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Siracusa

Overview

From its superb position on the eastern Sicilian coast, the city of Syracuse extends off the island of Ortigia, where the most important traces of its glorious past can be found. Ortigia is connected to the mainland by a bridge, beyond which lies the modern city. Founded in 734-733 BC by a group of Corinthian colonists, it took the name Syraka. Syracuse is linked to the name of Dionysius I, one of the greatest princes of his time, who ensured its hegemony over Magna Graecia and gained great prestige throughout the Mediterranean. Only with great sacrifice and deception did the Romans manage to conquer this city, defended by the extraordinary works of Archimedes, in 212 BC. Despite its decline, Syracuse remained the best known and most important city in Sicily, to the point that the Eastern Emperor Constant II chose Syracuse as the capital of his empire. It was only after the Arab conquest in 888 that it lost supremacy among Sicilian cities and began its slow decline.  

Monuments

The Temple of Apollo and Artemis dates back to the first half of the 6th century and is therefore the oldest of the great Greek temples in Sicily. Over the centuries, it was transformed into a Byzantine church, mosque and Christian basilica and all subsequent transformations were discovered during excavations between 1,938 and 1,943. The temple was Doric and has some peculiarities due to the Archaic period. The Cathedral overlooks the square, surrounded by elegant Baroque buildings (these, by the way, are a characteristic feature of Ortigia, as they are found everywhere on the island) and occupies an ancient sacred site. The Neapolis Archaeological Park, inside which one can see the 'Latomie', stone quarries from which materials were removed to expand the urban area of Syracuse. The most striking is the 'Latomia del Paradiso', located in a lush garden. The famous 'Ear of Dionysius', a large cave with an extraordinary acoustic amplification effect. Legend has it that the tyrant from whom the cave takes its name, hiding near a crevice in the rock, listened to every conversation, even if whispered, of the prisoners locked up in it. Not far away is the 'Cava dei Cordari' (named after the word meaning 'he who makes the rope'). Finally, in order, the smaller 'Latomia'. The Greek theatre, the most perfect expression of theatre architecture and one of the largest Greek theatres in the world (138.60 m in diameter). In the theatre, carved into the rock of the hill, the first tragedies and comedies by famous authors such as Aeschylus and Epicharmus took place, and the old stage is still used today. Every two years, the National Institute of Ancient Drama organises classical plays from ancient Greece here. The Altar of Hieron The remains of this huge structure are located next to the theatre. It was an altar, almost 200 metres long, where public sacrifices took place.   The Roman Amphitheatre dates back to the 3rd or 4th century AD, and its shape is elliptical, with an external diameter of 140 and 119 metres, slightly smaller than the Arena in Verona. From 1.526 Spain systematically despoiled the monuments of Neapolis for the construction of the fortifications of Ortigia, causing severe damage to the structures that were probably still well preserved. The monuments were brought to light during subsequent excavations in the 19th century.

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