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Syracuse (Siracusa)
coat of arms
Syracuse (Siracusa) (Italy)
Syracuse (Siracusa)
Country Italy
region Sicily
Free community consortium Syracuse  (SR)
Local name Saraùsa
Coordinates 37 ° 5 ′  N , 15 ° 17 ′  E Coordinates: 37 ° 5 ′ 0 ″  N , 15 ° 17 ′ 0 ″  E
height 17  m slm
surface 204 km²
Residents 120,405 (Dec. 31, 2019)
Population density 590 inhabitants / km²
Factions Belvedere, Cassibile Fontane Bianche, Isola, Santa Teresa Longarini Scalo, Targia
Post Code 96100
prefix 0931
ISTAT number 089017
Popular name Siracusani
Patron saint Santa Lucia
Website Syracuse
View of Syracuse with Ortygia in the foreground
View of Syracuse with Ortygia in the foreground

The city of Syracuse ( Italian Siracusa , Sicilian Saraùsa ; ancient Greek Συράκουσαι Syrákusai , Latin Syracūsae ) is located on the east coast of the Italian region of Sicily and is the capital of the Syracuse Free Consortium . In ancient times, Syracuse was the largest and most powerful polis in Sicily and its cultural center for several centuries . Marcus Tullius Cicero described it in his speeches against Verres as "the largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities".

In 2005 the UNESCO included Syracuse together with the necropolis of Pantalica under the name Syracuse and the rock necropolis of Pantalica in the world cultural heritage .


Syracuse is located on the south-eastern coast of Sicily at the mouth of the Anapo and Ciane rivers . The city has 120,405 inhabitants (as of December 31, 2019).

The core of the old town is on the 40 hectare island of Ortygia . This lies between two natural harbors and is only separated from the mainland by a narrow passage. There is an abundant source of fresh water on it.

From the mainland and the new town, Ortygia can be reached via the Ponte Nuovo bridge. To the north is the Porto Piccolo (small port), to the south of the Porto grande (large port). It was here in 413 BC. The successful sea battle against Athens for Syracuse took place. Today the port serves as a berth for large Mediterranean ferries and cargo ships.

The districts ( fractions ) of Syracuse are Arenella, Belvedere, Cassibile , Fontane Bianche, Isola, Santa Teresa Longarini Scalo and Targia.

The neighboring municipalities are Avola , Canicattini Bagni , Floridia , Melilli , Noto , Palazzolo Acreide , Priolo Gargallo and Solarino .


Engraving on the title page of the Latin edition of the Thesaurus opticus , a work by the Arab scholar Alhazen . The illustration shows how Archimedes is said to have set Roman ships on fire with the help of parabolic mirrors.

The area of ​​Syracuse was settled by Sikelern long before the Greek colonization and was called "Syrakka" (swamp) because of the nearby marshland on the banks of the Ciane and Anapo.

Around 730 BC Greek settlers from Corinth founded the city of Syrákusai ( ancient Greek Συράκουσαι ) on the island of Ortygia , which quickly expanded to the mainland and developed into the largest and most powerful city in ancient Sicily.

For several centuries, under the rule of tyrants , it was possible to resist the attacks of foreign conquerors and to expand one's own supremacy. The most important rivals for power on the island have long been the Punians . Syracuse also played an important role scientifically and culturally. Poets like Aeschylus , Pindar , Bakchylides and Simonides gathered at the court of the city, whose tyrants had held the title of king since Agathocles . Plato taught philosophy here , and Archimedes developed war machines to defend the city.

In the first Punic War , Syracuse closed in 263 BC. BC Peace with the Romans and was thus initially spared from the conquest. In the second Punic War , the Romans succeeded in 212 BC. BC, Syracuse, which in the meantime had allied itself with the Punic, to take after a long siege. Archimedes was also killed in the subsequent pillage. The city now became the provincial capital of the first Roman province and slowly lost its Greek character. In 439 AD the Vandals conquered the city ​​and the island, and from 493 it was under the rule of the Ostrogoths. In 535 Syracuse fell to the Eastern Roman Empire for over three centuries . Under Emperor Konstans II , Syracuse was even the seat of Constantinople from 663 to 668.

When the Arabs conquered Sicily in the 9th century and expanded Palermo to the new capital in 831 , Syracuse gradually lost its former supremacy. It was captured by Arab troops in 878 and remained a center of Arab rule in Italy until the 11th century .

In 1038 Syracuse came under the rule of the Byzantine general Georg Maniakes , from 1086 under the rule of the Normans , from 1221 under the rule of Emperor Friedrich II from the House of Staufers . In the centuries that followed, Anjou , Aragon , Savoy , the Habsburgs and the Spanish Bourbons determined the history of the city.

In 1693, a devastating earthquake in Val di Noto also affected Syracuse. Many of the destroyed buildings were rebuilt in the Baroque style. After unification with Italy in 1861, Syracuse was declared the regional capital in 1865. Today Syracuse is Sicily's fourth largest city and an important industrial location, a hub for agricultural products and an important tourist center.

Old town

The old town on the island of Ortygia threatened to decline after the Second World War. Many residents moved to the modern residential areas on the mainland. Extensive renovation and restoration work began in 1990 and the old town was revitalized and revitalized. Most of the historical buildings and sights are located on Ortygia.

Fonte Aretusa

Fonte Aretusa

The fresh water spring or the Fonte Aretusa fountain is only a few meters away from the sea. The water basin is bordered with stones and framed by papyrus bushes. To the north of the fountain is the Foro Vittorio Emanuele II beach promenade.

According to legend, the Greek nymph Arethusa turned into a spring with the help of the goddess Artemis in order to evade the pursuit of a hunter and originated on Ortigia. The hunter Alpheios then turned into a river and, without mixing with the sea, reached the island of Ortigia to unite with Arethusa.

In ancient times, the nymph enjoyed great veneration because the spring made it possible to found the city and to resist enemy sieges. As a symbol of the city, Arethusa's head adorned the coins of Syracuse, which for several centuries were among the most important currencies in the Greek world.

The water actually flows submarine under the harbor bay.

Palazzi and museums

Inner courtyard of the Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco

The Piazza Archimedes is the center of the old town. The square is surrounded by old palaces from the 14th to 16th centuries. These include the Clock Palace, today the seat of the Banca d'Italia , to the west, and the Palazzo Montalto and Palazzo Lanza to the northeast of the square. The Artemis Fountain in the middle of the square shows how Arethusa transforms into a spring with the help of the goddess Artemis.

The Palazzo Parisio and Palazzo Bellomo belong to a former Benedictine monastery from the 13th century. This houses the largest museum in the old town, the Museo Regionale di Palazzo Bellomo . The exhibits included a painting by Caravaggio : "The grave of St. Lucia", the patron saint of Syracuse, which has been in the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia since 2012, and a painting by Antonello da Messina : "L'Annunciazione", the Annunciation.

In Piazza Duomo are the 17th century Palazzo Vermexio, which houses the city hall, and the Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco . The originally medieval building became the property of the Beneventano family in 1778 and was rebuilt in the Baroque style by Luciano Ali . The palazzo, still owned by the family today, also housed Admiral Nelson and King Ferdinand IV of Bourbon .

In the archbishop's palace ( Palazzo Arcivescovile ) opposite the cathedral is the Alagoniana library, which stores Greek, Latin and Arabic manuscripts as well as an extensive collection of ancient coins.

Temples and churches

Syracuse Cathedral

The Temple of Apollo was built in the 6th century BC. BC and is the oldest larger Greek temple in Sicily that has been found so far. In Byzantine times the temple served as a church, in Arab times as a mosque, then again as a Christian church. From 1930 to 1940 the remains were excavated. The foundation, parts of the cella wall and the remains of some Doric columns have been preserved.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne (Saint Mary of the Columns) was built in the 7th century AD by rebuilding the Temple of Athena . This temple dates from the 5th century BC. Its columns can be seen today on the north side and in the interior between the naves . In the middle of the 18th century, the cathedral was enlarged by Andrea Palma and received its current facade in the style of the Sicilian Baroque .

The statue of Saint Lucia is kept in one of the side chapels of the cathedral . On the occasion of the patron saint's commemoration on December 13th and on the first Sunday in May, the almost 4 m high silver statue from the 16th century is carried through the streets of the city in solemn processions.

The baroque church of Santa Lucia alla Badia is also located on the cathedral square . It was built between 1695 and 1707.

Maniace Castle

The Castello Maniace is located on the southern tip of Ortygia. It is named after the Greek general Georg Maniakes , who was able to recapture the city for a few years for the Byzantine Empire in 1038 with the help of Norman mercenaries. The magnificent castle was built on older foundations in the 13th century on the instructions of the Staufer Emperor and King of Sicily Friedrich II , the remains of which still dominate the view of the port of Syracuse. Originally two or even three storeys, the upper floors were demolished during the Spanish rule in southern Italy in the 16th century in order to provide less surface for attacks with cannons . The originally steeper proportions come close to the French predecessor buildings ( donjons ), as they were built under King Philip II August in Paris (predecessor building of the Louvre ) and elsewhere.


In the 5th century BC Under Gelon , Syracuse expanded from Ortigia to the mainland and had five large districts. The Parco Archeologico della Neapolis was built in the 1950s in the area of ​​the ancient district of Neapolis (New Town) .

Parco Archeologico della Neapolis

Greek theater
Altar of Hieron II.
"Ear of Dionysius"

In the Parco Archeologico della Neapolis there are buildings of the ancient city. The Teatro Greco, built in the 5th century BC, stands here. Was built in BC and rebuilt and expanded in Roman times. With a diameter of 138 m and seating for 15,000 spectators, it is one of the largest Greek theaters . Of the 60 rows of seats carved into the rock, 42 ​​are still preserved. Today there are regular theater performances and concerts there in summer.

To the west of the theater is the sacrificial altar of Hieron II. The altar was 198 m long, 22 m wide and over 10 m high. On the festive days, up to 450 sacrificial animals were driven onto the altar via two ramps and killed.

The Roman amphitheater from the 3rd century AD is 140 m long and 119 m wide. The stage space could be filled with water so that naval battles could also be re-enacted here.

In over ten large quarries ( Latomien ) limestones were extracted to build the ancient city. The largest quarries include Latomia dei Cappuccini and Latomia del Paradiso . The "Ear of Dionysius " is an artificial cave carved into the rock. It is about 64 m long, over 20 m high and up to 11 m wide. Their acoustics are considered remarkable.

Museo Archeologico Regionale

The Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi in the park of Villa Landolina was named after the archaeologist Paolo Orsi , who directed it from 1895 to 1934. It is one of the most important archaeological museums in Italy and shows over 18,000 exhibits from Syracuse and other sites in eastern Sicily, ranging from prehistory to Roman antiquity.


The Church of San Giovanni Evangelista ( John Evangelist ) was built in Byzantine times . Since the earthquake in 1693, only parts of the building from the 14th century have been preserved. Among the remains of the church is the San Marziano crypt . Marcianus was a student of the apostle Peter , founded the first Christian community in Syracuse in 44 and became the first bishop of Syracuse. In the crypt are his tomb and an altar where the Apostle Paul preached on his way to Rome. From the crypt you can get to the Catacombs of Syracuse , which are among the largest catacombs after those of Rome .

The Santuario della Madonna delle Lacrime with the statue of the Weeping Madonna is the largest pilgrimage church in Sicily. It was inaugurated in 1994 and has space for 11,000 believers. The church was built in honor of a rather inconspicuous statue of the Madonna made of plaster. In view of the suffering of a terminally ill woman, fluid flowed from the eyes of the Madonna for a few days in August 1953 and a chemical analysis showed it to correspond to human tears. After the sick had recovered and after further healing, the weeping Madonna became a destination for believers and pilgrims from all over the world.

Demeter and Kore shrines

An ancient residential area was found south of the Madonna delle Lacrime church, dating from the 6th century BC. Until the Byzantine period was inhabited. A well and the remains of a Demeter and Kore shrine were also discovered here. There are incisions in the rock floor for the foundations of a temple measuring 10 m × 18 m. The archaeological area of ​​the Demeter and Kore sanctuaries in Piazza della Vittoria is not freely accessible.

Castello Eurialo

The Castello Eurialo was on the highest point of the ancient city. Today it is about seven kilometers outside of Syracuse. The fortress was built by Dionysius I in the period from 402 to 397 BC. Erected as the corner point of the northern and western city walls. Up to 3,000 soldiers and 400 horsemen found space inside the fortress, which was connected to the various parts of the city by secret passages. The burning mirrors with which Archimedes set the sails of enemy ships on fire should also have stood here. Only through treason could the fortress in 212 BC To be taken by the Romans. The fort is one of the strongest fortifications from Greek times and has been rebuilt several times. The current system corresponds to the state after the last Byzantine reconstructions.


Syracuse's economy is largely based on petroleum processing . The oil to supply the ERG refinery is landed in the Panagia quay area . The industry north of Syracuse has created a large number of jobs with the Augusta-Priolo industrial complex , but has also seriously polluted the environment in the area concerned .

The tourism is an important economic factor.

Syracuse is the end point of the Messina – Syracuse and Canicattì – Syracuse railway lines and offers daily express train connections to northern Italy, with the railway carriages being loaded onto a ship in Messina ( Trajekt ). Until 1956, Syracuse was the starting point of the narrow-gauge railway line Syracuse – Ragusa (from 1949 to Giarratana ).


The Arethusa spring on Ortygia and the banks of the Anapo and Ciane rivers, which flow into the sea near Syracuse, are the only places in Europe where wild papyrus bushes still grow. There are the areas of the Riserva naturale orientata Fiume Ciane . The Museo del Papiro in the park of Villa Landolina provides information about the papyrus plants and the production of paper.

The grave of the poet August Graf von Platen (1796–1835) is also located in the park of Villa Landolina .

On December 6, 1801, the writer Johann Gottfried Seume set out in Grimma on a hike to Syracuse, which he reached on April 1, 1802. After his return in August 1802, Seume wrote the experience report Walk to Syracuse in 1802 .

Friedrich Schiller mentioned the city of Syracuse and one of its tyrants in his ballad Die Bürgschaft : “Damon, the dagger in his robe, crept to Dionys, the tyrant Syracuse. "

Gioacchino Rossini's opera Tancredi is about the siege of the city by a Byzantine force in 1005 .

There are seven cities in the United States of America named after Syracuse. The largest and most famous is Syracuse in New York state .

In the 1950s and 1960s, a Formula 1 race without world championship status took place on the Circuito di Siracusa in Syracuse with the Gran Premio di Siracusa .

Syracuse has a large open water swimming stadium named after the late Olympic water polo champion Piscina Paolo Caldarella . The water polo players from Canottieri Ortigia were European Cup winners in the LEN Trophy in 2004 and 2005 .

sons and daughters of the town



  • Hans-Peter Drögemüller : Syracuse. On the topography and history of a Greek city . Winter, Heidelberg 1969 ( grammar school , supplement 6).
  • Jeremy Dummett: Syracuse. City of Legends. A Glory of Sicily. IB Tauris, London / New York 2010.
  • Birgit Wagner: The buildings of the Staufer Emperor Friedrich II. - Monuments of the Holy Roman Empire. Berlin 2005.

Web links

Commons : Syracuse  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Parco Archeologico della Neapoli  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Statistiche demografiche ISTAT. Monthly population statistics of the Istituto Nazionale di Statistica , as of December 31 of 2019.
  2. Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica. In: UNESCO World Heritage Center, accessed February 4, 2019 .
  3. Polybios Historien 8, 5–8.
  4. Biblioteca Alagoniana
  5. The time 6/2020: In the "square of death"
  6. (Italian)
  7. Walk to Syracuse