Siracusa Things to Do

  • Tempio di Apollo
    Tempio di Apollo
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  • Porte Grande Siracusa/Ortigia Boat Trip
    Porte Grande Siracusa/Ortigia Boat Trip
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  • Vests, vests and more vests
    Vests, vests and more vests
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Best Rated Things to Do in Siracusa

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    Ear of Dionysius

    by ruki Written Dec 4, 2005

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    It is located in te\he park.This archeological park has some charming surprises, such as the Altar of Geron II and the Ear of Dionysius, formerly a limestone quarry. There is also the Saint Venera Quarry and various necropoli and other caverns. Quarries are not exclusive to Neapolis; there are several elsewhere in Syracuse, such as the Capuchin Quarry in the city.

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    The Greek amphitheatre

    by piccolina Written Feb 10, 2005

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    Siracusa has a Greek amphitheatre ( and also a Roman one, both well preserved. In conformity to tradition, the Greek Theatre is semicircular and open, the Roman one oval and enclosed. This archeological park has some charming surprises, such as the Altar of Geron II and the Ear of Dionysius, formerly a limestone quarry.

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    Greek amphitheatre

    by ruki Written Dec 4, 2005

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    In the Neapolis Archeological Park on the Terminite Hill a clear distinction can be made between the Greek and Roman structures. Siracusa has a Greek amphitheatre (literally carved out of the rock) and also a Roman one, both well preserved. In conformity to tradition, the Greek Theatre is semicircular and open, the Roman one oval and enclosed.

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    The Greek amphitheatre

    by piccolina Written Feb 10, 2005

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    Siracusa has a Greek amphitheatre ( and also a Roman one, both well preserved. In conformity to tradition, the Greek Theatre is semicircular and open, the Roman one oval and enclosed. This archeological park has some charming surprises, such as the Altar of Geron II and the Ear of Dionysius, formerly a limestone quarry.

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    Artemis and Archimedes

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Sep 1, 2008

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    Fontana de Artemis
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    Immortal Artemis and the very mortal Archimedes are remembered together in one place in Ortygia where the Fontana Artemis forms the centrpiece of Piazza Archimedes. We'll never know whether Archimedes really ran naked through the streets of Syracuse following his Eureka! moment, but if he did, it could well have been around here that he did it.

    Artemis was the daughter of Zeus and Leto, a real princess of a goddess if ever there was one. Beautiful, capricious, vengeful, chaste, she was greatly venerated in Syracuse. Charming as the fountain is, it was only erected in the 19th century. It shows Artemis and Arethusa together as Artemis is changing Arethusa into a stream.

    Archimedes is regarded as the greatest Greek and scientist, one of the greatest minds of all time. He was born in Syracuse in 287BC and is reputedly buried there after he was killed by a Roman soldier in 212BC though the tomb identified as his by Cicero is lost and the so-called Tombe di Archimede is in fact a Roman mausoleum made to hold many funerary urns. The tomb can be found in the Archaeological Park in the Grotticelli Necropolis though currently you cannot get to it from inside the park. You can however view it from the street outside, Via Teracati.

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    Catacombs for Christians and a crypt for a saint

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Apr 7, 2009

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    Into the labrynth
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    Whilst the Empire was still pagan, Roman law did not allow Christian burials to take place within the city limits. This, and the practice of catacomb burial, saw Syracuse's Christians looking to the long disused Greek aqueducts in the area of Tyche as a place to bury their dead. Even after the fear of persecution that first drove them underground was over, the practice continued and, as the numbers of Christians increased, more and more tunnels were excavated. The result was a network of catacombs that is more extensive than those of Rome. These days, most of them are either inaccessible or closed to public view. The exception to this is the catacombs beneath the ruins of the Basilica of San Giovanni.

    The city's first bishop, San Marciano, was flogged to death here. The crypt where they laid him lies 5 metres below the church that was later built over the site. It is said that St Paul preached from the altar that now stands in the crypt when he came to Sicily in 60AD. Frescoes on the wall are faded but quite clear and the capitals of the four pillars supporting the central dome are carved with the symbols of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

    The catacombs can only be visited on a guided tour which only takes you a very small way into the labrynth but it is quite fascinating and no where near as spooky an experience as a visit to the Roman catacombs. For a start, these tunnels are only just below the surface, you actually walk into them at street level and they slope very gently. The roof iof the main passage is quite high - remember, it was originally built by engineers with a vast army of slaves at their disposal. Thousands of grave niches of all sizes pockmark the main passages and the smaller alleys that branch off from them, the last resting place of ordinary men, women and children. In some places, the tunnels open out into chambers and rotundas that held as many as 20 burials, family groups of those rich enough to pay for a grander burial.

    One such chamber is known as the Chamber of the Blessed Virgins - it contained the tombs of two women, identified as Filomena and Fotina who died aged 84 and 80 respectively - an incredible achievement in a time when you were doing really well if you lived past 30. The tag of virginity is ascribed to this pair as it's probable their survival was due to them never marrying and never bearing children.

    More important is the one tomb that eluded the procession of grave robbers who stripped the catacombs bare over the centuries. It was the burial place of Adelfia, a woman of senatorial rank who was placed in a marble sarcophagus that was carved with an amazing double register of Biblical scenes from the New and the Old Testament along with a portrait of Adelfia and her husband.

    At the end of one of the galleries there's a chapel decorated with faded frescoes depicting, amongst other Christian imagery, a woman being welcomed into Heaven by SS Peter and Paul. It dates fro the early part of the 5th century AD, an indication that the practice of catacomb burial continued here in Syracuse long after the persecution that had prompted the practice had ended.

    No photography is permitted once you enter the catacombs. Photo 1 was taken looking through the entrance. Photo 3 is a montage made up from postcards and the brochure given to visitors.

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    The heart of Ortygia

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Aug 29, 2008

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    Chiesa de Santa Lucia
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    The wide oval space of the Piazza dei Duomo (Cathedral Square) is the very heart of Ortygia. With the cathedral at one end and the sweet little church of Santa Lucia at the other, dazzlingly white stone paving, lemon trees hanging over the high wall and balustrade of the Episcopal Palace along one side of the square, cafe tables and chairs set out along the other side and a clutch of handsome palazzos spread around the perimeter, it's as lovely a square as you'll find anywhere. You won't find many city squares though that have such a long and chequered history.

    Laid out in the 8th century BC as Ortygia's acropolis, the piazza has seen the city's fortunes rise and fall. Greeks, Romans, Normans, Spaniards have all left their mark on the piazza, but today it belongs to the people of Syracuse and they certainly claim it as their own.

    The cathedral is undoubtedly the most significant building on the piazza and warrants a tip of its own, so let's just take a walk around the piazza and we'll leave the cathedral for later.

    The Chiesa di Santa Lucia is dedicated to a young Roman virgin from Syracuse who was martyred here in 304AD when she refused to marry a pagan. The patron saint of Syracuse, she is also much loved in Scandinavia where St Lucia's Day is celebrated with much festivity. The church was rebuilt after the earthquake of 1693 in typically Sicilian Baroque style.

    The cafes are the perfect place to indulge in a little people-watching. Unlike most ring-side cafe seats in other cities, these are not overly expensive and a drink here won't break the bank.

    Palazzos to take note of particularly include the Palazzo Beneventano dei Bosco along from the cafes and, facing it, the Palazzo Municipale, though my favourite was the pretty pink-painted palazzo adjacent to the Chiesa de Santa Lucia - I wonder if anyone knows what it is called.

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    Practicalities

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Aug 30, 2008

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    North zone
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    A little bit of homework and planning will help you make the most of your time in Syracuse and save you a few euros at the same time. Three different combination tickets are available to the sites run by the Italian government and all are valid for 2 days. Which one you chooose will depend on both your interests and the time you have available to you - if you're only there for a day you'll probably only have time to visit two of the options at most.

    In 2008, 12 euro bought a ticket to all three sites - the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, the Museo Archeologico Nacionale Paolo Orsi (both on the mainland) and the Galleria Regionale di Palazzo Bellomo (in Ortygia).

    10 euro bought a ticket for the Parco Archeologico and the Museo Archeologico

    7 euro bought a ticket for the Museo and the Galleria. Both are open all day but the Museo is closed on Monday.

    The Galleria was closed for restoration so I bought the combined Parco and Museo tickets. MrL's age gained him free admission on showing his Australian driver's licence. (EU and Australian over 65s qualify - some other countries do too, but you'll have to ask, and remember to have proof of your age with you).

    The Park and the Museum are about 500 metres from each other in the area known as the Zona Archeologico. You'll find the Church and the Catacombs of San Giovanni, the Papyrus Museum and the modern Sanctuary of the Weeping Madonna close to the museum.

    The Park is in two sections, with the ticket office in the middle. The northern zone contains the Greek Theatre, the various gardens and the Necropoli dei Grotticelli where the purported tomb of Archimedes is located. This latter area. was closed to general access when we visited. When you have finished in this area, you must cross the Viale de Paradiso to make your way to the southern zone where you will find the Roman Amphitheatre and the Altar of Hieron II. The Park coveres a huge area, some of which is very exposed. Be sure to bring a hat and some water with you if you're visiting in summer.

    I would suggest a morning spent at the Park before the day gets too hot, and the afternoon spent at the museum and the catacombs.

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    Calypso's island

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Aug 29, 2008

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    Sunlight on stone
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    Arriving in mainland Syracuse you could be forgiven for thinking "Why am I here?" - there's little evidence of Cicero's beautiful city to be found in the modern urban sprawl of concrete buildings and busy streets that have spread over much of the ancient city's mainland quarters - Acradina, down by the harbour, now the commercial hub of the city and Tyche, now as then, a residential area.

    Neapolis - lying in the north-west area of the city, is the main archaeological area and it's here you'll find the biggest concentration of Classical remains but most of these lie behind the fences of the Archaeological Park, definitely to be visited but with opening hours and entry charges, tacky souvenir stalls and postcard sellers to be contended with before you actually can explore the ruins.

    Cross the Ponte Nuovo at the end of the Corso Umberto (the city's main street) and you'll find yourself on the island of Ortygia, the first area of the city to be settled by the Greeks, its narrow streets and alleys oozing character and charm. It's a place to wander at your leisure. Once achingly poor, a lot of it is still very shabby and run down and there's scaffolding over lots of the buildings as wholescale restoration is taking place but there is still so much to see and enjoy here. Ortygia is the very soul of Syracuse, a heady mix of Baroque palazzos, 500 year-old houses, wedding-cake church facades, peeling paint and golden stone. Harbour views abound - expansive ones from high seaside promenades and tiny glimpses down narrow streets.

    In Greek mythology, Ortygia was the home of Calypso, the seductive daughter of Atlas who used her wiles and promises of immortality to keep Odysseus her captive for seven years. When he finally left her, she died of love and longing for him. I'm not suggesting you should stay here for seven years but, even one night will give you a chance to experience the island's charm, to explore during the day, enjoy the evening activity as the locals come out to relax after the day's work, and the early morning light on the water and buildings is something to get out of bed early for. We stayed a few days and found such pleasure in simply coming and going about the island as we shopped at the market, set out for and came back from the sights both on the island and the mainland, window-shopped, walked to restaurants, witnessed weddings and children chasing balloons, and generally pottered about. There seemed always to be yet another street we hadn't walked down, another lovely doorway or archway to peek through, a window frame or balcony to catch the eye, a dome or cupola glimpsed between the rooftops. Even without the spells of a sea nymph, we were enchanted

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    Somewhat disappointing

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Sep 3, 2008

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    Teatro Greco
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    I was really looking forward to seeing the Greek theatre at Syracuse. It was here, in a sweeping curve that could seat 16,000, carved from the living rock in the 3rd century BC, that some of the greatest plays ever written were first performed. MrL had visited it more than 30 years ago and had often said how magnificent it was in its setting high on the hill of Temenite above the city. Back then it was all open access; we knew it wouldn't be like that - there would be opening hours, ticket offices, guards, souvenir stalls and such. We expected all that and accept it as part of 21st century mass-tourism. We also expected to be able to see the theatre as the archaeological treasure that it is - the pride of Syracuse.

    I have to say, I was disappointed. A summer-long season of classical drama had seen wooden seating and staging laid over the ancient stones, lighting gantries and stage sets installed and some areas around the theatre blocked off, including the orchestra and much of the seating, so that there was very little of the original structure to be seen. I like my ruins atmospheric, worn stones warm to sit on in the sunshine in quiet contemplation of the past, a chance to conjure up the shades of the ancients, to hear whispers on the wind of the lines spoken by Oedipus and Electra .

    The theatre was one of the biggest in the Greek world. An altar dedicated to Dionysius, the god of wine, stood in the orchestra. The names of gods and important people were carved into the the front of each of the nine sections of the cavea. Some of the lettering of these names can still be figured out today - needless to say, the summer seating hides this.

    Behind the theatre, in the centre of a rock-hewn terrace, you'll find the grotto of the Nymphaeum where a waterfall is fed by an aqueduct. It was a sacred place , used for the religious ceremonies that formed an essential part of the theatrical festivals that were held here. From here the Via dei Sepolcri (Road of Tombs) winds its way uphill, hundred of niches carved into its rock face in Byzantine times.

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    Built for Athena

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Sep 3, 2008

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    Doric columns
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    No building in Syracuse tells us more about the city's history than the Duomo. Standing on ground that has been held sacred since the earliest days of settlement, it saw pagan Greeks, Roman and Byzantine Christians and Muslim Arabs pass through in a thousand year-long parade of worshippers and supplicants before it began to take on its current form as a Catholic cathedral.

    Stepping up to its ornate Bararoque entrance and passing through the grand Spanish portico, all carved marble and Christian symbolism, it gives little away of its Greek origins. Once inside however, it's a different story. Ten massive Doric march down the left nave of the cathedral, supporting the roof and framing the side chapels of the cathedral. What was once a temple to the goddess Athena is now a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

    Built in the 5th century BC, Athena's temple was not the first on the site however, it replaced an earlier temple that was built here in the 7th century BC and it's more than likely that there was an even older temple to a local deity of the original inhabitants - the Siculo tribes - before that. Fabled across the Mediterranean for its splendour, the temple was to remain a centre of pagan belief for some 1200 years until it was converted to a Christian basilica in about 640 AD.

    13 centuries later the cathedral's history is written in stone and marble for all to see. The floors and northern apse are Byzantine as is the masonry filling the gaps between the Greek columns. Nothing remains to tell of the Islamic years but the Normans left their mark in the massive stucture of the inner aisles though only a few scraps of the mosaics they used to decorate the apse survive. The earthquake of 1693 did huge damage and brought about the Baroque rebuilding that saw the cathedral assume most of the interior we see today - elaborate chapels, the magnificent silver altars, the frescoes and wrought iron chapel gates and - most spectacular of all - the grand facade and portico.

    As with so many of the buildings here in Ortygia, scaffolding hides the exterior side walls so you can't see the columns from the outside at present.

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    Cantine Gulino! Visit a Vineyard!

    by rosata Updated Mar 19, 2014

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    We buy wine by the litre from this local cantina which has been making wine since 1793.

    Nero d'Avola (red) 13.5%: €1.80 / litre
    Syrah (red) 13.5%: €2.00 / litre
    Albanello (white) 13%: €1.80 / litre

    There is a small extra charge of 20 centesemi for a 2 litre new plastic bottle with seal or €1 buys a new 5 litre bidone with seal. Maybe you prefer the wine to be transported in a wine bag. These are for sale at €2 for a 5 litre holding bag and €3 for a 10 litre holding bag. You can always bring your own measured contained should you not wish to buy one.

    There are bottles of wine for sale too which we buy for presents and special occasions. There is a choice of red, white, sparkling and very good 'sweet' wines which can be consumed after food or served well chilled as an aperitivo.

    The owner happily gives tours of the vineyards and talks about the wine production after making a booking directly with him. Wine tasting with accompanying nibbles is available

    Wine can be and is shipped worldwide.

    Quality extra virgin olive oil from the Monte Iblei available to buy in an oil box (like a wine box). This makes it easily transportable and packable.

    Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday from 08:00 - 13:00

    From 22 February 2014 from 18:00 - 22:30 and then every Saturday until further notice -
    Aperitivi of slices of salumi, formaggi and stuzzichini with wine - €10 per person

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    The Tyrant's ear

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Aug 31, 2008

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    The strange cave, the entrance of which is shaped rather like a faun's pointed ear, known as the Orecchio di Dionigi (Ear of Dionysius) in the Latomia del Paradiso is actually one of the tunnels dug out by the slave quarry workers. Shaped inside like a hugely elongated gothic arch, it reaches 65 metres back into the hillside, is between 5 and 11 metres wide and 23 metres high. The quarry workers started with a narrow tunnel and removed layer after layer at the floor of the cave slightly widening it with every layer.

    It was the artist Caravaggio who named the cave Dionysius' Ear when he visited it in 1608 when he was told an old legend about the tyrant Dionysius the Elder. The legend told how the cave's strange accoustics allowed the tyrant to sit high above the floor of the cave and hear even the quietest whisper clearly as the cave's strange shape amplifies the sound up to
    16 times. There's no explanation as to why the tyrant would wish to eavesdrop on the slaves. Nowadays the acoustics are more usually tested by clapping or the odd outbreak of singing.

    The cave next to the tyrant's ear is known as the Ropemaker's Cave - Grotta dei Corda. Closed to visitors at present, it was used from the 17th century until quite recently as a rope-making works, its straight length and considerable humidity making it ideal for that work.

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    To market, to market

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Aug 30, 2008

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    No visit to a Sicilian city is complete without time spent exploring the market and Syracuse is no exception. Make your way past the inevitable stalls of cheap goods being sold by (mostly) immigrants, it's the fresh produce that's the real attraction here - stall after stall of fantastic fish and seafood so fresh you can almost see it twitching still, vegetables that look as though they've come straight from the garden to the market and fruit that still has the smell of the orchard and orange grove about it.

    Bring a bag with you and pick up some goodies as you pass through - lumpy, bumpy tomatoes that you know will taste of the sun that ripened them; a handful of fresh herbs - basil and parsley, pungent and aromatic , the perfect accompaniment to a round of creamy fresh ricotta; shiny plump black olives; a punnet of golden apricots; a loaf of flour-dusted crusty bread. Visit the marvellous shop at the end of the market street, down near the bridge to try before you buy some delicious pancetta and spicy salami, a bottle of peppery olive oil, a slab of sharp pecorino and some creamy gorgonzola. How about a bottle of good red to go with it all? There you have it - a lunch fit for the gods.

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    All around the island

    by TheWanderingCamel Updated Aug 30, 2008

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    Low bridge ahead
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    A late afternoon trip around Ortygia and out to the nearby sea caves by boat is a great way to spend an hour or so. You'll find several operators offering essentially the same tour - we chose one from near the Porta Marina that took us along the inner harbour, past the Venetian-inspired palazzo that was once the home of Sicilian poet, Antonio Cardile and under the Ponte Nuovo and the very low arches of the bridge near the old Post Office (currently being converted into a very swish hotel). Leaving the brightly painted fishing boats and yachts at their moorings behind us, we sailed out into the Ionian Sea, following the coast north until we reached the sea caves in the cliffs below Tyche, the northern quarter of the mainland city.

    As the skipper manouevred the boat into the cave he pointed out the bright orange coral growing on the rocks along the water line. The light in the cave was extraordinary and the colours were magical - the intense turquoise blues and crystal clear water of the sea contrasting with purples and greens in the rock walls and the orange coral. After sailing in to a couple more caves and around the rock formations we headed across an open stretch of water back towards Ortygia .

    There was an ever-changing vista of the city as we sailed along the eastern shore of Ortygia, around the southern tip where the Castello Maniace has stood guard since the 13th century and along the western shore back to where we started. With the sun in the west behind our backs, the light was lovely, touching the walls and rooftops with gold.

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