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Sicily's most elegant city, Syracuse once rivaled Athens in importance and dominated trade across the Mediterranean in ancient times. It was a highly sophisticated and prosperous place that attracted leading statesmen, traders, artists and architects and their legacy is clear as you walk the streets today. 

Along with ancient temples and arenas, hidden catacombs and celebrated museums, you'll discover a host of Baroque mansions built after a deadly earthquake in 1693 destroyed parts of the city. This historical beauty is matched by expansive sea views and an array of fine restaurants, making this compact city a rewarding destination.

Syracuse’s grandiose Baroque city planning immediately impresses, but it has a more unassuming side, too. I like to lose myself in the Ortygia (old town) or find a backstreet piazza for a glass of wine on a balmy evening.
Italy specialist Kim

Things to see and do in Syracuse

Ortigia

The oldest and most picturesque part of Syracuse is the island of Ortigia, which is connected to the mainland by two bridges. Here, the streets are lined with a harmonious blend of architecture that spans centuries with ancient Greek temples, Norman battlements, Aragonese palaces and Baroque churches hidden down winding narrow lanes. 

The island's heart is Piazza del Duomo, one of Sicily's grandest squares, from where streets lined with medieval palazzi (palaces) fan out to art galleries, museums and libraries. On a summer evening, you can stroll by the freshwater Fountain of Arethusa, once the city's main water supply, to the 13th-century Maniace Castle on the island's tip.

Duomo

Duomo, Syracuse Set at the heart of the old city on refined Piazza del Duomo, Syracuse's cathedral lays bare the city's long and complex history. Although the façade dates from the high Baroque of the 17th century, the cathedral is built around a 5th-century temple to Athena. 

The massive Doric columns of the original temple have been artfully incorporated into the building and inside, there is evidence of even earlier structures possibly dating back to 1100 BC. Norman mosaics line the apses and a Greek krater, a large vessel used to dilute wine, is now used as the baptismal font.

Archeological park

Syracuse was once one of the most important cities in the Greek Empire and many ruins can be found in the archeological park northwest of the present town. Most impressive is the 5th-century Teatro Greco, an ancient theater that sat 16,000 people and was the debut venue for many famous Greek tragedies. It’s still used today for performances during the annual Greek drama festival in May and June.

Nearby, vast quarries once worked by prisoners can also be explored. You can still see the ancient grooves from where the rock was removed during the excavations. The 65 m (213 ft) cave known as the 'Ear of Dionysius' has perfect acoustics and was said to have been used by the tyrant Dionysius the Elder (ruler of Syracuse from 434-367 BC) to eavesdrop on prisoners. You'll also find a range of other ruins, including a 2nd-century Roman arena.

Speak to someone
who's been there
Audley Travel specialist Carolyn

Start planning your tailor-made trip to Syracuse by calling one of our Italy specialists on 01993 838 960

Suggested itineraries featuring Syracuse

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Map of Syracuse

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