Founded by the Corinths in 734 BC, in ancient times Syracuse was the most important cultural centre of the west along with Athens. After having been Greek, Syracuse was Roman, Arab, Byzantine and Norman. History, art and archaeology from diverse periods and cultures, along with the climate, light, sea and an extremely particular geographical position are the ingredients that still today make this Sicilian city one of the most charming of the Mediterranean.
Syracuse is the fourth city in Sicily and has about 120 thousand inhabitants. It lies on the eastern coast of Sicily, 65 kilometres south of Catania, and stretches in part along the mainland and in part along the island of Ortigia, the original nucleus of the city. It’s the administrative seat of the province of the same name, and since 2005 has been a World Heritage UNESCO site together with the Necropolis at Pantalica.
Syracuse – Things to do
Inside the Neapolis Archaeological Park, you can find archaeological remains which are amongst the most important and best preserved in the whole Mediterranean area. The Greek Theatre dates back to the 5th century BC and was later enlarged to host fifteen thousand spectators. It’s very well preserved and is still used during summer for open-air shows and theatre. Inside the Neapolis, visit the Roman Amphitheatre, elliptic in shape and partially dug into the rocks. Besides this, there’s the Ara di Ierone II, where public sacrifices took place in honour of Zeus; the Latomie, large caves that in ancient times were used both as dwellings and prisons and the Orecchio di Dionisio, a very high and deep cave with its own echo effect.
A bridge links the mainland with the island of Ortigia, the original nucleus of the city, characterised by sublime squares and Baroque churches, Norman castles, silent alleys and unexpected panoramic openings onto the sea. Amongst the most important monuments, there’s the 17th century Duomo with its dramatic square, the Temple of Apollo and the Castle of Maniace which was built by Federico II of Svevia. The whole of Ortigia is a mosaic of art, history and culture, one to discover slowly and on foot.
Syracuse – restaurants and food
There’s the fruit, vegetable and fish market in Ortigia, an ideal place to nosey round, do some shopping and buy fresh Sicilian produce. For eating out, there are plenty of restaurants and trattorias that offer regional cooking and are able to satisfy every need. Ristorante Medusa has the freshest of fish. For those who prefer meat dishes and the cooking of the land, there’s the Osteria Mariano, home of the traditional cooking of the Ibleian Mountains. Vegetarians will appreciate the soups at Trattoria La Foglia. For an open-air pizza under the trees, go to the Cenacolo, right behind the cathedral. For seafront dining you can sit at Lungolanotte Café, open both for lunch and dinner, suitable for an aperitif or an after-dinner drink.
Round and about Syracuse – beaches and trips
There are beautiful sandy beaches south of Syracuse, favourite destinations for both tourists and Syracusans and often crowded in high season. The most famous are the Arenella beaches and Fontane Bianche.
Turning inland east of Syracuse, you can take good archaeological trips, wine and food tours and nature excursions. Amongst the most interesting sites are the necropolis at Pantalica and the small town of Palazzolo Acreide with its archaeological park of the ancient Akrai and the Greek Theatre of the 3rd Century BC. At Palazzolo Acreide there are characteristic uphill alleys, sunny squares and Baroque churches. There are also several trattorias with local cooking, including the excellent Ristorante Andrea.
Syracuse – How to get there
You can get to Syracuse from Sicily’s other cities by train or car. The nearest airport is Catania Fontanarossa, about 70 kilometres away. Low cost flights go from all the main European airports with various airlines such as Easyjet and Windjet.
Catania airport is connected to Syracuse by a bus service (autobus). Alternatively, you can rent a car or take a bus or taxi to Catania’s train station where frequent regional and intercity trains leave for Syracuse. It takes about an hour by car from Catania to Syracuse, and about an hour and half by bus or by train.