City of art par excellence, it is the fourth largest city in Sicily by number of inhabitants, after Palermo, Catania andÂ Messina. Defined by Cicero as â€œthe largest and most beautiful of all Greek cities,â€ Syracuse along with the cave-necropolis of Pantalica was declared World Heritage Site in 2005 by UNESCO. The name derives from the Sicel word Syraka (plenty of water) for the presence of many streams and swampy wetlands. In Greek as well as in Latin the city’s name is in plural, Siracusae, as the city is situated partly on the peninsula of Ortigia island and partly on the mainland. The municipal territory is crossed by the rivers Ciane, Anapo, and by the artificial canals of Mammai bica, Pismotta and Regina, which all flow into the Porto Grande (the Big Harbour) and contribute to the formation of swampy wetlands, historically called Pantanelli.
The climate of Syracuse is mostly moist, due to the sea and to the dominance of wet currents. Mild winters are alternated by hot summers and no rainfall. The fame ofÂ
Syracuse is linked to its Greek history, when the polis commanded the seas undermining the power of the Carthaginians and Romans to become the first great empire of the West. Much evidence of that era remain, such as the famous Fonte Arethusa, a freshwater source in the heart of Ortigia, linked to the myth of Arethusa and Alpheuscelebrated by many poets and writers, and the aqueduct Galermi. In the archaeological site ofÂ Neapolis, the ancient heart of the city, lies the Greek theater, with excellent acoustics where oratorical and theatrical performances took place, animating the political and cultural life of the city. Today the theatre is the fulcrum of the classical performances organized by INDA (the National Institute of Classic Art). Even the Ear of Dionysius, artificial cavity created by the quarrying activity, is often the venue of summer performances of great beauty. Near the city stands the Altar of Hieron, a monumental altar built by Hieron II. Syracuse also has several temples that are partially intact, and the most famous is the Temple of Apollo, the oldest in Sicily and placed on Ortigia; while the Temple of Zeus called â€œrui culonneâ€ (two pillars) because of the entire temple only two pillars remain, appears to be the second oldest temple in the city. The Cathedral is the beautiful Athenaion.
Before the Roman Empire, Syracuse was of enviable beauty, and then the Roman showily Â reappraised the city in splendour and importance. Nevertheless, there remain several works of considerable importance: the Roman Amphitheatre, one of the largest in Italy, used for the struggles of gladiators, circus shows and naval battles (naumachia), the Roman Gymnasium and the mazy system of catacombs (the second largest and most important after that of Rome).
Even though the city is full of monuments and places of historical importance, the tourism sector unfortunately maintains quality standards that are questionable.
The presence of many accommodations certainly contributed to an increase in the tourist figures, but the industry has many elements of structural weakness which will certainly improve with the planned construction of a city marina, as well as the progressive entry of big investors. The fact that many celebrities now take interest in Syracuse is a clear sign that things are improving: during the last years many famous persons have bought property in Ortigia, turning it into a destination for VIP appearances. Travelers of all ages and the â€œGrand Tourâ€.
The city is historically linked to culture and arts: it was the home of poets and writers of Greece and a well visited pilgrimage destination. In ancient time it was the home ofÂ Aeschylus, Plato and Cicero, and in modern time it has been visited by Caravaggio, August von Platen, Horatio Nelson, de Maupassant, Oscar Wilde, William II of Germany, Sigmund Freud.Â It was also among the stages of the Grand Tour, the trip that the nobles and artists of Northern Europe made to Italy in the 18thcentury, for example Jean-Pierre Louis Laurent Houel,Jean-Claude Richard de Saint-Non, Vivant Denon andFriedrich Adolf Riedesel. Goethe never cameÃ‚Â here because on his way to Syracuse he was informed of an epidemic outbreak in the city.
Syracuse is famous in the world for the presence of thepapyrus that grow between the banks of the river Ciane and of the Arethusa-source in Ortigia.
According to one theory, the plant was imported from Egypt around 250 BC, perhaps sent by Ptolemy II Philadelphus to Hiero II, according to other assumptions it was the Arabs that introduced the plant in Sicily. There is also another possibility: that it is an indigenous plant and not at all imported, there exists in fact a variety of papyrus (Cyperus papyrus ssp. Siculus) even in the Fluvial Nature Reserve of the river Fiumefreddo di Sicilia (CT). The manufacture of papyrus paper of Syracuse, in the past appreciated for documents, is now being re-evaluated for cultural purposes, and there is in fact in Syracuse an International Institute of Papyrus as well as a Museum of papyrus that preserves the memory of the processing of the papyrus in the city and in Egypt.
A special mention has to be made regarding the Arethusaâ€™s Fountain, a spring of fresh water gushing from a cave a few meters from the sea, which has always been special to the inhabitants of Syracuse and which was the symbol of the city in ancient times. This fountain was just one of many outlets that the Hyblean groundwater has in Syracuse, the same water that feeds Ã‚Â the river Ciane on the opposite side of the Big Harbour.
Many poets wrote about this mythical source, all fascinated by the legend ofArethusa and by its charming location:Virgil, Pindar, Ovid, Silius Italico, Milton, AndrÃƒÂ© Gide, Gabriele Dâ€™Annunzio, to name a few. Cicero spoke of it (in his Ã¢â‚¬Å“In VerremÃ¢â‚¬Â) describing it as â€œa source of incredibly size, swarming with fish and located so that the waves of the sea would submerge it, if it had not been protected by a massive stone wall.â€
In Norman times the Arabic writer Al-Idrisi described it like this: â€œA wonderful source called An Nabbudi (the Arabic name for Arethusa), which comes out of a cliff right by the sea.â€ But the myth of the fountain of Arethusa, which has fascinated people of all ages, finds its logic in the sense of profound unity between the Greek colonies and their founders Pausanias and Strabo.
But exactly like Agrigento, Syracuse will bring to our minds the archetypes that are rooted in the hearts, thus explaining without words, where our roots are.