SIRACUSA. Founded in the 8° century B.C. on the tiny island of Ortygia, Syracuse was for centuries the largest and most powerful Greek city in the West which, under the rule of the tyrants Gelon, Hieron, Dionysius, Agothocles and Hieron II, had spread to the mainland. It declined with the Roman conquest and during the Middle Ages the inhabited area became confined once more to the island, though it regained some of its importance during the reigns of the Swabian and Aragonese kings. Devastated by the earthquake in 1693, it was partly rebuilt in its resent Baroque style.
We shall begin our tour with a visit to the archaeological monuments of the ancient town on the hill of Neapolis (the Greek word for "new city") where we find the Roman Amphitheatre, a grandiose construction hollowed in the living rock at the time of Emperor Augustus.
Continuing upwards, beyond the small Norman church of S. Nicole, we see the altar of Hieron II to the left and, to the right, the ancient quarry with rocky walls known as the Latomia del Paradise, in which is the artificial cave called the Ear of Dionysius. Next to it, in a stupendous position overlooking the plain and the sea, is the Greek Theatre (467 B.C.), where Aeschylus, Pindar and Plato appeared. Behind the Theatre rises a high rocky wall known as the Grotto of the Nymph, so called from a spring which still gushes from a cavern in the rock. We climb up the Via dei Sepolcri (the Street of Tombs) into the rocky sides of which are hewn the niches and tombs of an ancient necropolis.
It is worth while continuing for another 5 miles on to the Castle of Euryalus, the mightiest and most complete fortress of Greek times, standing on the top of the Epipoli, the hill overlooking Syracuse.
On our way down, through Corso Galore, we come to Piazzale Marconi, where we find the ruins of the Roman Forum: following Corso Umberto I we cross the Ponte Nuevo over to the island of Ortygia where, in Piazza Pancali, we see the remains of a Temple of Apollo, the oldest of its kind in Sicily, which was later transformed into a mosque by the Arabs. Through Via Savoia where, on the left, we pass the small 16° century Catalan church of S. Maria dei Miracoli with a remarkable portal, we come to Porta Marina, an arch in Spanish-Gothic style (15° century) which stands at the end of the Porto Grande (Great Harbour). Through the Foro Italico, we reach the famous Fountain of Arethusa, a freshwater spring on the seashore, celebrated in song by Pindar, Vergil, and many modern poets. Continuing along the waterfront to the far end of the island, we reach the Maniace Castle, a beautiful Byzantine fortress which was enlarged under Frederick II. Returning to the fountain and through Via Capodieci, we come to the 13° century Palazzo Bellomo, which houses the Medieval Museum and a good Picture Gallery, where we must see the delightful Annunciation by Antonello da Messina. We go on to Piazza del Duomo, which is lined with the ravishing facade of Barone edifices: the 17° century Palazzo del Municipio (Town Hall), the 18° century Palazzo Beneventano del Bosco whose Courtyard is a masterpiece of Syracuse Baroque architecture and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, which contains one of the most important archaeological collections in Italy, with the magnificent Venus Anadyomene (also known as the Landolino Venus), sarcophagi, pottery, bronzes, etc. The Cathedral has also a Baroque facade, but its severe and evocative interior is dominated by the impressive Doric column of the original Temple of Minerva. Among the numerous works of art, a panel by Antenello da Messina is of particular interest.
From the Piazza del Duomo, we reach the nearby Piazza Archimede, the heart of the city, with the Fountain) Artemis, the Palazzo Lanza with two-light Gothic windows, the building of the Banca d'Italia, and, on the corner of Via Montalto, the extremely beautiful Palazzo Montalto.
On the morning of the eleventh day, we leave Syracuse by Viale Ermocrate and, skirting the hill of Neapolis, we cross the Anapo river and drive uphill to Floridia (7 miles), and further up, through a harsh mountainous landscape to Palazzolo Acreide. Built on the site of the Syracusa colony of Acrae, this little town was destroyed by the earthquake in 1693 and rebuilt in its present Baroque style. A charming Greek Theatre and an Odeon of the ancient town are well preserved. We now cross the Iblei Hills, pass through Buccheri and Vizzimi and, after 15 miles, we reach Grammichele. In spite of its modest appearance we must not forget that it presents one of the most important examples of Renaissance town planning; the hexagonal lay-out becomes clearly evident when seen from above and it might be a good idea, therefore, to try to find a photograph of the town plan. After about 66 miles from Syracause we come to CALTAGIRONE, beautifully situated on three hills. This little town, founded by the early Greeks, was reconstructed in the Baroque style after the earthquake of 1693. Worth seeing are: Via Cordova with its handsome Baroque facade, the neo-Gothic church of S. Pietro and the church of S. Giacomo. From Caltarigone we take the road to PIAZZA ARMERINA (20 miles).