Small historical and cultural guide to the beauties of Syracuse

Ortygia Island.
An islet in south-eastern Sicily, on which the oldest part of the city of Syracuse stands. Joined to the mainland by three bridges, the island of Ortigia juts out into the Ionian Sea, stretching from north to south for over 1.5 km, between the large inlet of the large port to the west, the open sea to the east and the port small to the north east, ending to the south in the narrow peninsula (200 m) on which stands the massive Maniace castle, built by Frederick II of Swabia. The famous and picturesque Arethusa spring flows near the south-western coast. The historical age of the city "Aretusea" began in 734 BC, the date in which Archias, having left Corinth, landed in Ortigia, defeated the Sicels and founded the colony of Syracuse. The city soon assumed a leading role in both the economic and military fields, imposing its supremacy over the entire Mediterranean basin. In 480 BC. with Gelo (tyrant of Syracuse) he defeats the Carthaginians in the famous battle of Himera, in 474 BC. with Hieron I he beat the Etruscans at Cuma, in 413 BC, during the reign of Hermocrates, the Syracusan fleet inflicted a sensational defeat on the Athenian one. At the beginning of the 4th century BC. under Dionysius the Great, with its approximately one million two hundred thousand inhabitants, Syracuse became the most powerful city in Europe, extending its dominion over all of Sicily and part of Calabria. And it is precisely in the 4th century that the city acquired a position of considerable prestige, becoming the new economic, political and cultural hub and consequently the center of gravitation for all the greatest writers of the time (Plato, Aeschylus, Pindar, Simonides and Bachilides). After a short period of decline, Syracuse "raises its head" thanks to Timoleon and with Agathocles defeats the Carthaginians again. Under the reign of the wise Hieron II, a new period of economic and cultural splendor revived. At this point in history, the interests of the "city of Archimedes" clashed with those of a new rising power: "Rome". In fact, after a very long and exhausting siege in 212 BC. it was conquered by the Romans. Despite this, Syracuse remains the capital of Sicily, maintaining this role during the Byzantine domination (535-879 AD), even between 662 and 668 AD, thanks to Emperor Constans II, it becomes the capital of the entire Byzantine Empire (title this one who, upon the death of the emperor, returns to Constantinople). Conquered and plundered by the Arabs in 879 AD. it is the capital of the Val di Noto, one of the three large territories into which the Muslims divided Sicily. In 1085, freed from Arab domination, it passed under Norman rule, to subsequently transform itself into a commercial base, first of the Pisans (1197-1204), and then of the Genoese (1204-1221). 1221 was the year in which it passed to Swabians of Frederick II until 1266 when the Angevins took over (1266-1282). From 1282 onwards, the city participated in the Vespers War. The arrival of the Spanish brought about two dominations: the Aragonese one until 1412 and the Castilian one until the early 1500s. Between 1305 and 1536 it was the capital of the royal chamber of Spain, that is, a sort of state within the state governed by the Aragonese and Castilian queens . Thanks to the queen's chamber, Syracuse goes through a further period of splendor, trade flourishes again and cultural exchanges with Spain favor the birth of abundant Catalan-Aragonese construction, which still characterizes Ortigia from all the other Sicilian historical centers . In 1536 Charles V (King of Spain) decided to abolish the royal chamber, and transformed the island into one of the most powerful strongholds in the Mediterranean. This new military function cuts Ortigia off from any commercial exchange, causing an economic catastrophe and a long decline. Added to the serious economic crisis were: the earthquakes of 1542 and 1693, the famine of 1646 and the continuous plagues that ended up decimating the city. The 18th century was marked by numerous changes in power: from the Habsburgs to the Bourbons, subsequently with the Treaty of Ultrecht the Savoys arrived, then the Austrians (1718-1735) and then returned to the Bourbons from 1735 to 1860 (substantially until the unification of Italy) During the anti-Bourbon riots of 1837 the city was punished with the loss of the title of provincial capital which passed to Noto, a city loyal to the Bourbons. Only in 1861, with the unification of Italy, the capital was returned to Syracuse. From this date onwards the city is identified with that of the Italian state.
Greek Theater Syracuse.
The Greek Theater represents the greatest example of theatrical architecture in the Greek West. It has the particularity of being almost entirely dug into the rock. In addition to performances, as was customary for the ancient Greeks, the theater was used for popular assemblies. After being adapted for circus games in the imperial era, the theater fell into abandonment. In the 16th century, like the other classical monuments, it was plundered by the Spanish workers of Charles V who used the good stone already cut to erect the fortifications of Ortigia. Other failures came from the mills that had been installed in the cavea. The excavations, which began at the end of the eighteenth century and continued throughout the following century, were completed only in the mid-twentieth century. Despite the diversity, even substantial, of opinions of scholars on the genesis of the monument, it is generally accepted that the current form dates back to the renovation work of the years 238 - 215 BC. under the reign of Hiero II. The theater is made up of three parts: koilon (or cavea), orchestra and scene. Koilon: has a semicircular shape and a diameter of over 138 meters; the 67 orders of steps are divided into nine sectors (wedges) by eight service ladders. A long corridor crosses the auditorium in the width direction: it is the diàzoma whose upper face was engraved with the names of the divinities or rulers to whom the wedge was dedicated. Even today we read the names of Queen Philistis, of Nereide (respectively the wife and daughter-in-law of Hieron II). The upper part of the cavea is devoid of blocks originally placed there due to the absence of the rocky bank and subsequently removed in the 16th century under the reign of Charles V. Orchestra: it is the semicircular space at the foot of the cavea where the choirs danced. The orchestra plane is delimited by grooves that circumscribe a trapezoidal space; as a whole they have been interpreted both as water drainage channels (eurìpi) and as traces of the ancient theater which originally had that appearance. Scene: it is the vast esplanade where the stage building stood, delimited on the sides by two imposing pylons. It has been excavated several times both because the vertical elements of the Greek scenic building were housed there and because over the centuries it has been tampered with several times to be adapted to different scenic staging needs, not least the gladiatorial games. The upper part of the theater was surrounded by a large covered portico. The rock face above, as well as other parts of the Hill, is entirely dotted with quadrangular hollows (naiskoi) intended to house the small pictures (pinakes) with votive images of divinities or heroized deceased (in some way comparable to our Saints). In it, in the center and in line with the theater, there is a large cave from which water flows from the Greek aqueduct. In this cave - nymphaeum it is possible to recognize the Mouseion, the headquarters of the artists' guild. From the western side of the terrace you can access the upper access road to the theater (in which the carriageways are deeply marked); Byzantine funerary hypogea have been excavated along its walls and from which it takes the name "Via dei Sepolcri".