Syracuse and the rocky Necropolis of Pantalica bear testimony to the development of Mediterranean civilization in the past 3000 years.
Syracuse was one of the greatest Greek colonies. The remains from that period can be found on the island of Ortygia and at the archeological park of Neapolis. Later civilizations, such as the Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, Bourbons and Aragonese also left their mark on Ortygia. The Necropolis of Pantalica lies 40km away and holds rock-cut tombs made by indigenous people of Sicily.
Community Perspective: Ortygia is a pleasure to explore on foot and its Duomo is recommended for a visit as it has developed constantly like the city, from the Ancient Greek to the Baroque. The Necropolis at Pantalica is “nothing special”, and no one has made it yet to the third component of this eclectic site, the archeological park of Neapolis.
Map of SyracuseLoad map
Our trip to Sicily in September of 2021 budgeted time only for Ortigia, the historic nucleus of Syracuse that has been continuously inhabited for over 3,000 years. The island is very walkable and reasonably compact, high on the historic-feel quotient with a non-trivial measure of decay and lack of TLC, and decidedly short on killer features.
The walk around town will bring you to the Temple of Apollo ruins, the Ortigia street market, the natural spring of Arethusa, the 13th-century Maniace military fort, and other easy on the eye perspectives. Views over the water on the southeastern edge of Ortigia, where the crescent of Lungomare d'Ortigia leaves room for a sliver of a beach are my favorite. Piazza del Duomo is by far the widest public space on the island, presided over by the cathedral that incorporates in its structure the remnants of the Greek Doric Temple of Athena, built on this same site all the way back in the 5th century BCE.
There are also many examples of Baroque both at churches and in civic architecture. (Syracuse happens to be geographically closer to Noto and Ragusa than Catania is, so obviously some rebuilding after the earthquake of 1693 for which "Baroque Towns of Val di Noto" are celebrated occurred here as well.)
We spent over half a day in Ortigia, which is the least it deserves. Several museums - none that I believe are of "must-see" variety - could be worked into the itinerary for a longer stay. The large Parcheggio Molo Sant'antonio is a convenient place to leave the car, less than 5 minutes walk to the bridges that connect Ortigia with the "mainland".
I assume that going to the Neapolis archaeological park is similar in experience to visiting Agrigento, which means at least 2-3 hours. Necropolis of Pantalica is sufficiently far out of the city that I cannot imagine you would prioritize visiting it unless your time in Sicily was not constrained.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
March 2019, the 2nd last day of our Sicily Trip we arrived in Syracus. Unfortunately we only visited that part of the WHS. With our baby we strolled around the city and watched our for some seafood. It is a very historic and nice town, however loaded with Restaurants and not many places to rest. However, there are a lot of streets to explorea dn some nice little shops too.
It was a good place to conclude our Sicily trip. 7 WHSites, 1 Tentative, Lots of good food and the first trip with our small girl. We enjoyed it a lot.
Visited in May 2014. I spent half a day in the historic center of Syracuse located on Isola di Ortigia, so, I have not seen other parts of this WHS that might be more interesting and more important in respect to OUV than Ortigia.
It was pleasent day strolling in the narrow streets and enjoying views to Ionian sea... However, I must say I prefer other towns in Sicily, especially those located on the top of hills or in the deep valleys such as nearby Ragusa Ibla, Modica and Scicli (also WHS) and many many others.
In conclusion: the best from Syracuse what I keep in my memories: (1) visiting somehow odd cathedral blending together everything from antiquity to baroque, and (2) enjoyng cappuccino&cornetto di crema and handsome Sicilian boys all around...
I visited this WHS in May 2015. The rock-cut tombs of Pantalica are nothing special visually and I had more fun hiking in the Mediterranean environment rather than actually enjoying what's left to see of these tombs. On the other hand, Syracuse in general but specifically the sites in Ortigia are a great summary of what Sicily has to offer ... temples, amphitheatres, remains, baroque churches, great food, narrow alleys adorned with ornate balconies, friendly people, sea, sun and good food. I enjoyed my time in Syracuse as a starter of what Sicily has to offer. The town is quite touristy overall so nothing really off the beaten track (except Pantalica but only for WHS enthusiasts really). However, I would still advise anyone who visits Sicily to come here at least for a day or two. The highlight of my visit was definitely the Temple of Athena which has been converted to a church through the ages.
Syracuse is a large site to visit. There is the archaeoligical park with the ruins of a large Greek theater, a Roman amphitheater, and a huge altar of sacrifice. In the oldest section of Ortygia you can see nice examples of Gothic architecture (houses and churches), Greek remains, and views of the sea. One of the most interesting sights is the main cathedral. At the front it has an 18th century facade put on after a devastating earthquake, but walk to the side and you see the archaic columns in the walls. This church was built within a large ancient Greek temple and many of the portions of the temple are still visible. A really remarkable place to visit. Along the shoreline of Syracuse you will see rocks with square cuts in them, a source of the stone used to make the ancient buidlings. Other quarries exist inland. These served as prisons of the Athenians captured during their attack on the city. In the quarry by the Villa Politi you can see the beginnings of the sculpture of a Greek column. Something not often mentioned is that Syracuse has Christian catacombs. A visit to them is quite the experience. Don't go too far from your guide because it is really easy to get lost!
Siracusa owns an old Mediterranean heart in Ortygia, a harbour Venetian or Cretan in its looks. Crumbling buildings, a street market, colourful balconies, drying laundry from the windows: a true delight to the senses. There's nothing else to do than wander the quiet streets, peeking around corners and awe at the ubiquitous churches and palazzi. The attractive and open Piazza Duomo (I found it hard to find at first) has the most prominent buildings.
Like in some of the other places I visited in Sicily there is a lot of reconstruction going on. Ortygia's Duomo is one of the monuments that are under scaffolding at the moment. Don't let this put you off visiting, there's so much more to see. I didn't get into any of the buildings, just roamed around and had a fine time. Siracusa is well on the beaten path for the general tour groups, I noticed even a cruise ship disembarking its passengers here for a visit!
I skipped Neapolis due to an Ancient Greek/Roman overdose I felt coming, but did manage to get to the necropolis of Pantalica. About an hour outside of Siracusa, it can be reached via a scenic road that shows the Sicilian countryside at its best. The drive there on small mountain roads, lined by olive trees and the occasional village (pretty Ferla!) is actually more worth it than the burial site itself. To the untrained eye, the burial chambers that held whole families are merely holes in the rocks.
The ancient port city of Siracusa was the main target for our all too brief excursion to South Eastern Sicily, and it was well worth the effort to get there. The heart of the city lies on the island of Ortygia, and as said elsewhere the real charm lies in just wandering around the tight lanes, peeking down narrow alleys and arriving at beautiful squares.
Continuously developed from the 9th Century BC Siracusa was a hugely important Greek colony rivalling Athens, and matching the importance of the Phoenician stronghold of Carthage. Some of the greatest names of Greek civilisation lived here, most notable were Plato, Pindar, Aeschylus and Archimedes. The later actually designed some of the fortifications of the city.
On the main land the ruins at Neopolis were impressive though we only managed a quick peek. We did however investigate the catacombs of San Giovanni, Syracuse is home to the second largest set of Catacombs in the Christian world (after Rome), and they were well worth seeing, especially impressive was the altar from which St Paul is said to have preached.
If there is one monument that best represents Siracusa then it has to be the Duomo (Cathedral in picture), not only does it sit on the most impressive square in the city but also it has developed constantly like the city. It started life as a Greek Temple and the huge Doric columns give it proportion and bulge out from the side they also mark the aisles inside the church. It gives a great sense of how the city has developed showing traces of Greek, Roman, Paleo-Christian, Byzantine, Norman, Arab and Baroque influences. The newly restored façade is a high point of Sicilian Baroque and completes one of the highlights of the city.
Siracusa was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 2005 and I was left wondering why it took such a long time to find its way onto the list. ICOMOS states that there is no place that can match Siracusa in terms of its original influence coupled huge array of subsequent development that has turned it into the charming city it is today.
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