More than any other Sicilian city, Siracusa (Syracuse) has a past that is central not just to the island's history, but to that of the entire Mediterranean region. Its greatest splendour belongs to antiquity. Siracusa (Syracuse) established its ascendancy over other Sicilian cities for more than five hundred years and at its height was the supreme power in Europe, with at least three times its present population.
Its central position on the major trade routes ensured that even after its heyday the port continued to wield influence and preserve its prestige. All this is reflected in a staggering diversity of monuments, spanning the Hellenic, early Christian, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras - the styles are often shoulder to shoulder, sometimes in the same building. Combined with its inspired location, this distracting medley makes Siracusa (Syracuse) one of the most enjoyable towns in Sicily in which to spend time.
Siracusa (Syracuse) has forever depended upon the sea, rallying herself around the Island of Ortigia, overlooking a wonderful bay on the east coast.
In ancient times Syracuse was Sicily's most powerful Greek city. Founded on the east coast of the island by colonists from Corinth about 734 B.C., Syracuse grew rapidly, founding in turn the colony of Camarina, on the southern coast, in about 589. Syracusan control of much of Sicily was achieved by the tyrants Gelon (r. 485-478) and Hiero I (r. 478-467). Gelon destroyed a mighty Carthaginian army at Himera in 480. After Hiero's death a democracy was installed (466-405); it thwarted (427-424) Athenian attempts at domination and defeated (415-413) the Athenian army and navy in one of the decisive battles of the Peloponnesian War.
Another tyrant, Dionysius the Elder, lifted Syracuse to new heights in the 4th century. He contended with Carthage, an omnipresent threat, reasserted control over Sicily, fought the Etruscans, had dealings with Rome, and created a court famous for its splendor. The troubled reign of his son, Dionysius the Younger, who studied with and rejected Plato, ended in 344, when Timoleon reintroduced an ephemeral democracy. Agathocles became king in 304.
Syracuse declined in the 3d century B.C. Although Pyrrhus fended off the Carthaginians (278-275) and Hiero II (r. c.270-215) enjoyed a long and prosperous rule as a Roman ally, after Hiero's death Syracuse became allied with Carthage, Rome's adversary in the Punic Wars. Rome besieged faction-torn Syracuse, compelling its surrender in 212. Syracuse became the capital of the province of Sicily and enjoyed relative prosperity. It was ravaged by the Franks in the 280, became Muslim in the 9th century, and was conquered by the Normans 200 years later.
Places to see in Siracusa:
Places to visit in the province of Siracusa are:
Map of Syracuse province