute little streets to wander down, great restaurants and many historical places!
Temple of Apollo
The perfect place to start is the Temple of Apollo, built in the 6th century B.C. and considered the most ancient doric temple in Sicily. Over centuries, the temple underwent several transformations, becoming a byzantine church, a Mosque and an army barracks after being desecrated during Spanish rule.
Baroque style Cathedral
Walking down the main street, you can reach one of the most beautiful Baroque squares in Sicily and the stunning Cathedral called the Duomo.
As most of the monuments in Italy, the Duomo was built on top of the preexisting Temple of Athena.
What was left of the original temple was incorporated into the modern Church which was completed in 1753.
The Church is open every day 8.00am – 7.00pm and an entry ticket is € 2,00.
NOTES: Cover your shoulders and knees before entering a sacred place.
Santa Lucia alla Badia
Overlooking Piazza Duomo and just a few steps from the Cathedral, the Church of Santa Lucia alla Badia is another example of the Baroque/Rococò style.
The construction date of the Church and the Convent is unknown but historians tend to confirm their existence in the middle of the 15th century.
The façade is crossed by a long balcony with tall iron railings behind which the nuns of the convent could sit to observe the ceremonies taking place in the square. (took out a comma)
The interior is relatively bare with modern sculpture and modest painting. (took out a comma)
Two wooden Crucifixes dating back to the 14th century and the Burial painting of Saint Lucia by Caravaggio are the only exceptions to the bare facade.
The body of Saint Lucia, who died during 304 A.D during Christian persecutions led by the Roman Emperor Diocletian, was taken to Costantinople by the Byzantine Giorgio Maniace in 1040.
In 1204, St. Lucia’s body was stolen by Venetians and housed in Venice in a Church dedicated to her. In 1860, the body of St. Lucia was moved to the nearby Church of St. Geremia.
Lucia is the Patron Saint of Syracuse. Various traditions associate her name with light. St. Lucia was thought to be the Patron of Sight and has been depicted by artists carrying a dish containing her eyes.
Saint Lucy’s celebration begins on December 9th (when the statue is shown in a Chapel dedicated to her in the Cathedral) and ends on December 13th after the procession of the relics and the silver simulacrum.
The Church is open from Tuesday to Sunday 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.
The Fountain of Arethusa
According to Greek mythology, the freshwater spring is dedicated to Arethusa, a nymph who was transformed by the goddess Artemis into a spring to escape Alpheus, son of the god Oceanus.
Alpheus, in despair, was transformed by Zeus into a river and succeeded to finally mix his water with that of Arethusa.
The fountain is beautiful in a wild and natural way, hosting birds and fish but also papyrus plants in the middle of the water.
Continuing straight down via Castello Maniace, the imposing fortress at the tip of the island is the Maniace Castle. The name was given by its first builder, the byzantine Giorgio Maniace (who liberated Syracuse from the Arabs for a few years in 1040), but the building we admire today is the result of a subsequent reconstruction by Frederick II.
Opened 8.30am – 4.30 pm.
Ticket: € 4,00.
Visits are limited to the exterior part only as the interior is still closed for renovation.