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Syracuse

Home to Archimedes, Syracuse is surely one of the most appealing cities of Sicily, both for the archaeological and the natural beauties. Even if it´s known as the biggest and most beautiful Greek city, Syracuse has also an Ancient Sicilian, Roman, Byzantine, Arabian, Norman, Swebian, Aragonese, Catalan and Borbone past, and it preserves rich and very charming statements of all these cultures.

A tour of the Ortigia Island, the heart of he city, is deeply required. First Greek settlement, it preserves, among the others, the Apollo´s temple, the Athena´s temple and the mythical Arethusa spring, sang by poets from all times and symbol of the city. Here at the Arethusa spring, the papyrus grows spontaneously (like only in Egypt), a plant that can also be found near the river Ciane spring, only few miles from Syracuse.
This plant is still worked today, according to thousand-year skills, by the Institute of Syracuse Papyrus. Not far from the Arethusa spring you can find the Maniace Castle, of Swebian architecture. Going around through the narrow alleys of Ortigia Island, it´s worth doing a visit to the old neighborhoods of Giudecca, full of architectonic statements, and Graziella, where every morning you can find a picturesque fish and foodfarming market, with all the crowded stands that fill the air with pleasant aromas.
Another fundamental stop is the Cathedral Square, of baroque setting and surrounded by historical buildings such as the Beneventano Palace, Vermexio Palace (the present City Hall), and the Palace of Arcivescovado.
The Cathedral, risen up during the Byzantine era, has a particular importance, after the transformation of a Doric temple from the 5th century B.C. dedicated to the goddess Athena and famous through all Magna Graecia for its splendor (you can still see its arcade and general scheme).

Sumptuous monuments from Magna Graecia can also be found in the Neapolis, where you can admire the Greek Theatre, a very great monument not only for Syracuse, but for all the Western Greek world. Maybe already raised during the 5th century B.C., had been totally carved in rock, but its present look exists since the 3rd century B.C. rebuilding.
Eschilo performed here his tragedies and here saw its birth the Epicarmo comedy.
Today this ancient and wonderful theatre is still alive, thanks to the National Institute of Ancient Drama, that, since 1914, organizes classic plays during May and gathers here thousands of people from all over the world.
As much rich in history it´s the Ierone´s Altar, destined to public sacrifices during Roman times. Inside the Neapolis you can also find the most known group of Latomie (stone caves), with the attractive Dionysus´ Ear, a very famous cave, carved in limestone on one´s side of the Paradise Latomia and gifted with particular acoustic characteristics.
There are no assured historical overviews on it. Regarding some scholars, it was the theatre sound-box, but, according to a legend, it had been Dionysus who created this cave to use it as a prison for political instigators, and he could also control the prisoners by a hole carved in the upper side of cave.
Then the famous painter Caravaggio, in 1608, during his stay in Syracuse, gave the name to this place, "Dionysus´Ear", for its very particular shape, that reminds of a ear.
It´s also very important the Eurialo Castle, the most impressive military building of the Greek Era, sited on the Epipolis Hill, and built between the 402 and 397 B.C. for want of Dionysus I. Also the Roman era left very important traces : the Roman Gymnasius and the Amphitheatre, with an uncertain dating (maybe between 2nd and 4th century B.C.), and an Olympic Jupiter head, that can be admired in the archaeological museum of Paolo Orsi.

At the borders of Victory Square, you can find the Madonna delle Lacrime Sanctuary. This cult started in the city of Syracuse, in the august of 1953, when human tears poured continuously for four days from a chalk statue of Virgin Mary. Also very extraordinary things happened in Syracuse during those four days, and those tears, kept and analyzed by a medical commission nominated by the Syracuse Archiepiscopal Curia, turned out to be human. Tears are still treasured in a precious reliquary.
Also the cult of the Patron Saint Lucia is very deep and it´s an important part of the city folklore. The Saint is celebrated twice a year with large processions all across the city : on the 13th of December and on the first sunday of May, remembering a miracle that happened in 1734, when the Syracusan people, invoking Saint Lucia, had been saved from a terrible famine.

During the year, you can attend many events, not only religious : there are lots of classic plays from the Greek Theatre tradition, the concerts season, the theatre season, the international music festival, the sea traditional horse race, the horseshow, many swimming and water polo championships, the great motor-boating prize, and other important sport competitions. There´s also a large choice of excursions in the surrounding areas.
For example, the trip at Ciane River is a very peculiar one, going up this river by boat (leaving from Porta Marina at Ortigia), sailing along banks full of incredible bushes of papyrus. Also the trip to the city of Noto, the jewel of sicilian baroque style, is very evocative, with Ducezio Palace and Villa Dorata, two of the most significant expressions of this style.
Other destinations of great interest are : Acreide Palace, with the Greek theatre, the Latomie, the Hermits (rupestrian sculptures of the 11th century B.C.), the wonderful churches and palaces, such as the Church of Saint Sebastian and the Judica Palace; the Necropolis of Pantalica, a suggestive group of thousands of tombs dating back to 13th-8th century B.C., carved in the rock face dropped away on the Anapo River; the large archaeological area of Megara Hyblaea (8th century B.C.), the city of Augusta, with its Norman Fortress (12th century A.C.), and the Castle, built by Federico II in 1229.
On a landscape point of view, we suggest a trip to the sea reserve of Vendicari and to the larger one of Calamosca, with its wonderful creeks and its large sand beaches; the city of Marzamemi, a very old settlement of fishermen, and Porto Palo di Capo Passero, with the famous Island of Streams, the most southern place in Italy. Lastly, the Protected Sea Area of Plemmirio, of recent institution, in front of Ortigia Island, that can be visited by boat or by feet.