Siracusa ~ Top things to do in Syracuse Sicily
"The greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all" - Cicero
Situated on the Ionian Sea in southeastern Sicily, Siracusa was once one of the most powerful cities in the Mediterranean. It was founded by the Greeks nearly 3000 years ago. Its many layers of history are easily traced in the surviving architecture and culture.
Explore Siracusa - Your one day guide to Syracuse Sicily
Neapolis Archaeological Park
Not to be missed is this Archaeological park with a Greek and a Roman amphitheater.
Upon entering, you will first discover the Roman theater, which dates back to the 3rd Century AD. Like the Colosseum in Rome, this was a venue for violence, including jousts with wild animals and Gladiator contests.
The Greek theater, slightly older (at least 5th Century BC) is remarkably better preserved. With 59 rows of seating and a capacity of 15,000, it is one of the largest Greek theaters ever built. The theater was a venue for Greek theater, circus performances and public gatherings. Nowadays, a Greek theater festival is hosted annually in May and June.
An other impressive sight within the archaeological park is the Ear of Dionysius. Exploring this limestone cave shouldn't be missed as it is rare to find something similar. The Ear of Dionysius was most likely formed out of an old limestone quarry. It is 23 metres high and extends 65 metres back into the cliff. You can only walk through part of it and then you have to return as there is not an exit at the far end. It takes only a few minutes to walk through it, but it is absolutely worth it. If you are a singer you must try out the interesting acoustics =)
Hours: 9:00AM- two hours before sunset
Admission: 10 euros
A 30 minute walk from the Neapolis Archaeological Park brings you to the island of Ortigia, the heart of Siracusa. Ortigia is only a kilometer in length and about 600 meters in width. Despite the small dimensions it is a treasure trove of cobblestone streets, baroque architecture and alluring sea views. The island connects to the rest of the city by two bridges and is surrounded by walkable sea walls. I recommend spending an hour to explore the island by foot.
For lunch, head to the Ortigia Market. Set to the soundtrack of one Sicilian merchant trying to scream louder than the next, the market is an incredible display of colors, tastes and smells. Try an oyster the size of your head just plucked from the ocean or enjoy a fresh and delicious sandwich. There are few piazzas in all of Europe that rival Piazza del Duomo in Ortigia. Last but not least, spend a few moments at one of the outdoors cafes before visiting the Duomo.
Sicily is famous for its conquerors: the Greek, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Spanish.
The Duomo in Ortigia outlasted them all, evolving along the way to become a juxtaposition of all their unique architectural styles.
Today the Duomo is a Christian Church, but the building predates Christ by 500 years. It began as a Greek temple (480BC) and the original columns are still standing. When the Byzantines seized control of Sicily in 535, the temple was subsequently converted into a Christian Church.
In the 9th Century the Arabs converted the church into a mosque. Finally, in the 11th Century, the Normans converted it back into a Christian Church. The exterior was built in Baroque style, following the destructive earthquake of 1693.
Hours: 8:00AM-7:00PM (7:45PM in the Summer)
Admission: 2 Euros
Painting by Carvaggio - Burial of St. Lucy
Santa Lucia alla Badia - a beautiful church next to the Duomo. Make sure to check out the church as well. Here you can see Caravaggio’s 1608 masterpiece “The Burial of St. Lucy.”
Santa Lucia is the patron saint of Siracusa. Carvaggio's painting captures the moment of Santa Lucia's death. It is haunting to see the contrast between the anguish of the background mourners and the indifference of the two gravediggers.
Hours: Tuesday - Sunday,11:00AM-4:00PM
Syracuse (Siracusa) has a lot of historical and cultural sights. For a little change, consider a short boat tour around the island of Ortigia, through the various caves and grottos. The trip is about 45minutes long. The tours leave frequently during peak season and advanced booking is not crucial. In addition to the cave tour, Blu Marlin offerers a tour of Ortigia’s dramatic coastline. Visitors have the option to combine both tours at a reduced rate. I got the impression that the guide was very knowledgeable, however the language barrier made it difficult to understand much of what was said.
Hours: 8:00AM-8:00PM in the summer
8:00AM-3:00PM during winter winter (if weather allows sailing) Price: Along the pier you can find different tour operators. Plan on spending 10 euros per person for a 45 minute tour.
More about Sicily and places to visit --> read my blogpost Explore Sicily - Cefalù