( , , – transliterated:
) is a historic city
in southern Italy
of the province of Syracuse
. The city is famous for
its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture and association to Archimedes, playing an important role in ancient
times as one of the top powers of the Mediterranean world; it is over 2,700 years old.
is located in the south-east corner of the island of Sicily, right by the Gulf of Syracuse next to the
was founded by Ancient Greek Corinthians and became a very powerful city-state. Syracuse was allied
with Sparta and Corinth, exerting
influence over the entire Magna
Grecia area of which it was the most important
Once described by Cicero
greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all", it later
became part of the Roman Republic
. After this Palermo overtook it
in importance, as the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily.
kingdom would be united with the Kingdom of Naples
to form the Two Sicilies
until the Italian unification
modern day, the city is listed by UNESCO as a
World Heritage Site along with
the Necropolis of
In the central area, the city itself has a
population of around 125,000 people. The inhabitants are known as
, and the local language spoken by its
inhabitants is the Sicilian
. Syracuse is mentioned in the Bible
in the Acts of
book at 28:12 as Paul
stayed there. The patron saint
of the city is Saint Lucy
; she was born in Syracuse and her
feast day, Saint Lucy's Day
celebrated on 13 December.
Syracuse and its surrounding area have been inhabited since ancient
times, as shown by the findings in the villages of Stentinello,
Ognina, Plemmirio, Matrensa, Cozzo Pantano and Thapsos
which already had a relationship with Mycenaean Greece
was founded in 734 or 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth and Tenea, led by the
oecist (colonizer) Archias, who called it
Sirako, referring to a nearby salt marsh.
The nucleus of the ancient city was the small island of
. The settlers found the land fertile and
the native tribes to be reasonably well-disposed to their presence.
grew and prospered, and for some time stood as the most powerful
Greek city anywhere in the Mediterranean. Colonies were founded at Akrai (664 BC), Kasmenai (643
BC), Akrillai (VII century BC), Helorus (VII century
BC) and Kamarina (598 BC).
descendants of the first colonist, called Gamoroi
the power until they were expelled by the Killichiroi
lower class of the city. The former, however, returned to power in
485 BC, thanks to the help of Gelo, ruler of
Gelo himself became the despot of the city,
and moved many inhabitants of Gela, Kamarina and Megera to
Syracuse, building the new quarters of Tyche
outside the walls.
program of new constructions included a new theater, designed by
Damocopos, which gave the city a
flourishing cultural life: this in turn attracted personalities as
Aeschylus, Ario of Metimma, Eumelos of Corinth and Sappho, who had been exiled here from Mytilene. The enlarged power of Syracuse made
unavoidable the clash against the Carthaginians, who ruled western Sicily. In the Battle of Himera, Gelo, who had
allied with Theron of Agrigento, decisively defeated the African force led by
, entitled to Athena
the site of the today's Cathedral), was erected in the city to
commemorate the event
succedeed by his brother Hiero,
who fought against the Etruscans at Cumae in 474
His rule was eulogized by poets like Simonides of Ceos
who visited his court. A democratic regime was introduced by
continued to expand in Sicily, fighting
against the rebellious Siculi, and on the
Sea, making expeditions up to Corsica and Elba.
late 5th century BC, Syracuse found itself at war with Athens, which
sought more resources to fight the Peloponnesian War. The Syracusans
enlisted the aid of a general from Sparta, Athens' foe
in the war, to defeat the Athenians, destroy their ships, and leave
them to starve on the island (see Sicilian Expedition).
In 401 BC,
Syracuse contributed a force of 3,000 hoplites
and a general to Cyrus the Younger
's Army of the Ten Thousand
the early 4th century BC, the tyrant Dionysius the Elder was again at war
against Carthage and, although losing Gela and Camarina, kept that
power from capturing the whole of Sicily. After the end of the
conflict Dionysius built a massive fortress on the Ortygia island of the city and 22 km-long walls around
all of Syracuse. Another period of expansion saw the
destruction of Naxos, Catania and Lentini, then Syracuse entered again in war against
Carthage (397 BC).
After various changes of fortune, the
Carthaginians managed to besiege Syracuse itself, but were
eventually pushed back by a pestilence. A treaty in 392 BC
allowed Syracuse to enlarge further its possessions, founding the
cities of Adrano, Ancona, Adria, Tindari and
Tauromenos, and conquering Reggio Calabria on the continent.
Apart from his battle
deeds, Dionysius was famous as a patron of art, and Plato
himself visited Syracuse several times.
His successor was Dionysius the
, who was however expelled by Dion
in 356 BC. But the latter's
despotic rule led in turn to his expulsion, and Dionysius reclaimed
his throne in 347 BC. A democratic government was installed by
in 345 BC. The long series of
internal struggles had weakened Syracuse's power on the island, and
Timoleon tried to remedy this, defeating the Carthaginians in 339
BC near the Krimisos
river. But the
struggle among the city's parties restarted after his death and
ended with the rise of another tyrant, Agathocles
, who seized power with a coup in 317
BC. He resumed the war against Carthage, with alternate fortunes.
He however scored a moral success, bringing the war to the
Carthaginians' native African soil, inflicting heavy losses to the
enemy. The war ended with another treaty of peace which did not
prevent the Carthaginians interfering in the politics of Syracuse
after the death of Agathocles (289 BC). The citizens called
Pyrrhus of Epirus
for help. After
a brief period under the rule of Epirus, Hiero II
seized power in 275 BC.
Hiero inaugurated a period of 50 years of peace and prosperity, in
which Syracause became one of the most renowned capitals of
Antiquity. He issued the so-called Lex Hieronica
was later adopted by the Romans for their administration of Sicily;
he also had the theater enlarged and a new immense altar
, the "Hiero's Ara", built. Under his rule lived
the most famous Syracusan, the natural philosopher Archimedes
. Among his many inventions were
various military engines including the claw of Archimedes
, later used to resist
214 BC–212 BC. Literary figures included Theocritus
successor, the young Hieronymus (ruled from 215 BC), broke
the alliance with the Romans after their defeat at the Battle of
Cannae and accepted Carthage's support.
The siege of Syracuse in a 17th
The Romans, led by consul
Marcus Claudius Marcellus
in 214 BC. The city held out for three years, but fell in
212 BC. It is believed to have fallen due to a peace party opening
a small door in the wall to negotiate a peace, but the Romans
charged through the door and took the city, killing Archimedes in
From Roman domination to the Middle Ages
Though declining slowly by the years, Syracuse maintained the
status of capital of the Roman government of Sicily and seat of the
. It remained an important port for
the trades between the Eastern and the Western parts of the Empire.
spread in the city through
the efforts of Paul of Tarsus
Saint Marziano, the first bishop of the city, who made it one of
the main centres of proselytism
West. In the age of the persecutions massive catacombs
were carved, whose size is second only to
those of Rome.
After a period of Vandal
rule, Syracuse and
the island was recovered by Belisarius
for the Byzantine Empire
December 535). From 663 to 668 Syracuse was the seat of Emperor
, as well as metropolis of
the whole Sicilian Church.
Another siege in 878, resulted in the city coming under two
centuries of Muslim
rule. The capital was moved
from Syracuse to Palermo.
Cathedral was converted into a mosque
quarter on the Ortygia island was gradually rebuilt along Islamic
styles. The city, nevertheless, maintained important trade
relationships, and housed a relatively flourishing cultural and
artistic life: several Arab poets, including Ibn Hamdis
, the most important Sicilian poet of
the 12th century, flourished in the city.
the Byzantine general George
Maniaces reconquered the city, sending the relics of St. Lucy
The eponymous castle on the cape of Ortygia
bears his name, although it was built under the Hohenstaufen
rule. In 1085 the Normans
entered Syracuse, one of the last Arab
strongholds, after a summer-long siege by Roger I of Sicily
and his son Jordan of Hauteville
, who was given the
city as count. New quarters were built, and the cathedral was
restored, as well as other churches.
The Cathedral of Syracuse.
In 1194 Henry VI
occupied Syracuse. After a short
period of Genoese
(1205–1220), which favoured a rise of trades, Syracuse was
conquered back by emperor Frederick II
. He began the
construction of the Castello Maniace, the Bishops' Palace and the Bellomo Palace.
Frederick's death brought a period of unrest and feudal anarchy.
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.
pre-eminence of baronal families is also shown by the construction
of the palaces of Abela
The city was struck by two ruinous earthquakes in 1542 and 1693
, and a plague in 1729. The 17th century
destruction changed forever the appearance of Syracuse, as well as
the entire Val di
Noto, whose cities were rebuilt along the typical lines
of Sicilian Baroque, considered one
of the most typical expressions of art of Southern Italy.
The spread of cholera
in 1837 led to a
revolt against the Bourbon
government. The punishment was the move of the province
capital seat to Noto, but the
unrest had not been totally choked, as the Siracusani took part in
revolution of independence of 1848.
After the Unification of Italy
of 1865, Syracuse regained its status of provincial capital. In
1870 the walls were demolished and a bridge connecting the mainland
to Ortygia island was built. In the following year a railway link
Heavy destruction was caused by the Allied and the German bombings
in 1943. Operation Husky
, the allied
invasion of Sicily was launched on the night of 9/10 July 1943 with
British forces attacking the west of the island. General
captured Syracuse on the first day of the invasion almost
unopposed. The port was then used as a base for the Royal Navy.
west of the city is a Commonwealth War Graves
cemetery where about a 1000 men are buried.
end of World War II
quarters of Syracuse experienced a heavy, often chaotic, expansion,
favoured by the quick process of industrialization.
today has about 125,000 inhabitants and numerous attractions for
the visitor interested in historical sites (such as the Ear of
A process of recovering and restoring the
historical centre has been ongoing since the 1990s. Nearby places of note
include Catania, Noto, Modica and
The Roman amphitheatre.
The Maniace Castle.
Detail of Palazzo Beneventano Del
View of Archimede Square.
- The Temple of Apollo, adapted to a church in Byzantine
times and to a mosque under Arab rule.
- The Fountain of Arethusa, in
the Ortygia island. According to a legend, the nymph Arethusa,
hunted by Alpheus, took shelter here.
- The Theatre, whose cavea is one
of the largest ever built by the ancient Greeks: it has 67 rows,
divided into nine sections with eight aisles. Only traces of the
scene and the orchestra remain. The
edifice (still used today) was modified by the Romans, who adapted
it to their different style of spectacles, including also circus
games. Near the theatre are the latomìe, stone quarries,
also used as prisons in ancient times. The most famous
latomìa is the Orecchio di Dionisio ("Ear of Dionysius").
- The Roman amphitheatre, of Roman Imperial age. It was
partly carved out from the rock. In the centre of the area is a
rectangular space which was used for the scenic machinery.
- The so-called Tomb of Archimede, in the Grotticelli
Nechropolis. Decorated with two Doric columns, it was a Roman
- The Temple of Olympian Zeus, about
3 km outside the city, built around 6th century BC.
- The Cathedral was built by bishop Zosimo in the 7th
century over the great Temple of Athens (5th century BC),
on the Ortygia island. This was a Doric edifice with six columns on the short
sides and 14 on the long ones: these can still be seen incorporated
in the walls of the current church. The base of the Greek edifice
had three steps. The interior of the church has a nave and two
aisles. The roof of the nave is from Norman times, as well as the
mosaics in the apses. The façade was rebuilt by Andrea Palma in 1725–1753, with a double order
of Corinthian columns, and statues
by Ignazio Marabitti. The most interesting pieces of the interior
are a font with marble basin (12th–13th century), a silver statue
of St. Lucy by Pietro Rizzo (1599), a ciborium by Luigi
Vanvitelli, and a statue of the Madonna della Neve
("Madonna of the Snow", 1512) by Antonello Gagini.
- Basilica of Santa Lucia extra
Moenia, a Byzantine church built, according to tradition,
in the same place of the martyrdom of the saint in 303 AD. The
current appearance is from the 15th-16th centuries. The most
ancient parts still preserved include the portal, the three
half-circular apses and the first two orders of the belfry. Under
the church are the Catacombs of St. Lucy.
- Church of San Paolo (18th century).
- Church of San Cristoforo (14th century, rebuilt in the
- Church of Santa Lucìa alla Badìa, a Baroque edifice
built after the 1693 earthquake.
- Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (13th
- Church of the Spirito Santo (18th century).
- Church of the Jesuite College, a majestic, Baroque
- Church of St. Benedict (16th century, restored after
1693). It houses a painting of the Death of Saint Benedict
by the Caravaggisti Mario Minniti.
- Chiesa della Concezione (14th century, rebuilt in the
18th century), with the annexed Benedictine convent.
- Church of San Francesco all'Immacolata, with a convex
façade intermingled by columns and pilaster strips. It housed and
ancient celebration, the Svelata ("Revelation"), in which an image
of the Madonna was unveiled at dawn of 29 November.
- Basilica of St. John the Evangelist, built by the
Normans and destroyed in 1693. Only partially restored, it was
erected over an ancient crypt of the martyr San Marciano, later
destroyed by the Arabs. The main altar is Byzantine. It includes
the Catacombs of San Giovanni, featuring a maze of tunnels
and passages, with thousands of tombs and several frescoes.
Other edifices and sights
Maniace, constructed between 1232 and 1240, is an
example of the military architecture of Frederick II's
reign. It is a square structure with circular towers at each
of the four corners. The most striking feature is the pointed
portal, decorated with polychrome marbles.
- The important Archaeological Museum, with collections
including findings from the mid-Bronze Age to 5th century BC.
- Palazzo Lanza Buccheri (16th century).
- Palazzo Mergulese-Montalto (14th century), which
conserves the old façade from the 14th century, with a pointed
- The Archbishop's Palace (17th century, modified in the
following century). It houses the Alagonian Library,
founded in the late 18th century.
- The Palazzo Vermexio, the current Town Hall, which
includes fragments of an Ionic temple
of the 5th century BC.
- Palazzo Francica Nava, with parts of the original 16th
century building surviving.
- Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco, originally built in the
Middle Ages but extensively modified between 1779 and 1788. It has
a pleasant internal court.
- Palazzo Migliaccio (15th century), with notable lava
- The Senate Palace, housing in the court an 18th
- The Castle of Euryalos, built nine kilometres outside
the city by Dionysius the Elder and which was one of the most
powerful fortresses of ancient times. It had three moats with a
series of underground galleries which allowed the defenders to
remove the materials the attackers could use to fill them.
In 2007, there were 122,972 people residing in Syracuse, located in
the province of Syracuse, Sicily
, of whom
48.7% were male and 51.3% were female. Minors (children ages 18 and
younger) totalled 18.87 percent of the population compared to
pensioners who number 16.87 percent. This compares with the Italian
average of 18.06 percent (minors) and 19.94 percent (pensioners).
The average age of Syracuse resident is 40 compared to the Italian
average of 42. In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the
population of Syracuse declined by 0.49 percent, while Italy as a
whole grew by 3.56 percent. The reason for decline is a population
flight to the suburbs, and northern
. The current birth rate of Syracuse is 9.75 births per
1,000 inhabitants compared to the Italian average of 9.45
As of 2006, 97.9% of the population was of Sicilian
descent. The largest immigrant group
came from other European nations (particularly those from Poland,
and the United Kingdom): 0.61%, North
): 0.51%, and
Syracuse experiences a hot-summer Mediterranean climate
(Koppen climate classification
) with mild, wet winters and warm to hot, dry
Syracuse is involved in town twinning
(known as gemellaggio
in Italian), a mutual partnership
with other cities. To date Syracuse is only twinned to one
town, modern Corinth in Greece --
a fitting twin, since Syracuse was founded by Corinthians as a
2005, the entire city of Syracuse, along with the Necropolis of
Pantalica which falls within the province of Syracuse, has been listed
as a World Heritage Site by
UNESCO, a programme which aims to catalogue, name, and
conserve sites of outstanding cultural or
natural importance to the common heritage of
committee who evaluate potential candidates described their reasons
for choosing Syracuse because "monuments and archeological sites
situated in Syracuse are the finest example of outstanding
architectural creation spanning several cultural aspects; Greek
", following on that Ancient
Syracuse was "directly linked to events, ideas and literary works
of outstanding universal significance".
nowhere near the level of historic importance of the Sicilian city,
around the world there are municipalities and a city named after Syracuse.
The most numerous
examples are in the United States, though the Sicilian city
maintains no formal relationship with any transatlantic