Syracuse is an ancient city of Greek
origin, dating back to the 28th century BC. The city sits in the
south-east of the island of Sicily on the gulf of Syracuse by the Ionian Sea.
Syracuse population stands at about 125,00 inhabitants in the central area.
Siracusans speak the Sicilian language. Syracuse’s weather is a typical
Mediterranean climate: winters are mild and wet and summers are warm to hot and
Traces witnessing a history that dates back
to the period of Mycenaean Greece can be found in the villages of Stentinello,
Ognina, Plemmirio, Matrensa, Cozzo Pantano and Thapsos.
Corinthian and Tenean settlers founded
Syracuse (Συρακοῦσαι transliterated from the Ancient Greek is
Syrakousai) about the year 734 BC (At present Syracuse is twin city of Corinth
due to its Greek origin).
Their leader named it Sirako due to a salt marsh
situated near the foundation. The island of Ortygia was the most important part
of the city. The land proved fertile and the primitive inhabitants accepted
their newcomers. The city flourished and it remained as a leading city around
the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. In the following centuries other colonies
Akrai, Kasmenai, Akillai Helorus and Kamarina were built nearby.
passed by Syracuse became the most beautiful in Magna Grecia, according to
Cicero, and a powerful city whose influence spread over it.
The descendant of the privileged
forefathers of the city, the Gamoroi held power until the lower class, the
Killichiroi took it. The help of Gelo the leader of Gela restored the Gamoroi to
power. However Gelo turned the real ruler of the city where he ordered to build
a new theatre where Aeschylus, Ario of Metimma, Eumelos of Corinth and Sappho
won a place on stage.
The constinuously growing power of Syracuse was not
accepted by the Carthaginians in western Sicily. Victory favoured Gelo who
erected a temple in memory of the battle against Hamilcar.
Hiero, Gelo’s heir, was immortalized by
Simonides of Ceos, Bacchylides and Pindar in their poems. Thrasybulos (467 BC) established
the first democratic regime on the island. The city expanded its power over the
island and other islands such as Corsica and Elba. In 5th century it
sided with Sparta to fight against Athens.
Part of 4th century with
Dionysus the Elder in power, the struggle with Cartage intersperced with
periods of expansion, construction of walls and a fortress, and founding of new
cities and the conquest of Calabria on the mainland.
Dionysius was celebrated for
fostering art in the city which was visited by Plato in those times. Years of despotic
ruling, internal struggles, democratic ruling and external struggles against Cartage followed Dionysus’s death..
When Hiero II came to power peace and quiet
let the a city grow in all aspects for 50 years. It was considered at the time
one of the most famous capitals of Antiquity.
Lex Hhieronica was his work that
was later taken by the Romans for their administration of the island. During
his ruling the theatre was extended and Archimedes the philosopher created some
innovative military weapons that helped Syracuse resist the Romans laying siege
to the city.
The following ruler sided with Cartage and
the Romans laid siege to the city that lasted three years. When finally the Romans
entered the city, Archimedes was one of the heavy unfortunate losses.
The city remained capital of the Roman
government in Sicily and a strategic trading port between eastern and western
empire. However, it began to lose its splendour.
Paul of Tarsus and Saint Marziano,
the first bishop of Syracuse, turn Syracuse in a main religious centre. The
enormous catacombs follow the Roman ones in size.
Vandals took power when the Roman Empire
collapsed. However, the city was recaptured by the Byzantines in 535 and was
chosen by Constans II from 663 to 668 as his seat and main city of the Sicilian
In 878 the Muslims seized power and made
Palermo the capital. Important catholic buildings were used as mosques and
their style was changed to follow the Islamic one. However, the city kept its
intensive economic, cultural and artistic activities.
The Byzantine general George Maniaces took
the city and sent Saint Lucy’s remains to Constantinople ( She was born in
Syracuse and for centuries has been its patron saint whose celebration is held
on 13th December). The castle nestled on Cape of Ortygia was called
About 50 years later
the Normans led by Roger I of Sicily and his son seized the city, recovered it and
returned the cathedral and churches to the Christian church.
Later on different crowns took the power of
the city: Henry VI of Swavia, then Genoese rulers for a short period and
Frederick II who ordered to build Castello Maniace, the Bishops\' Palace and the
After his death feudal anarchy took the city. At the end of 13th
century in the struggle between the house of Anjou and Aragon, Syracuse supported
the Spanish later was rewarded with privileges when they seize power.
1542 and 1693 were terrible years for
Syracuse. Earthquakes shook the city and a plague decimated the population in
1729. After the 17th century disastrous years Syracuse and the
cities on Val di Noto were rebuilt following the baroque style which produced
an extensive change in the city’s style. In 1837 the cholera outbreak stirred
up towards animosity against the Bourbons and the city rebelled against them.
The government thought that the revolt had been suppressed.
However, due to the
events of 1848 it was obvious that the independence movement was still part of
When Italy was unified in 1865 Syracuse
became the capital of the province, a title that had lost after the events of 1837.
In the 70s the city witnessed many changes as to infrastructure: the demolition
of the walls, the construction of a bridge from Ortygia to the mainland and the
building of a railway.
During the World War II Syracuse was
heavily bombed by the Allied in 1943.
The allied invaded Sicily, an operation
named Operation Husky, the city was easily taken in July 1943 by the British
who established their base for the Royal Navy at the port. The Commonwealth war graves in the west of the city where
1000 men rest reminds Siracusani of those terrible days.
The whole city of Syracuse and the
Necropolis of Pantalica which is situated in the province of Syracuse have been
included on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 2005.
intends to revalue and preserve outstanding natural and cultural sites for the
posterity. The sites are submitted to a committee for approval which in the
case of Syracuse argued that the priceless monuments and archaeological sites
in the city reveal the architecture of different cultures and periods: Greek, Roman,
and baroque. Another reason stated by the committee was the fact that ancient Syracuse
has been part of events, ideas and literary works that have made turning points
in the history of humanity.
WHAT TO SEE:
Cathedral of Syracuse
How to Get to/ around/away
BUS: there are buses connecting running from
catania, Noto, Modica, Ragusa And Gela.
CAR: take the ferry to Messina
PLANE: Catania is the closest airport with a direct
bus service to Syracuse. The second option is the airport in Palermo.
TRAIN: it is on the line running from Messina,
Taormina and Catania along the coast. There are direct trains from Rome. From Palermo, you will have to change
at Messina. From the mainland, take
the ferry to Messina.
FERRY: there are ferries to Palermo from Naples,
Livorno,Genoa and ferries to
Catania from Naples.