In ancient times Siracusa was the most prominent metropolitian city in the Mediterranean area dominated and rules by the Greeks for centuries.
And it was also the dream of Plato's, the well-known Greek philosopher, of a pertect state. But it was not before the year 500 BC
Siracusa gained an important position
on the political scene of Sicily. In the battles against the Cartag in 480 BC who wanted dominans of this highly strategic important island
the Greek people from
Akragas (Agrigento) made an alliance with the Greek people from Gela (further south at seaside in the province of Ragusa). The tyran Gelon from Gela
relocated to Siracusa and this was the beginning of prosperous times for the city.
As told previously Siracusa was foundend on the little island ortygia because of several advantages: two natural harbours, resonnable easy in defence and
good supply of fresh water. One of the supplies, "Fonte Aretusa", named from the nymf Aretusa, the symbol of Siracusa). Just across the straits
there was fertile land for growing crops of various sorts and here on the mainland there were all the trading routes for other parts of Sicily.
Athens in Greece mobilised the biggest amada against Sicily ever seen in ancient times only to be conquered in 413 BC. the prisoners were kept in horryfying
conditions for 7 years in the quarrels which are to be found in the part of the city called Neapoli. The quarrels (Latomia del Paradiso, Latomia Intagliatella,
Latomia S. Venera) accessibile and you can visit the cave, the ear of Dionysos where the myth says that the tyran Dionysius the Elder (405-367 BC)
could listen from above to the talks of the prisoners for in this way prevending revolts.
The son, Dionysius II (367-343 BC) had as his mentor the philosopher Plato. But unfortunately Dionysos ended up with megalomania and Plato was forced to
escape. Dionysius ended his days in exile living in the streets.
The new leader became Timoleon from Corinth. He established a sort of democracy which was kept up by his successor, Hieron II who also was able to keep the
Romans away even the Romans kept trying during many years. Hieron also expanded the Greek theatre. He died in 215 BC.
Now all the town-states of Sicily made an allience not just among themselves but also with Carthago to keep Rome out of Sicily. Assisted by Archimedes, the
well-known Greek scientist and philosopher inventing all sorts of ingenious ways of defence Rome at least sat foot on Sicily in 211 BC. And Archimedes was
brutaly killed by the Roman general Marcellus.
Under the Roman rulers Siracusa could not keep up performances and the prosperous times was fading away. Never the less, Siracusa still maintained a certain
position as an important trading city. For a short period of time it was the capitol city of the Byzantine empire when Constans relocated for Siracusa in
663 AD. The city has maintaned the Greek influence from these many years back and presence of the Arabs, the Normans and other conquerors during the
Medieval times not have had an influence significant. But still one sees the castle located at the big harbour, Castello Maniace
built by the Norman empire Frederico II. The castle was named from the Byzantine general who breifly took away the dominion from the Arabs in 1038. Other
grandiose remains of buildings from 14th and 15th century are giving Ortygia the lavish appearance of today.
The earthquake in 1693 destroyed big parts of the city and the Sicilian/Spanish architect Giovanni Vermexio was given the task and possibility to
rebuild Ortigia which he did in the most excellent way and also contributed to the wealth of architectural pearls such as the imposing facade
of the cathedral.
Not far away from the harbour lie the remains of probably the first Doric temple in Sicily. The remains are dated of 700-600 BC and was originally
a temple for Apollon.
The cathedral is built on the foundation of another Doric temple - the temple for Athen. On this sacred site was started in 530 BC another building-site;
an Ionic temple but was then more or less abbandonned in priority of the new temple as an honour for the victory over Carthago at Himera.
The astonishing decoration of this new temple was known all over the ancient world. The doors were made of ivory and gold and on the roof was placed
a tall sculptur of this war-goddess Athene with a golden shield which by the help of the sun beaming navigated the men of the sea.
But all these articles of value were stolen by Verres, the Roman govenor of Sicily and the Roman empire Cicero. The temple was in the early AD converted
into a Christian church where the columns of the temple are the supporters which can be seen inside the churh. In 640 AD the churck was elevated to
cathedral status. A more drastic overhaul was carried out after the earthquake in 1693 where the Norman facade of the cathedral collapsed and was
replaced by the present Baroque front. The sculptures flanking the entrance were made by Marabitti and inside the decoration is made in Arabb mosaic works
and the font for baptisong is a Norman artisan work cut out in a rock with a Greek inscription. With all these contributions of decoration from
different cultures the cathedral is another example of proper healthy co-existence.
The town hall just next to the cathedral on Piazza del Duomo and in the cellar there one can also see the remanins from an Ionoc temple.
At the harbour facing south is located the springwater, Fontana Aretusa. the myth says tha the nymf Aretusa here raised herself after the swim which had
brought her away from Polopones in escape from the god af hte rivers Alpheus (or Alfeo, son of Oceano, the god of the seas). With a helping hand from
the goddess Artemis the nymf Aretusa became a fountain but Alfeo was very determind, made himself to water for in this way staying united with his beloved
Aretusa. An this fountain also served Lord Nelson with fresh water on his way for the battle in the river Nile.
The arcological site in the part of the city called Neapoli is a very interesting site. Here is located the big Greek theatre from 500 BC but expanded
by Hieron II to seat an audiens on around 15.000 people. In the roman time gladiators had been fighting here for pleasure of the high ranked citizins to
whom there had been made seatings in marble.
In the quarrel, Latimia del Paradiso one finds the Ear of Dionysius, a cave shaped as an ear - 23 m (70 feet) high and 65 m (200 feet) deep. The cave
was used as a prison where the prisoners were kept under conditions as in a concentration camp working hard cutting out blocks for building sites.
The cave has a particular acoustic quality and it is the roman painter, Caravaggio, who in the 16th century named the cave wondering, as told before, if
Dionysius the Elder was able to overhear the prisoners.
The Roman amphitheatre was build in 300 AD used for performances of men fightening animals.