Itinerary: Syracuse, Sicily
Wandering on Ortigia isle, the ancient heart of Magna Graecia Syracuse, to discover evidence of its glorious past
Syracuse, a beautiful ancient city in Sicily, is rich in history, art, culture, and traditions. It is an ancient town that was founded back in 734 B.C. by the Greek Corinthian colonists. It quickly became a flourishing commercial center. As it was described by Cicero, Syracuse, at that time, was the most important and the most beautiful city of the whole Magna Graecia. It is also said, it was more beautiful than Athens was.
In 211 B.C., the Romans took control of the city and despite it remained the capital of Sicily that was the beginning of its decline. Later, it became part of the Byzantine Empire. At the end of the 17th century, after a heavy earthquake and during the reconstruction works many Baroque-style buildings were built. Nowadays Syracuse is a provincial capital, an amazing town full of old-time charm you should visit when in Sicily.
Ortigia (pic°1) is a small isle linked by three bridges to the mainland. It is the heart and the ancient part of Syracuse. Walking along its narrow, old alleys is a unique experience!
Start out on your tour from Piazza Pancali, where there are the ruins of the Temple of Apollo (pic°3), the oldest Doric temple in Sicily. The Temple was built by a group of Greek colonists in the sixth century B.C. The present building testifies its many uses over the centuries, first as a Byzantine church, then as an Arab mosque, later as a Norman church, and finally as barracks of the Spanish army.
A few steps away you can also admire the small Church of St.Paul, one of the oldest religious buildings of Ortygia.
Then go down on Corso Matteotti towards Piazza Archimedes (Archimedes Square) (pic n°4). In the middle of this square, you will find the fountain of Artemis built in 1906 by Giulio Moschetti. Piazza Archimedes is overlooked by some of the most beautiful buildings of Syracuse, such as the fifteenth century Palazzo Platamone that was rebuilt in the '50s located on the west side or Palazzo Gargallo, a palace of the eighteenth century on the south side while on the east side there is the fifteenth century Palazzo Lanza Buccheri.
Now, turn right in via Minerva and reach the majestic Piazza Duomo. This is an elliptical square and here too, you can admire some more beautiful and impressive buildings: Palazzo Vermexio was built in the seventeenth century on the ruins of an archaic Ionic temple and now it si home to the town hall, Palazzo del Bosco Benevento (pic n°6) was rebuilt at the end of the eighteenth century or Bishop's Palace.
Syracuse's Cathedral (Duomo di Siracusa) (pic n°2) is located on the left side. With a Baroque-style façade, it was entirely built on the ruins of the Greek Temple of Athena. Some evidence of it is still visible such as the massive Doric columns along the left aisle, badly damaged by earthquakes.
Keep on walking along Via Pompeo Picherali until you reach the fabled fresh-water Spring of Arethusa (Fonte Aretusa) (pic°5) with its papyrus planted in the middle of it. It is an important place for the inhabitants of Syracuse where to meet and walk along the seaside or simply idle a little bit.
Continue walking towards Castello Maniace located not far from the spring, at the tip of the isle, which will be the final destination of this tour. Maniace Castle (pic n°1) was built by the "great" Frederick II between 1232-40 and named after the Byzantine general George Maniakes. It is an impressive fortification that is surely worth a visit.
In recent years, the castle hosted the 'Ortigia Film Festival', a yearly event devoted to movie, music, theatre and visual arts.
Some pictures of Syracuse:
Ortigia, Maniace Castle (pic n°1); Syracuse's Cathedral (pic n°2); Temple of Apollo (pic n°3); Piazza Archimedes (Archimedes Square) (pic n°4); Spring of Arethusa (Fonte Aretusa) (pic n°5); Palazzo del Bosco Benevento (pic n°6);