Siracusa

Taormina
2 Aprile 2016
Cruise around Sicily
2 Aprile 2016
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Siracusa

In brief
Once one of ancient Greece’s most important cities, today Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) is a lively town of about 125,000 on Sicily’s southeast coast. The city overflows with amazing remnants from its long history. Romans, Vandals and Normans are but a few of those who ruled here after the Greeks. In Syracuse’s harbor, Ortygia Island (also called Città Vecchia or Old City) is the site of many of the main attractions, including the seventh-century cathedral and the Fountain of Arethusa. History:
Syracuse was founded in 734 B.C. by settlers from Corinth who were inspired, in choosing the name, by the local name for a nearby arsh, called Syraka. In the fifth century the influence of Syracuse was felt all over the Mediterranean. Despite a certain decline, Syracuse remained the best known and most important city in Sicily, and indeed the eastern emperor Constant II for a period made it the capital of his empire. It was only with the Arab conquest, in 878, that Syracuse lost its supremacy among Sicilian cities and its true slow decline began. The dominations common to all Sicily were shared by Syracuse too, which never again reached the incredible vertices of the fifth century, but changed into that tranquil city that it is today, the silent and proud heir to a magnifìcent past. It is small, pretty, seated on the shores of the gulf with gardens and promenades going down as far as the waves. “Syracuse, in the words of Guy De Maupassant, who visited it in the late nineteenth century, is something quite different from the magnificent metropolis that it was in the fifth century”. At that time, when Dionysius I reigned, it was one of the biggest and most powerful cities in the Mediterranean, embellished by temples and palaces, gardens and fountains, rich in terms of money, culture and power. It was an ideal city according to Plato, who visited it several times, placing in it his hopes for political and social renewal. It was a magnificent city according to Simonides, Pindar, Bacchilides and Aeshylus, who sang of its beauty. A city of enormous military power, capable of checkmating the terrible cities of Carthage and Athens.

Main Monuments

The Greek Theatre – It is the most perfect example of theatrical architecture that has come down to us and it was one of the biggest theatres in the Greek world (diameter 138.6 m.). We have notices of it starting from the fifth century B.C., when Syracuse was already one of the most important cultural centres in the Mediterranean. However, the form in which we can admire it today was probably done in the second century B.C. In the theatre, the “premières” of tragedies and comedies made by famous authors, like Aeschylus and Epicharmus, were performed and the stage is still used today: every two years. The National Institute for Ancient Drama organises Greek classical performances here. Jeron’s arena – The remains of this gigantic structure are close to the theatre. This was an altar, almost 200 metres long, on which the town’s public sacrifices were made. The Roman amphitheatre – Dating from the third or fourth century A.C., it has an elliptical shape, with external diameters of 140 and 119 metres, so that it is only slightly smaller than the Verona arena. Starting from 1526 the Spanish began systematic despoiling of the Neapolis monuments to build the Ortigia fortress, obviously doing a serious damage to the structures, which were probably still well preserved at that time. The monuments were brought to light in digging campaigns starting from the nineteent century.
Artistic heritage – Ortigia The Temple of Apollo and Artemis – The ruins of this temple are in Largo XXV Luglio. It dates right back to the seventh century B.C. and hence is the oldest Greek temple in Sicily. Over the centuries it was converted into a Byzantine church, a mosque and then a Christian basilica, and of all these successive constructions traces were found in the course of digging campaigns in 1938-43. The temple was Doric and shows some peculiarities due to its antiquity. The Cathedral – It is in Piazza Duomo, surrounded by elegant Baroque palaces (the latter are a particular feature of Ortigia, and are disseminated all over the island), and occupies an ancient sacred area. Diggings here and in the immediate vicinity have made it possible to reconstruct the development of the building right from the Siculo settlement. There was a Ionic temple, the only one of its kind known in the Greek west; its sparse ruins can be seen in the basement of the Town Hall. The cathedral is the outcome of successive transformations made to the grandiose temple of Athena, probably built by the Diomenides, the family founded by Gelon, the first tyrant of Syracuse. It was a six column per row peripteral building, with 36 columns almost 9 metres high with a diameter of 2 m. Its magnificence was celebrated by Cicero. Its doors were made of gold and ivory. On its top shone the golden shield of Athena, guiding navigators. Almost in the seventh century the intercolumns were closed and the temple transformed into a Christian church, later proclaimed a cathedral. The façade, which dates from the eighteenth century, is imposing and decorated with statues and Corinthian columns. The interior, of the basilica type, has three naves: the middle one occupies what was the cell of the ancient temple, whose columns protrude from the walls. There are numerous works of art, among which we will mention the painting on wood with a golden background showing St. Cosimo, attributed to Antonello da Messina, in the Crocifisso chapel; the Gagini statue of the Madonna della Neve, on the altar in the left apse, the only one from the Byzantine church; the gaudy Baroque high altar, the flat part of which is a monolithic block from the beams in the Temple of Athena. The Fountain of Arethusa – In a square looking out over the sea, this little fountain, inhabited by white ducks and surrounded by slender papyri, is the symbol of the relations between Syracuse and the mother- city Corinth, never interrupted despite the distance. The legend has it that Arethusa, to get away from the impetuous love of Alpheus, threw herself into the sea. The goddess Artemis, taking pity, transformed her into a spring which, disappearing under the ground in Greece, reappeared this side of the sea at Ortigia. Alpheus was changed into a river, but this was not enough to keep him away from his beloved nymph: his waters too crossed the sea, to burst out in a spring not far from the Fountain of Arethusa. Maniace Castle – rises imposingly on the waterfront in Ortigia. It was built at the behest of Frederick II in about 1239. The castle, which blends military architecture with the elegance of a court, still preserves the external thirteenth-century structure with a square layout, with massive corner towers. The entrance is decorated with a magnificent marble portal in the Gothic style. The great fortress, whose name derives from “Eurvelos”, i.e. “nail with a broad base”, was protected to the west by three big moats, the third of which was connected to the whole defensive system, made up of an intricate maze of tunnels and passages with an overall length of 480 metres, and of five towers a full 15 metres high. The Neapolis archaeological park. The Latomie – These are the quarries from which the material was obtained which was used to build up Syracuse. The most interesting one is the Paradise Latomia,immersed in a luxuriant garden. In it there is the so-called “Dionysius’ Ear”, a big artificial grotto in which there is an extraordinary acoustic effect of amplification. It is narrated that the tyrant, who gave the grotto its name, standing near an appropriate crack at the top of the cave, listened to every word, even whispered, of the prisoners in it.