For many years the most significant city of Magna Graecia, Syracuse (Siracusa) remains a remarkable place, to this day. Archimedes’ home town is situated in the south east of the island and is still home to a large number of fascinating archaeological and historical sights.
Syracuse’s vast archaeological park comprises a Greek Theatre which hosts an annual summer Greek Drama Festival, a Roman Amphitheatre and some astonishing caves. Find out more about the Greek Theatre and Syracuse’s Archaeological Park of Neapolis.
The historic centre of the city is on Ortygia, a lively, bustling island that measures just 1km by 500m, packed with restaurants, bars, palaces and churches. Wander through a maze of narrow lanes and alleyways which eventually open out into the magnificent Piazza del Duomo, a spectacular open space bordered by the imposing buildings of the Duomo, the Palazzo Beneventano and the church of Santa Lucia, all created from the same pale honey-coloured stone. The piazza has several cafés and restaurants but do check prices carefully before you decide to eat here!
In many ways, the Duomo is illustrative of Syracuse’s history. Built on the site of the ancient Greek Temple of Athena, a giant gold statue of the goddess remains on its roof, massive Doric temples frame the exterior and Norman and Baroque influences also play their part.
Other highlights include the ruins of the Greek Temple of Apollo, allegedly the first great Doric temple in Sicily, and the Fonte Aretusa, a fresh-water spring that is steeped in mythology. From here, the seafront continues along to the fortress of the 13th century Castello Maniace at the tip of the island. It is also still possible to visit the ancient Jewish baths (the Miqwe) which lay hidden for centuries after the expulsion of the Jews from the city in 1492, which can be accessed at set times via the Hotel Alla Giudecca.
The principal shopping street on Ortigia is Corso Matteotti. For food specialities, head for the heart of the main market, on and around Via de Benedictis, where food stalls are heaped high with glistening fish, almonds, pistachios, cheeses and other specialities.