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  3. Siracusa

Siracusa, Italy

Morning view of Siracusa, Sicily. Photo © Paradoxplace.com.

Syracuse (Siracusa) is a coastal town on the island of Sicily, located 198 miles SE of Palermo and 154 miles E of Agrigento. Of the many ancient Greek cities that flourished on the coast of Sicily, Syracuse was the most important. It was a formidable rival to Athens and in its 4th-century BC heyday it took on Carthage and even Rome.

Colonists from Corinth founded Syracuse in about 735 BC. Syracuse came under attack from Athens in 415 BC, but the main Athenian fleet was destroyed and the soldiers on the mainland were captured. In 212 AD, after a three-year siege, the city fell to the Romans under Marcellus. In the attack Syracuse lost its most famous son, the Greek physicist/mathematician Archimedes. Another siege in 878 AD inaugurated two centuries of Muslim rule. In 1085 the Normans followed and in 1194 Henry VI of Swabia occupied Syracuse. Under Frederick II the city and the whole of Sicily flourished again. In the struggle between the Anjou and Aragonese monarchies, Syracuse sided with the Aragonese and defeated the Anjou in 1298, receiving from the Spanish sovereigns great privileges in reward.

The ancient treasures of Syracuse are an undoubted highlight of any trip to Sicily, but the city itself has been in a millennia-long decline. Syracuse was struck by two ruinous earthquakes in 1542 and 1693, and in 1729 by a plague. More destruction was caused by the Allied and the German bombings in 1943. Today, Syracuse is a city of 125,000 inhabitants that blends often unattractive modern development with the remains of its former glory. Syracuse was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

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Sacred Sites and Religious Attractions in Siracusa

  • Catacombs of St. John
    This extensive complex of early Christian tombs is entered through the ruins of a 12th-century Norman church. Some ancient frescoes can still be seen in the catacombs.
  • Temple of Apollo
    Dating from the 6th century BC, this is the oldest Doric temple in western Europe. Subsequently used as a church and a mosque, it now lies in ruins on the island of Ortygia.