The ancient citadel whose power once rivalled Athens has become a popular stopover for cruise passengers, who visit Syracuse for its fascinating archaeological and historic sites. Once one of the major powers of the Mediterranean world, Syracuse remains an important city in Europe, listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Why cruise Syracuse
The fascinating and culture-rich city of Syracuse is one of the most historical regions in Italy, a place where ancient civilisations have come and gone, leaving their historic relics behind. The majority of the city’s attractions can be found on the compact island of Ortigynia, just a short walk away from the harbour where cruise ships docks, which means that cruisers can tick off many historical icons and Unesco-listed sites on a day stopover. Once you’ve had your fill of sightseeing, you can enjoy the city’s food market, where you’ll find amazing Sicilian specialities.
What to see and do
Neapolis Archaeological Park
One of the Syracuse’s star attractions is the Neapolis Archaeological Park. The historic landmark is home to the pearly Teatro Greco. Constructed in the fifth century BC and rebuilt in the third century, the 16,000-capacity Roman amphitheatre is brought back to life in the summer as a unique venue, hosting concerts, classical plays and other performances. Other attractions within the park include an ancient limestone quarry, catacombs and the Orecchio di Dionisio, a grotto named after the tyrant Dionysus, who legend has it used the almost perfect acoustics of the quarry to eavesdrop on prisoners.
Cathedral of Syracuse
Situated in the city’s historic core on Ortygia Island in the Piazza Duomo, this ancient cathedral is another Unesco-listed site in Syracuse due to its structure having originally been a Greek doric temple. The origins of the temple date back to prehistory and its Doric columns were incorporated into the walls of the current church, constructed in the seventh century. The cathedral was rebuilt after the 1693 Sicily earthquake and features a combination of Sicilian Baroque and Rococo architectural styles.
The small island of Ortygia, which is connected to the mainland via two bridges, is the historical centre of Syracuse. It is home to several historic landmarks, including the city’s cathedral, the 13th century Castello Maniace and the Fountain of Arethusa, which is a natural spring. Legend has it the water nymph Arethusa was transformed into a spring that flowed beneath the Ionian Sea to emerge on the island of Ortygia. The fountain has since been a source of inspiration for numerous literary works, including John Milton’s elegy Lycidas and Wordsworth’s poem The Prelude. There’s also a popular market in Ortygia on Via de Benedictis, which sells fresh local products and Sicilian specialities.
Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi
Established in 1780, this is one of Europe’s principal archaeological museums. The museum has been divided into four sections, all of which exhibit archaeological finds from the prehistoric, Greek and Roman periods.
If you’re more interested in art, then you should definitely pay a visit to the Galleria Regionale. Housed in the 13th century Palazzo Bellomo, it features Baroque and Renaissance works, including notable masterpieces such as Caravaggio’s Deposition of Santa Lucia and Antonello da Messina’s Anunciation. If you prefer modern art, then the Museo Regionale di Arte Medoevale e Moderna is also well-worth a visit.
Temple of Apollo
Located in front of the Piazzo Pancali, the Temple of Apollo is one of the most important ancient Greek monuments on Ortigya. Dating to the beginning of the sixth century BC, it is the most ancient Doric temple in Sicily.
What to expect when travelling to Syracuse
Getting around in Syracuse
There are several berths in the bay for cruise ships, which transport passengers into town via tenders. From the bay, you are in easy walking distance of Ortygia, Syracuse’s historical centre. The compact and walkable centre is home to many of the city’s key sites. The Neapolis Archaeological Park is a 30-minute walk away from the island or 15 minutes by car or taxi.
When to go to Syracuse
Unless you’re a sun-worshipper, avoid the hottest and busiest months of July and August. Spring and autumn months are perfect for sightseeing and wandering around the city.
The currency of Sicily is the euro.
Citizens of the UK don't need a visa to enter Italy, but they must carry a valid passport.
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