History, facts and travel tips about Syracuse
Colonised by Corinthians around 734 B.C., Syracuse embodies the glories and triumphs of antiquity and the ancient past in a way rivalled only by Athens Carthage and Rome. It is a feast of ancient history in architecture, monuments, geography and geology. The literature of sages and playwrights, normally shrouded in the shadows of fantasy and mystery at which we, modern mortals, can only hope to catch a glimpse, are thrown into sharp relief, and we are bought closer to seeing and understanding how our ancestors and the great figures of our past really lived in the monuments and sights of Syracuse.
The historic area of the city is separate from the modern town and is found on the island of Ortigia which in Greek means "Quail", due to the abundance of the bird on this island in ancient times. Ortigia is separated from the mainland of Syracuse and Sicily by a narrow strip of sea-water, spanned by the Ponte Nuovo ("New Bridge") which by Sicily's standards is indeed "new".
The coast of ancient Ortigia has two ports, Porto Grande ("Large") and Porto Piccolo ("Small"). The latter, following the meandering coastline, east of the island curves closely together, forming two almost entirely protected landings like watery courtyards for seagoing vessels. Both ports were key links to the Greeks for colonising Sicily and for trade between the Greeks and Carthaginians in the ancient world.
Further inland, forming the outer perimeters of Syracuse, some of the more ancient dwellings are incorporated into the base of the beautiful Monti Iblei. These mountains form a curving protective layer around the city, framing it between sea and mountains, rendering it reasonably secure. These surrounding hills and mountains are of a dry texture rich in limestone, giving the area a unique landscape and crops. Verdant, rugged, punctuated with olive groves, and rich in rural beauty, it carries a sense of mystery in its relics of ancient dwellings, crags caves and cliffs.
The great Greek Theatre where Plato performed, is found here, incorporated into a hill, following its natural curve. The city of Syracuse was originally named in Siculo (a Greek/Italian tongue) Syraka, which means "abundance of water" due to the quantity of waterways and swamplands in the area in ancient times. Now, apart from the fascinating and mystic source of the river Ciane not far from the city, where papyrus plants grow, the only evidence of water in the ancient town is in the lovely fountains, including the Fount of the Nymph Arethusa.
In antiquity, and in its glory days as one of the main centres of Greek civilisation and military prowess, Syracuse was composed of five major areas, the names of which have remained to the present day. Akradina, Tike, Epipolis, Neapolis and Ortigia, which in the time of the Greeks were known as "Pentapolis" ("Five Cities"). Though sometimes incorporated in to more recent structures, there are plenty of reminders of the Greek and Corinthian eras in these ancient quarters, in the Greek and Roman theatres, the tomb of Archimedes, the Fount Arethusa and the Ear of Dionysus, to name but a few.
For four centuries since its foundation, Syracuse and the Corinthians at Ortigia remained free and autonomous, independent from dominion or occupation, until the time of the Tyrant whose name was Gelon. He brought the city to heel at the end of the fifth century B.C. establishing himself not only as Ruler of Syracuse, but also as Lord of the entire of Sicily. However it was thanks to Gelon that the fortunes and glories of Syracuse attained new heights of fame, rendering Syracuse second to none among the Greek cities of Sicily.
Syracuse was in fact the last bastion to Greek culture to fall during the changing fortunes of the Island with the Roman invasion centuries later. Hiero I, succeeded in securing for himself an artistic and sympathetic reputation as patron of Poetry and learning, yet he was quite a ferocious and paranoid tyrant. The only "creative" who did not seem to fare so well at court was Plato, whose utopian views were not sufficiently appreciated.
Greek power in Sicily had slipped beyond repair, and almost every city had yielded to the violence of Roman invasion. Only Syracuse remained, thanks to its gifted if somewhat wily ruler Hiero II who claimed to be a descendent of Gelon. Hiero II employed employed questionable tactics to keep his city walls standing and its inhabitants autonomous and prosperous. Whilst he lived, Syracuse stood, lone monument to the memory of Grecian glory in a new Roman world. It was Hiero II who ordered the hill to be hewn out to create the finest and largest Greek theatre in existence, and he who had skilfully developed trade with Alexandrian and enormously increased the wealth of the city.
Hiero II lived until he was 92, thus ensuring all but a century of peace and prosperity to the city. However, upon his death His unscrupulous dealings with the Romans backfired when the anti Roman populace of Syracuse, without the restraining hand of a Grecian ruler, retaliated against and lost to Roman forces. Despite the ingenious defensive contraptions and machinery created by Archimedes, and a fierce battle, this bastion to all things Grecian, fell, not because the walls of Syracuse collapsed, but by the treachery of an unknown citizen, who admitted a Roman spy into the city.
In the skirmish, and against orders, Archimedes was slain (apparently he was so absorbed in his calculations he almost failed to notice his wounds). Thus in 212 B.C. Syracuse capitulated and, at the cost of a great mind and a great city, the Romans established total control over Sicily.
The Romans divided Sicily into estates for growing grain, and treated the island very much as an inferior province. Sicily thus entered a long period of cultural decline in which conditions reached such a pitch that there were two slave revolts, both of which were savagely repressed.
With the decline of the Romans, followed a long line of conquerors, occupiers and dominators of Syracuse and of Sicily, each of whom left their mark and some of whom are remembered with admiration. However, the days of autonomy and glory had gone forever. Despite Syracuse's downfall, its Grecian heritage has been immortalised in the architecture which remains, the memory of Archimedes and the first Pastoral poet, Theocritus.
In the Ninth Century A.D., the Arabs conquered the occupying Byzantines and took Sicily. In Ortigia evidence of this era remains in certain quarters of the city in the characteristic layout of the streets.
Much later, Frederick II continued the Norman tradition of maintaining authority in Sicily by kingship, commissioned the building of the splendid Maniace Castle which stands today on the furthermost tip of Ortigia. The castle had been adapted from a Byzantine country house, named after its owner George Maniace before its adaptation into a unique medieval fortress.
The following "ruling class" of Sicily were the French Angevin whose turbulent dominance of Syracuse and of Sicily was short lived, but immortalised in Sicilian folklore due to the legendary rebellion of Sicilian Vespers. The subsequent Spanish Aragon rule has left traces in architecture in some noble houses.
Following the devastating earthquake of 1693, many ancient sites and monuments were damaged or destroyed, and the city rebuilt in the famous Sicilian Baroque style.
The modern city has expanded somewhat indiscriminately, overriding the boundaries of the ancient, transforming the coastline, leaving little evidence of its form and characteristics in the distant past.
Ortigia, apart from its untouched Greek monuments, has other buildings such as the Greek temples to Apollo and Athena which are now themselves enshrined and incorporated into the more modern Duomo.
Likewise the Cathedral sits on a fifth century base of the pagan Temple of Athea, and while maintaining its Corinthian columns, has a Norman nave. In many ways the more modern churches of Ortigia represent the many layers of history and the changing face of the city with passing generations, each blended with its predecessors.
If you want to visit several places in Sicily, it is advisable, and even necessary, to rent a car. However, if your interest lies in Siracusa, it's not necessary. Ortigia, in particular, is a nightmare for parking, even at paid lots.What is Syracuse Sicily known for? ›
The city is notable for its rich Greek and Roman history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture, and as the birthplace of the pre-eminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in ancient times, when it was one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world.Is Syracuse in Sicily worth visiting? ›
This beautiful coastal city is well known for its remarkable historical heritage and its charming old town: Ortigia Island. It's the perfect place to spend a few days during your travel in Sicily!How do you get around Siracusa? ›
To get around Siracusa city you have two choices: use the AST urban transportation service, or the very comfortable ecological mini-bus called “Siracusa d'amare”, we recommend the latter.Which part of Sicily is the best to stay? ›
- Palermo, the capital of Sicily.
- Catania, nice city to stay in Sicily to explore the island.
- Cefalu, good place to stay in Sicily for families.
- Taormina, one of the best places to stay in Sicily.
- Trapani, charming old town and gateway to Aegadian Islands.
For anyone planning a trip to Sicily we highly recommend renting a car for your time on the island. Renting a car in Sicily is probably the best way to see the island and allows you the flexibility to explore this incredible island at your own pace.What is Sicily most popular food? ›
Arguably Sicily's most famous culinary export, caponata is now seen on menus across Europe. But it's the perfect example of external influences over the island's cuisine. The recipe can change from household to household, but it must always contain aubergines, pine nuts, raisins and plenty of vinegar.
Pasta con le Sarde (pasta with sardines) is the national dish of Sicily, in which the tradition of Italian pasta meets the Mediterranean island's seafood-focused cuisine.What is the best month to be in Sicily? ›
March through June and October are ideal, with few crowds, lots of festivals, and mild weather. The days leading up to Easter are full of celebrations, and worth planning around. July and August are hot and can be crowded — especially at beaches and resorts. September is the busiest (and most expensive) month.Can you get around Sicily without a car? ›
The best ways to get around Sicily: scenic train rides and countryside drives. Between the comfortable and scenic trains plus the comprehensive bus network, it's possible to get around much of Sicily without your own vehicle. And prices on public transportation are very cheap, making it a great budget option.
We actually liked Syracusa better than Taormina but then they are so different. They are both beautiful in their own ways. We based in Cefalu for four days and loved it. We found it magical in the evenings and early mornings so I do not believe you would get the whole picture with just a day trip.What food is Syracuse Italy known for? ›
You can't visit Sicily without tasting one of its most famous food: the arancina. It's a little ball of rice, ragù, peas and caciocavallo, which are stuffed together, breaded and then fried. It's called arancina or arancino because it resembles an orange.Does Syracuse Sicily have a beach? ›
Just 15 km from the centre of Syracuse stretches the fine beach of Fontane Bianche, which owes its name to the many freshwater springs which flow here. The white beach and clear blue sea go to make up a natural Paradise – but there is certainly no lack of services and entertainment.Is Catania or Siracusa better? ›
Siracusa is more pleasant in terms of general ambience. Catania is more convenient for public transport. You could easily visit Ctaania from either Taormina or Siracusa. You would visit Noto from Siracusa or Catania.How many days in Sicily is enough? ›
Sicily can be experienced in as little as 3 to 5 days if you are short on time and interested in a quick coastal retreat. However, it's much better to spend at least a week discovering this Mediterranean paradise. If you have 7 days you can explore a meaningful section of the island.Where should I stay in Sicily for the first time? ›
If you are visiting Sicily for the first time, Palermo is the best area to stay in Sicily. It is packed with baroque buildings, churches, palaces, museums, and art galleries; it has a great nightlife with many bars, restaurants, and plenty of accommodation options that suit all budgets.Do you need mosquito repellent in Sicily? ›
A. There are no more mosquitoes in Sicily than any other Mediterranean island and some areas and or hotels are sprayed in the summer months to alleviate any problem.Do you tip taxi drivers in Sicily? ›
Taxis: Italians don't tip taxi drivers, or at least they never used to. Up until a few years ago, a cab driver could only expect an additional amount if he helped the passengers with their luggage or was willing to wait for them for a short period of time.How many Euros should I take to Sicily for a week? ›
A vacation to Sicily for one week usually costs around €569 for one person. So, a trip to Sicily for two people costs around €1,138 for one week. A trip for two weeks for two people costs €2,276 in Sicily.Do you tip drivers in Sicily? ›
Certainly, let's remember that a tip is a gesture of gratitude for good service, so if you feel you haven't received good service, then don't tip! However, if you feel a guide or private driver has impressed you with his or her kindness and knowledge, then consider a tip of 10-20% of what you paid for their service.
1. Pizza. Though a slab of flat bread served with oil and spices was around long before the unification Italy, there's perhaps no dish that is as common or as representative of the country as the humble pizza.What is a typical dessert in Sicily? ›
Loved all over the world and the most iconic dessert in Sicily is the cannoli. This deep-fried cylindrical pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta cream is found all over the island and impossible to resist. In Sicily, the cannoli are unlike any other. The ricotta filling is made exclusively with sheep's milk.What do Sicilians have for breakfast? ›
Sicilians like drinking espresso or melk with biscuits, rusks, milk or yogurt with cereals, bread with butter and jam and in some occasions homemade cakes or other sweet snacks. Not many other countries have sweet food for breakfast.What time is dinner in Sicily? ›
At lunchtime, restaurants in Sicily open around 12.00am -12.30am and close around 3.00pm. Going at 12.00am sharp is perfectly ok, but you might have to wait a little longer than usual to be served, as the majority of Sicilians would go after 1.00am. At dinnertime, they open around 7.00pm and close around 11.00pm.What is the common pizza eaten in Sicily? ›
The sfincione (or sfinciuni in Sicilian language) is a very common variety of pizza that originated in the province of Palermo. Unlike Neapolitan pizza, it is typically rectangular, with more dough, sauce and cheese. An authentic recipe often calls for herbs, onion, tomato sauce, strong cheese and anchovies.What is street food in Sicily? ›
PANI CÂ MEUSA
One of the most famous Sicilian street foods, 'pani ca 'meusa' is made stuffing vastedda (soft bread) with chopped spleen and lung, boiled and then fried in lard. It can also come with added grated cheese or cottage cheese, lemon and pepper.
The best way to get around Sicily is by train, as it allows you to quickly and affordably get from the island's various cities while still enjoying the scenery. Be sure to validate your ticket before boarding to avoid fines. Buses are another affordable transportation method and may be your next best option.What is Sicily known for to buy? ›
Ceramics is one of the products that Sicily is known for. These products – usually hand-made and painted – are expensive and heavy, but beautiful and perfect as a gift. You can already buy small items such as wine stoppers, cups, and small dishes. The imagination of the producers of Sicilian ceramics knows no bounds.How is the food in Sicily? ›
Sicily is home to world-famous foods like the cannoli, artichokes, and all things citrus. There are many lesser-known but equally taste-tantalizing delicacies such as the world-famous and largely sought after Gambero red prawns, and the chocolate made in the town of Modica.How should I dress in Sicily? ›
Dress is casual except in the smartest restaurants and appropriate dress (no shorts or bare shoulders) is needed for visits to churches. Dress codes do tend to be more conservative in Sicily than in central and northern Italy, especially in rural areas.
August is the hottest month in Sicily with an average temperature of 22.35°C (72°F) and the coldest is January at 8.65°C (48°F) with the most daily sunshine hours at 10 in July. The wettest month is December with an average of 78.6mm of rain.Can you wear shorts in Sicily? ›
Don't Wear Shorts.
Although summer in Italy can be rather hot, you'll rarely see Italian women wearing shorts. The best way to fit in would be to stay away from revealing too much skin, but still look stylish at the same time- try a flowy skirt instead.
I will tell you now that taxi services in Sicily are incredibly expensive, and even more so in Palermo. This increases further when you travel at night. As you might be able to see, locals seldom take cabs. The primary source of revenue for these taxi drivers comes from tourists to Palermo.Is Sicily a cheap place to visit? ›
Whether you're planning a month long road trip like us, or a quick one week sojourn to enjoy Sicily's highlights, there's one question that's likely crossed your mind - 'is Sicily expensive? '. The simple answer is that by European holiday standards, it's really quite affordable.Why is Taormina so popular? ›
Taormina is one of the most beautiful towns in the world, with its uninterrupted views of Mount Etna and the Ionian coast, known for the well-preserved antique ruins and its omnipresent cosmopolitan imprint. It remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in Sicily.Which is better Palermo or Taormina? ›
Re: Palermo or Taormina? It depends on your preference, Taormina is a small, chic and pricey tourist resort, Palermo is a big and chaotic city, two completely different environments/experiences. With only 4 days, you have to decide between the two.Is Taormina worth visiting? ›
Even if you're not a fan of history, we highly recommend visiting the Ancient Greek Theatre Of Taormina for the setting. The views over the coast and Mount Etna are spectacular. Built around the third century by the Greeks and renovated later by the Romans, this is a fascinating place to wander around.Does Sicily have good food? ›
You will find that Sicily is known for its food. The food here is considered the very best tasting, not to mention the best looking as well. Spices and herbs (rosemary, mint, oregano and more) are able to thrive year-round here due to the generally mild climate.Is Sicily known for pasta? ›
Pasta alla Norma
Probably Sicily's most famous traditional pasta dish which completely embodies the flavours and fresh produce of the island.
Brodetto: This is a seafood stew from the Marche region of Italy that contains 13 species of fish including mullets, cuttlefish or squids, then tossed in garlic, saffron, and olive oil. This dish can also be served by tossing the seafood in a flour base then fried.
Spiaggia dei Conigli, Lampedusa
It's been called the world's most beautiful beach, with its fine white sands and iridescent waters that shimmer through every shade of blue. The long beach faces the Isola dei Conigli, a short swim away through shallow water - or a walk across the sand when the water is low.
Western Sicily has the best beaches. Eastern Sicily has the prettier towns (particularly in the south east corners, such as Noto). The Valley of the Temples is best visited on a western Sicily itinerary, but can be visited on a two-week eastern Sicily itinerary.Can you swim in Syracuse Sicily? ›
The most popular and fashionable beach in Siracusa. All along the coast there are beach clubs, resorts and public areas to enjoy swimming and sunbathing.
Between the comfortable and scenic trains plus the comprehensive bus network, it's possible to get around much of Sicily without your own vehicle. And prices on public transportation are very cheap, making it a great budget option.Can you explore Sicily without a car? ›
Sicily is a great car-free travel destination, and with a little bit of planning (often just the night before) you really can take in all of the island's best destinations without a car.Do you need a car in Sicily? ›
If you are visiting Sicily for 2 or 3 days and staying in Palermo or Catania, more than likely you will not need to rent a car. Public transport is readily available and there is so much to do in the larger cities you will spend most of your time without a need to travel further.Do you need a car to live in Syracuse? ›
Getting Around Syracuse
Full-time residents generally depend on car travel. Some areas are more pedestrian-friendly, such as Syracuse neighborhoods near the local colleges and universities.
Sicily can be experienced in as little as 3 to 5 days if you are short on time and interested in a quick coastal retreat. However, it's much better to spend at least a week discovering this Mediterranean paradise. If you have 7 days you can explore a meaningful section of the island.Do you need cash in Sicily? ›
Always ensure you are carrying enough cash for emergencies. Check with your bank for specific withdrawal fees. Most restaurants and shops in Sicily accept credit cards. However, if the establishment is very small or you are unsure, it is always best to check first.What is the best way to get around in Sicily? ›
The best way to get around Sicily is by train, as it allows you to quickly and affordably get from the island's various cities while still enjoying the scenery. Be sure to validate your ticket before boarding to avoid fines. Buses are another affordable transportation method and may be your next best option.
Simply put, Downtown Syracuse is the perfect city to walk (or bike) around. Scope out the many shops, restaurants and bars as your stroll through each unique district.Is Syracuse a nice town? ›
Considered to be one of the best places to live in New York State, the city of Syracuse is most famous for its snowfall, affordability, high quality of life, and lower crime rates.