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  • Janet Radley

Off the Beaten Path - Siracusa Sicily, Italy


Siracusa Sicily

Syracuse (English) Siracusa (Italian) Sarausa (Sicilian)

The Island of Sicily is located at the toe of Italy and is on my bucket list of places to see and explore. The city of Siracusa is located on the east coast of the island and is a must see when visiting Sicily.

Siracusa was settled by the Greek Corinthians in 734 BCE and they soon became the elite class and the local Siculi became the oppressed class working the land. The original settlement was on the island of Ortygia which was chosen for its natural harbours and spring water. It was not long before a new settlement was also built on the mainland. The two settlements were linked by a man-made causeway. For approximately the next 500 years Siracusa was conquered by other city states and ruled by leaders that many called tyrants. They were considered tyrants by the Greek people for their illegal autocracy. Siracusa did flourish under these tyrants to become the most splendid and best fortified of all the Greek cities. Under Dionysius, Siracusa’s naval power increased and it became the most powerful city in the Mediterranean. Under its many rulers Siracusa became involved in wars with the Carthaginians and survived a long siege by the city state of Athens which helped to weakened the Athenian power in Greek itself. In 213 BCE Siracusa became allies with Carthage and this alliance caused the Romans to besiege the city. The city fell to the Romans in 211 BCE and Siracusa became a provincial capital in the Roman Empire. Siracusa continued as an important city under Roman rule until the 3rd century and an important Christian centre into the 7th century.

In 280 CE Siracusa was invaded by the Franks but it was soon prosperous again and stayed that way until the 9th century. The Arabs besieged the city in 827 CE for one year but the Byzantines were able to hold them off. In 878 CE the Arabs gained control and Muslim rule lasted two centuries. During this time the Cathedral was converted to a mosque and the island of Ortygia was rebuilt along Islamic styles. In 1038 the Byzantine General George Maniakes regained control of the city. In 1085 the Normans entered Siracusa after a summer long siege taking back the city which was the last Arab stronghold. The Cathedral and other churches were converted back from mosques.

During the Medieval period the city was under the control of the Holy Roman Emperors Henry VI and Frederick II. In 1542 and 1693 Siracusa was struck by two earthquakes that devastated the city. The earthquakes changed the appearance of Siracusa forever as it was rebuilt in the typical Sicilian Baroque style. In 1729 the plague came to Siracusa and in 1837 the spread of cholera led to the revolt on the Bourbon government. Due to this revolt Siracusa, which had been the provincial capital, lost that status and Noto was made the capital instead. In 1848 the citizens of the city took part in the Sicilian revolution. In 1865 there was the Unification of Italy and 5 years later Siracusa regained its status as the provincial capital. In 1943 during the 2nd World War both the Allied troops and Germans bombed the city. During the Allied invasion of Sicily 9 -10 of June, 1943 Siracusa was the first city to be captured. The port of Siracusa was then used by the British Navy. Today approximately 125,000 people live in the city.

The Greek Theatre is located in the Archaeological park and is one of the best preserved theatres in Sicily. It was built in 470 BCE and had a diametre of 138 metres. Much of the original seating has survived and is in good condition. The theatre played host to some legendary plays written by Aeschylus and Sophocles.

Also, located in the park is the Roman Amphitheatre which was built in the 3rd century.

Cathedral of Santa Maria della Colonne also known as Duomo di Siracusa dates back to the 7th century. The style of the Cathedral is considered Sicilian Baroque. The front facade features stone statues which depict legendary religious figures. Don’t forget to see the stained-glass window which depicts the last supper of Christ.

Piazza Ortygia is a wonderfully beautiful square, one of the most beautiful in all of Italy, and is the core of the civil and religious life of Ortygia. Take in the magnificent Baroque palaces in the square.

The Crypt and Catacombs of San Giovanni was church built in the 6th century and over the centuries it had be restored several times but since 1693 it has been lying in ruins. It was destroyed in an earthquake that year. Take the stairs at the back of the church and you will be able to access the catacombs. These catacombs are larger than the ones found in Rome. You will be able to see various crypts and take in some of the immense columns still standing. Bring your good walking shoes as there are kilometres of underground passages.

Latomia dei Cappuccini is one of the ancient quarries that Siracusa is known for. This quarry provided stone for many of the city’s historical structures and you can still enter the quarry. This quarry was once an underground cavern and it is now open to the elements. You will be able to see some huge irregular columns that rise out of the ground at strange angles. Much of the quarry is now covered by a beautiful garden.

Latomia del Paradiso is another quarry and is quite impressive at 60 metres long and with a 11 metres high gallery. It is beautiful and quite surreal. The quarry is surrounded by gardens and is not easy to find but don’t give up as it is known as the Ear of Dionysius. It is said if you whisper at one end of the cave your whisper can be heard at the other end of the cave.

The Temple of Apollo is located on the island of Ortygia and it not as complete as some other temples you can see in Italy but is the oldest in Sicily. It was built in 570 BCE.

There are 2 castles you can visit:

Eurialo Castle was a stronghold for the Greeks during the reign of Dionysius and was built around 402 BCE. Over the years it was modified and made larger until it was the strongest fortifications in Sicily. The castle is mostly in ruins but you can still see much of the foundations and the layout of the keep and the outer walls. If you like tunnels you can explore some of the underground tunnels.

Castello Maniace is located on the southernmost edge of the island of Ortygia and was built in 1232. It was built out of stone from the local quarries and by Emperor Frederick II. Originally it was separated from the island by a moat but that has now been filled in. Explore the battlements and take in the views of the bay and the Ionian Sea.

Piazza di Archimede is a beautiful square located in the center of the Island of Ortygia and one of the main gathering places in the city. In the middle of the square you will find the ornate Fontana di Artemide which has a host of magnificent sculptures depicting various ancient scenes. Surrounding the fountains are small palm trees. Take a break at one of the many cafes such as Café Archimede or the Tropical Café and take in the amazing architecture.

If you enjoy markets take in the Ortygia market and its sights and smells. You can buy spices and chilli peppers to take home. Try almond cake and check out the local seafood for sale.

Places to Stay:

Antico Hotel Roma 1880

· This pretty pink hotel is located in the heart of Ortygia and abutting the Duomo Cathedral.

Caportigia Boutique Hotel

· This is a boutique hotel where you can enjoy the sun terrace and take in the views.

Ortea Luxury Palace

· This a converted Art Nouveau post office. The Temple of Apollo and the Ortygia Market are just 250 metres from the hotel.

Eggplant Parmigiana

serves 8 people


1.5 kg oval black eggplants

1.4 L tomato sauce

500g mozzarella cheese

150g parmesan cheese

½ yellow onion

extra-virgin olive oil as required

black pepper as required

some basil leaves

salt as required

oil as required for frying


Wash and dry the eggplants. Using a large chef’s knife, slice off the top and bottom of the eggplants, then cut thin slices lengthwise (4-5 mm thick). Sprinkle the slices with the salt and let stand in a colander for 1 hour to drain some liquid. Put a plate and a weight over them to increase the pressure.

In the meantime, dice the mozzarella cheese and let it drain.

In a large saucepan, heat a little olive oil. Add the chopped onions and sauté until fragrant (2-3 minutes). Add the tomato sauce and a little water, season with salt and cook to a simmer for about 40 minutes. When it is ready, do not forget to add the chopped basil leaves.

Dry the eggplant slices with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. Fry them in abundant seed oil over medium high heat. Add the slices, a few at a time, to the hot oil. Fry on both sides until lightly golden and then drain them on paper towels.

In a 20 X 30 cm baking dish, start with a layer of sauce, then layer some eggplant slices horizontally. Grate a little black pepper over the slices and sprinkle with parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Finally, pour in a little more tomato sauce and add the fresh basil leaves. Continue the layers alternating the eggplant slices vertically and horizontally ever time, until all the ingredients have been used or the dish is full, ending with the remaining tomato sauce and basil leaves, mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Bake the dish at 200 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the eggplant parmesan from the oven and let the dish rest for a while before serving.

Janet Radley / Helen Thompson / Tel: 416 967 4404 ext. 134

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