In eastern Sicily is Syracuse, a fascinating and evocative place that Cicero called “the most beautiful city of Magna Grecia”, retains intact the signs of its history as a cultural capital from the Greek era until the Renaissance and Baroque.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005, the city stands in the frame of a picturesque natural harbour, closed to the east by the peninsula of Ortigia and behind by the plateau of the Epipolis.
Founded in 734 B.C. by Corinthian colonists and visited, ever since ancient times, by Greek and Phoenician merchants, Syracuse enjoyed a period of great political fortune and cultural splendor like Athens and Alexandria until the Roman conquest of 212 B.C. when it began its decadence and, In the following centuries, it was conquered by Arabs, Byzantines, Normans, Swabians and in the fourteenth century by the Aragonese.
The city preserves in every corner the testimonies of its past.
Greek, Roman and Baroque style blend in an irresistible scenario that tells millennia of history starting from the oldest core: the peninsula of Ortigia, a small paradise that emerges from the waters of the Ionian Sea along the east coast of Sicily.
The island, about 1 square kilometre long, is connected by two bridges that can be accessed by car and on foot and houses buildings from different eras and different peoples that inhabited and create a unique set of culture and traditions. Magnificent testimonies of the very important Hellenic period are represented by the works and precious discoveries including the Temple of Athena whose remains blend with the current cathedral built in the seventeenth century in full Baroque style. This imposing building stands in the homonymous Piazza Duomo which, together with Piazza Montalto, is one of the nerve centers of the island. It is joined by the remains of the Temple of Apollo, probably the oldest Doric temple in the Greek West, transformed over the centuries into a Byzantine church and an Arab mosque, a Norman church and – even – a Spanish barracks.
A beautiful baroque building is the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, once part of a convent and for several years deconsecrated and home to the exhibition of a splendid work of art by Caravaggio, the Burial of Santa Lucia.
Among the many architectural beauties of eastern Sicily, you can definitely visit also the castle Maniace, which stands on the tip of the island, once considered a strategic position to monitor what was happening in the open sea and used for military purposes.
Particularly interesting is also the Fonte Aretusa, a body of water in which the encounter between the sweet and the salty sea that recalls the famous Greek myth of Arethusa and Alpheus takes place and represents, with its countless papyrus plants, one of the only papireti in Italy.
You can also find historically interesting the spectacular Marina promenade and the port Marina, an ancient entrance from the sea, which preserves evident Arab remains in its facade, without forgetting the maze of the ancient Jewish district of Giudecca.
Visiting Syracuse, visiting Ortigia, visiting eastern Sicily is therefore an unmissable opportunity to take a dip in a still intact past , far from the routine and clamour of the city, to learn the secrets of this magical place to discover rich in art, tradition and culture.