Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other

Syracuse: City

The Cathedral of Siracusa. Photo Marco Prins. Syracuse: the ancient capital of Sicily
History Texts Photos

Temple of Athena

Syracuse is a modern city and there are not many remains of the ancient period visible. One has only to enter the town's baroque cathedral (Duomo), however, to stand in an ancient temple. It was once dedicated to the goddess Athena (Minerva) and may have been erected to celebrate the victory at Himera in 480. 
The Cathedral of Siracusa. Photo Marco Prins. Excavations have made it clear that there was an earlier, demolished temple, probably also in Dorian style, and that the new temple was partly built over a very old, pre-Greek house. The interior of the cathedral, seen from the entrance. The altar is more or less on the site of the ancient cella. The columns out there are a bit irregular, due to an earthquake. The Temple of Athena was converted into a church in the seventh century by Zosimus, bishop of Syracuse from 649 to c.660.
The Cathedral of Siracusa. Photo Marco Prins. As you can see, the space between twelve columns was filled up with bricks, and leave the columns visible. This explains why the church is still named Santa Maria delle Colonne (satellite photo). Later in the seventh century, the church became the cathedral of Syracuse, and has remained so to the present day. The baroque decoration of the interior has been removed, but several mosaics from the seventh-century church have survived and can still be seen in the cathedral. The Byzantine apse of the northern aisle also dates back to the seventh century. The ancient Greek inscription on a marble font that one can see in the church, however, does not belong to the original church; it was found in the Catacombs of San Giovanni.
Model of the two temples on Ortygia. Museo Archeologico Regionale "Paolo Orsi", Siracusa. Photo Marco Prins. This model, now in the Museo Archeologico Regionale "Paolo Orsi" shows a second, Ionian temple, standing next to the temple of Athena. The remains are visible beneath the modern Muncipio building, where you can also see remains of a structure that dates back to the eighth century BCE (the oldest building in Syracuse). Construction was probably started in 530 BCE, but the temple was demolished, as elements were reused in the temple of Athena.
The Arethusa well. Photo Marco Prins.


Another monument that reminds of Syracuse's ancient history is the Fonte Aretusa, the well of the nymph Arethusa, now a pond in a terrace near the waterfront of the Great Harbor (satellite photo). According to Greek myth, the nymph lived in Elis, and the river god Alpheus tried to seduce her. She jumped into the Ionian Sea, and reappeared on Sicily. The god, however, followed her, and reappeared in the neighborhood. There is, indeed, a sweet spring inside the harbor. In the third century, one of the Ptolemaic kings once sent papyrus to Syracuse, which still grows in this pond. The Syracusans appear to have been unaware of the economic value of this present; they never started to make papyrus scrolls, which would have made them very rich.

Temple of Apollo, Siracusa (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.

Temple of Apollo

This monument at the northern edge of the island Ortygia, is the most visible of ancient remains in modern Syracuse (satellite photo). It was built of local sandstone by an architect named Epicles, in c.575 BCE. 

Temple of Apollo, Siracusa (Italy). Photo Marco Prins. It may replace an earlier temple to the same god, because it is unlikely that a colony of Corinth would not have dedicated a temple to the same god. This photo shows the remains of the temple again.
An ancient street in Siracusa (Italy). Photo Marco Prins.


Finally, a piece of the ancient pavement. Not exactly an impressive monument, but the thought that Plato, Theocritus, Archimedes, Cicero, Paul of Tarsus, and the famous tyrants all walked over this pavement, is worth a thought.

History Texts Photos
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2008
Revision: 31 January 2008
Livius.Org Anatolia Carthage Egypt Germ. Inf. Greece Judaea Mesopotamia Persia Rome Other