INTRODUCTION TO SYRACUSE
Few cities were so praised in antiquity for the beauty of their buildings and their works of art; few cities have experienced such extremes of fortune; few cities have such an illustrious cast of characters and can say that, at their peak, they were one of the greatest cities in the world.
Jeremy Dummett, Syracuse, City of Legends
In ancient times, Syracuse was referred to as Pentapolis, or five cities, for its five inter-connecting districts of Ortygia, Achradina, Neapolis, Tyche and Epipoli. These districts still exist, and the modern city has expanded to cover much the same area as in ancient times.
Modern Syracuse (Siracusa in Italian) is a medium-sized city with a population of 122,000, the fourth largest in Sicily, and is both a cultural and a commercial centre. The city is head of a province, occupying the south-eastern corner of Sicily, that includes diverse territory including the pre-historic site of Pantàlica, and towns of interest such as Palazzolo Acreide. To the south, the coast road leads to Noto, the city famous for its late-Baroque architecture. Beyond Noto, one enters the province of Ragusa, with its Baroque hilltowns.
To the north up the coast, about an hour’s drive from Syracuse, lies the province of Catania. Sicily’s second largest city and its commercial capital, Catania, with its international airport, is situated below Mount Etna, the greatest volcano in Europe.
The main features of Syracuse, the modern city, are as follows:
• Ortygia, the historic centre, which contains most of the ancient buildings, built on a promontory, originally an island, jutting out into the sea.
• The two harbours, with Ortygia’s open market situated near the Little Harbour.
• The shopping and residential streets around Corso Umberto, a district built in the 19th century joining Ortygia to the modern city.
• Corso Gelone, a wide avenue and shopping centre that leads towards the Archaeological Park.
• Belvedere and the Euryalus Castle on the Epipoli hill behind the city.
The ancient monuments are mostly to be found in the following places:
• The Archaeological Park
• The Archaeological Museum
• The Epipoli Hill