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Syracuse – Quick hints and etymology of the word

Syracuse is a city with millenary origins, unique in its kind, for location, history, places of beauty and natural, historical, architectural and artistic interest.
Founded by the Corinthians in the 8th century B.C. (734-733), was one of the largest metropolis in the classical era, a powerful city able to hold the comparison with Athens, which tried to dominate it, to define Syracuse, it is enough to mention a popular phrase of Cicero who, at the time of the conquest by the ancient Rome (III century. BC) called it “The largest and most beautiful of the Greek cities”.
Very interesting are the different theories concerning the etymology of the name “Syracuse”, also developed by virtue of the civilizations that, over the millennia, have taken turns in the conquest and domination of the city.
In a literal sense, “Syracuse” comes from the Greek “Sirókos”, a definition that dates back to the first historical settlement on the islet of Ortigia by the Corinthians, led by the ecist Archia (founder of the city) who, during the sea route taken to get there, noted that the wind that blown mainly in the area was the sirocco, precisely in Greek Sirókos.
Another name given by the founder to the city was “Siraca”, derived from the Latin “Siracosion” with the meaning of “leading to peace”.
Some, on the other hand, argue that the name “Syracuse” derives from the Greek form “Syrakoúsai” which in turn derives from “Syrakō” or abundance of water, this in view of the many rivers in the basin of Syracuse, as well as swampy areas that characterized the territory, others, however, argue that the name comes from the Phoenician dialect “Sur” which stands for reef and “Acco” which means hot. Finally, others say that it refers to the presence of seagulls on the islet.
Suggestive, original and unique in its kind, in the search for the meaning of the term, is the hypothesis formulated by the nineteenth-century writer Innocenzio Fulci, who in his work “Philological lessons on the Sicilian language” states that the name “Syracuse” was given to the city by the Sicilians from Magna Graecia, where once stood the city of Siris.
Here flowed the river Siris, in the Siritide, a place that took its name from the Siriti (one of the first Greek peoples of ancient Italy).
The Syrians, related to the Morgeti (Fulci reports that King Morgete had a daughter named Siris) emigrated with them to Sicily and founded Syracuse here.

Fulci writes about the origin of the name of the future polis:

<< How much the scholars have not been tormented in deriving the name Syrach or from the Carthaginian, Phoenician or Greek! Yet for testimony of Thucydides judge much more competent the word is sicolo, and it must be traced between the Sicoli […] the Siriti companions of emigration [of the Morgeti] said with common name Sicoli, which had become more and more important for the Maremma [of Sicily] occupied the place of Syracuse, and I the argument from the name Syracuse (and maybe Sirlaco or lake of Syri) given to the pantanella (perhaps Lismelia de’ Greci) name that the Greek settlers respected with the Syracosion […] >>

History of Syracuse – From the Neolithic Age to the foundation of the Corinthians

The history of Syracuse begins with the first prehistoric settlements of populations from the Neolithic (6000 BC), as confirmed by the discovery of finds that can be dated back to that time; there are also, even before it was founded by the Greeks, there are evidence of human settlements Mycenaean and Phoenician.
Most of Sicily was inhabited by the Sicans and only around 1300 BC another people re-established on the east coast of the island: The Sicilians.
Since historiography and archaeological science have not yet managed to establish the exact origin of the Sicans and Sicilians, it has also come to think that they could be, substantially, the same people. From the remains of prehistoric huts found in various urban areas, it is however clear that the territory of Syracuse was affected by the settlement of the indigenous peoples of Sicily.
The proximity with Pantalica (the site called “the Capital of Sicani first and then of Siculi”) suggests that also Syracuse had first a Sicanian people and then, according to what is described by the official historiography, arrived the people of the Siculians who drove the Sicani towards the Sicilian hinterland in the areas of Enna, Agrigento, Palermo where in fact there is a mountain range that still bears the name of that ancient people: the Sicani Mountains.
There are many Sicilian necropolis found in the surroundings of Syracuse: Thapsos, Plemmirio, Scala Greca, Santa Panagia, Ortigia, are emblematic examples of Syracuse places where traces have been found dating back to that time. Thanks to the discoveries it has been possible to ascertain that the Syracuse populations of the Bronze and Iron Ages already had commercial relations with the peoples of the Aegean Sea; in fact, fragments of pottery found with basic decorations that do not refer to Italian influences date back to this period, but are well documented and similar to the rough decorative customs from Troy and Mycenae.
Around the 8th century B.C., the first Greeks from Corinth arrived in Syracuse. Led by the noble Greek ecist Archia, they founded the colony “Syrakousai”, which had an immediate and important capacity for development, transforming in a short time into a real city, so large that many historians defined it as a metropolis, and some even called it the First Western Empire.
Initially, the Corinthians decided to settle only on the island of Ortigia: it was a choice of strategic connotation to promote a better quality of life, there they could immediately dispose of the use of fresh water from the source andretusa, considering the structural peculiarities of the island, once hunted the Sicilians did not have to fear that they would fortify within that perimeter surrounded by the sea.
To move from the island to the mainland, the new settlers built a stone embankment that later became a real bridge, which led the island to no longer be surrounded by the sea, as reported by Thucydides, historian, philosopher and Athenian military.
To describe the foundation of Syracuse, the legendary history of Archia and Miscello is particularly fascinating.
Legend has it that Archia from Corinth, a leader of the Bacchiadi family, went, alongside his friend Miscello, to the oracle of Delphi, north of the Gulf of Corinth, on the island of Delphi, there was a famous sanctuary dedicated to the Sun God. Here, the priests of the God gave answers to the questions that were asked about important events in life or about decisions to be taken. The priest asked the two friends if they wanted health or wealth. Archia chose wealth and founded on the island of Ortigia the city destined to become the most beautiful of all Greek cities: Syracuse. Miscello chose, instead, health and founded Crotone. But this is just a legend. In fact, the reasons that led the Greeks to emigrate and found new colonies were several: the demographic increase, the economic crisis, the necessity to obtain new ports of call. When the Greeks founded a city they took into account some factors: the availability of water, the possibility of defense of the place, the proximity of a river that allowed trade with neighboring peoples, safe and controllable ports, etc. … Ortigia had all these characteristics. With the settlement of the Greeks, the natives moved into the valley of the Anapo and were immediately raised temples in honor of the gods.
Syracuse became, therefore, in a very short time, a great force, rich and shining: how it managed to grow and expand in such proportions is a question that has always fascinated historians from all over the world.

History of Syracuse – Roman Domination

After the Roman conquest, which took place by General Marcus Claudius Marcellus in 212 BC, during the Second Punic War, Syracuse could no longer regain the incredible power of the past, Rome was on the rise and, in its expansionist momentum, conquered the whole of Sicily.
The city was named Capital of the Sicilian Province and became the seat of the Roman Praetors sent to administer the Sicilian island.
At that time, the Roman general Publius Cornelius Scipio, better known as Scipio the African, spent a year in Rome. He prepared the Roman army from Syracuse, which then defeated the Carthaginian Hannibal and declared the victory of the Second Punic War in Rome.
Famous in that period are the robberies perpetrated by the praetor Gaius Licinius Verre, who stole the works of art of Syracuse in the name of the power that Rome had conferred on him. Outraged Marco Tullio Cicerone, Roman lawyer and politician, was sent to Sicily by the Roman senate to testify against the thefts of Verre.
During his stay in Syracuse he discovered the tomb of Archimedes, hidden in the bushes, no longer remembered by the Syracusans who, with the course of the centuries and thanks to the precarious sociopolitical situation in which they lived, had even forgotten the place where their most illustrious son lay, triggering the wrath of Cicero against the natives.
The Roman period, as is well known, was the protagonist of a clear downsizing of the city’s structure; however, other works of considerable importance were built such as the Roman Amphitheatre, one of the largest in Italy, used for gladiator fights and circus performances, and naval battles (naumachia); the Roman Gymnasium and the intricate network of catacombs (the most important and extensive after that of Rome).
According to tradition, Syracuse became the first city in the West where a Christian community was founded; in fact, one can see inside the Cathedral of Syracuse, the inscription that reads in Latin: “Ecclesia Siracusana Prima Divi Petri Filia Et Prima Post Antiochenam Christo Dicata”, or “The church of Syracuse is the first daughter of St. Peter and second after the church of Antioch dedicated to Christ.
Among the buildings to remember, there is also the Church of San Giovanni alle catacombe, place where he went in 61 BC, the apostle Paul of Tarsus and where he preached the Christian faith, making Syracuse, along with the work of St. Marciano, his first bishop, one of the first places of spread of Christianity in Europe.
It was in this spirit of ferment of the Christian religion that Lucia was born in 283, a young Syracusan who would be made a martyr under the persecution of Christians with the edict of the Roman emperor Diocletian; Saint Lucia would later become one of the saints most beloved by the Christian-Catholic world. Subsequently the emperor Constantine I, with the edict of Milan, put an end to the persecutions, even accepting the Christian religion as state religion. However, the Roman Empire was now in decline, so in 468, Sicily and Syracuse fell under the domination of the Vandals. Then the Ostrogoths followed. The Western Roman Empire had in fact fallen.

History of Syracuse – The Medieval Age

With the advent of the Middle Ages, Syracuse was conquered (along with all of Sicily) by the Byzantines, led by the Byzantine general Belisarius (535 AD), sent to the island with the mission of regaining Italy and bring it under the control of the Emperor of Byzantium, Justinian I.
More than one hundred years later (in 663), the emperor Constant II, for his precise political plan to defeat the Lombards in Italy and place the entire country under Byzantine rule, decided to transfer his imperial court in Syracuse, so close to Rome and so strongly “Hellenized”, the city became at that time “Capital of the Roman Empire”, the behavior of Constant II, however, accustomed to harassing the people with increasingly high taxes, was not appreciated by the native people: all ended with the killing of the emperor by order of a member of his court, called Mecetius, who had him assassinated by one of his servants.
After his death he had himself crowned as the new Emperor (despite the fact that some historians have credited the idea that Mecetius was forced to be crowned), but his reign lasted less than a year: in fact, troops from Italy, Africa and Sardinia marched on Syracuse and dismissed the usurper. In the meantime the legitimate heir of Constant II, Constantine IV, came to take back the crown and brought back the imperial seat to Constantinople.
Syracuse was named at that time “Capital of Thema Sikelia” (established under the empire of Justinian II), thema included Sicily, the Duchy of Calabria and the Duchy of Naples. The Byzantine Strategos resided in the city (685-695 A.D., 705-711 A.D.). After various contrasts between Constantinople and Syracuse, the thema of Sikelia declared itself independent from Byzantium. Euphemia of Messina, an expert soldier, settled in the city and rebelled against the Byzantines and declared himself emperor of Sicily in Syracuse.
Obviously this move attracted him against the wrath of the Empire. He was forced to flee to Africa, where he asked the aghlabid emir of Qayrawān, Ziyadat Allah I, for help to drive the Byzantines out of Sicily.
When the queen Irene of Athens usurped the throne from her son, she became the first woman to rule the Byzantine Empire in her own right. The throne was immediately threatened by the five brothers of Emperor Leo IV: Nicephorus, Christopher, Niceta, Antimo and Eudocimus. The revolt failed and Irene punished the five brothers-in-law forcing them to become priests. The strategos of Sicily Elpidio also participated in the conspiracy. Irene had the family of these arrested and tortured and, to capture him, sent a large fleet under the command of the patrician Theodore who, after several fights, managed to recover Sicily, Elpidio took refuge in Africa, where the Arabs treated him as if he were the basileus of the Romei and even, apparently, would have crowned him.
Soon the Arab initiative ended up starting an attempt at conquest (in 830 a second contingent arrived from North Africa) and Euphemia, who in the meantime had been expelled by the Arabs and had tried to regain contact with the Greeks, was finally killed in Castrogiovanni (the ancient name of the present Enna) by citizens loyal to Byzantium (828).
Following these events, Syracuse fell into Arab hands in 878, after a long and painful siege (the famous “siege of Syracuse”), led by Governor Giafar Ibn Muhammed and narrated by the Syracuse monk Theodosius, during the battle called “the second clash”.
The city, for one thousand five hundred years, had been the most important in the whole of Sicily (at the time it surpassed Rome itself in splendour). After the conquest of Syracuse, the Arabs placed the capital in Agrigento (renamed Girgenti) and soon formed a kind of rivalry with the other main political center, Palermo.
The Arabs divided Sicily into three main control areas: Val di Mazara, Val Demone and Val di Noto; Syracuse became the capital of Val di Noto. During the Muslim domination came to Syracuse the Byzantine general Giorgio Maniace, it regained, in 1040, part of eastern Sicily, but because of internal conflicts in the Byzantine army, the reconquests lasted for a short time. The emir Ibn ath-Thumna, (lord of Syracuse, Noto and Catania) in 1061, to have victory over an internal dispute with another emir of Sicily, calls to his aid the Counts of Altavilla, was so that the Norman Count Roger, comes to Sicily. The Normans conquered Palermo, and most of the island, headed to Syracuse.

With the Normans Syracuse found a ruling class of the Christian religion. The emperor Henry VI of Swabia, son of the famous German sovereign Frederick I called Barbarossa, in exchange for favors, handed over the city of Syracuse in the hands of the Republic of Genoa, which clashed with Pisa, to get its leadership. After 15 years of Genoese permanence in the city, the Swabian-Norman emperor, Frederick II, wanted to bring Syracuse back under the control of his Empire, then forced the Genoese to leave it. By the work of Frederick II, the city was declared by the sovereign “urbs fedelissima” (1234) and built in this period the Castle Maniace. And this castle will be the seat of the Royal Chamber during the time of Spanish Sicily, it was in fact established by King Frederick III of Aragon, as a gift to Queen Eleonora of Anjou, passed from queen to queen, with this seat administered Syracuse and part of the surrounding territory (from 1305 to 1536).

History of Syracuse – between the Modern and Contemporary Ages

One of the historically important episodes concerning the modern period is the one in which the fugitive painter Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) came from Malta to Syracuse in 1609. During his stay in the city, he painted the work called the Burial of Saint Lucia. In the 1600’s Syracuse became a fully-fledged military centre, full of fortifications, built at the expense of the ancient monuments of the Greek-Roman era, which were mostly dismantled (except for the parts excavated in the rock).
In 1693, the violent earthquake in Val di Noto – one of the most disastrous in the history of mankind – almost destroyed the whole of south-eastern Sicily and Syracuse, although not totally destroyed (as happened to other cities), was the subject of numerous works of extensive urban redevelopment: it was so that the city was rebuilt in the particular Baroque style that today characterizes the historic center of the city.
In the eighteenth century, following the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), after various changes, Syracuse became the final stronghold of the Habsburgs, until the advent of the Bourbons (1734).
In 1798 Syracuse was the landing place of the famous Admiral Nelson, where he returned in 1800, following the victory over Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt, to be awarded a gold medal and the honor of honorary citizen.
In the nineteenth century Syracuse became a privileged place for many European artists and writers, in the years of the development of the Grand Tour, among which the most famous is August Von Platen (of which the timba still remains at the non-Catholic cemetery at Villa Landolina).
With the crisis of the Bourbon kingdom (1837-1848), which had also led to the loss of ownership of the capital in favor of the city of Noto and the unity of Italy, the city regained the title of capital in 1865, not without a heated debate with the faction of Neptune, because the persistence of the particular situation of the Bourbon era had now become a vexata quaestio between the two municipalities.
At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century other important and influential personalities arrived in Syracuse, including Oscar Wilde, William II of Germany, Sigmund Freud and Gabriele D’Annunzio, confirming the lively interest that the city continued to arouse in the cultural sphere.
In April 1914 the first cycle of classical performances was staged at the Greek Theatre of Syracuse: ten years later the INDA was established.
In the evolution of events prior to the Second World War and during the Mussolini Fascist regime, Syracuse assumed a role of great importance, dictated by its congenial geographical position prepared for the route between Italy and the African continent.
King Vittorio Emanuele III visited the city several times, from 1930 until 1942.
During the Second World War, Syracuse was the victim of numerous bombings; also. Off the coast of the city, in 1941, the transatlantic liner Conte Rosso sank, causing a serious number of victims.
Syracuse has been occupied by the Allies on July 9, 1943, during the operation Ladbroke;

At first, the city was the seat of the Allied Military Government (AMGOT), until the 3rd of September of the same year, the armistice between the Italian nation and the Allies was secretly signed near Cassibile.
Later, the War Cemetery, the cemetery of the British, was built to give a decent burial to the victims of the British war; after the war, the city experienced a period of reconstruction and new hopes.
1953 was an important year for Syracuse, as the tearing of a little statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary took place, an event that the Church has declared to be miraculous.
In 1954 the British Prime Minister Sir Winston Lawrence Spencer Churcill arrived in Syracuse, officially on holiday (he had already been to Syracuse for the first time in 1917, passing through, when he was on his way from Vienna to Malta).
Between the end of the 1950s and the end of the 1970s, the Syracuse petrochemical centre, one of the largest on the European continent, was founded and developed on the northern outskirts of the city, but not without triggering social protests.
On 5 and 6 November 1994, Pope John Paul II visited the city to inaugurate the Basilica Madonna delle Lacrime Sanctuary.
In 2005 UNESCO included Syracuse among the World Heritage Sites and over the last five years it has become one of the most popular destinations for tourists from all over the world, eager to admire the wonders that distinguish this enchanting city.

Discovering Syracuse – The Ear of Dionysius

The Ear of Dionysius (or Ear of Dionigi) is a suggestive cave of artificial origin located below the Greek Theatre of Syracuse, within the old quarry of the complex of Latomie del Paradiso.
Excavated in the limestone, it measures about 23 m in height and is 5 to 11 m wide; developing in depth for 65 m, it is articulated with an “S” shape that makes it the main place for the acoustic amplification of sounds.
The name was given to the site by the famous painter Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) who, inspired by the shape that clearly recalled the ear canal of the human earcup, named it “ear”, associating it with the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse and a legend associated with him. The legend tells that the tyrant of Syracuse used to imprison his enemies inside this cave, from which he could eavesdrop on the disquisitions, thanks to the powerful resonance generated inside through a small crack where, it is assumed, Dionysius leaned his ear, so you can always be one step ahead of his enemies.
Also in terms of beliefs, there are many that intersect with the creation of this extraordinary cave and give it charm and historical interest: It is said, in fact, that this could be the quarry from which Plato drew the famous ‘myth of the cave’, located in the books of the “Republic”, as well as it is said that at the Ear of Dionysius, Caravaggio set one of his most beautiful and suggestive works, namely his oil on canvas dated 1608, “Burial of St. Lucy”, now preserved in Syracuse, at the church of Santa Lucia alla Badia, in Piazza Duomo.

Discovering Syracuse – The Church of San Giovanni alle Catacombe

The Church of San Giovanni alle Catacombe di Siracusa is one of the most interesting historical and architectural sites in the city of Siracusa.
Built in the sixth century AD, for a long time was recognized as the ancient cathedral of Syracuse (proto-cathedral), built in Acradina, extra moenia, in the region of the Catacombs, in the place where tradition has it was buried the proto-bishop of Syracuse, San Marciano, martyred under Gallienus and Valerian (mid-third century AD);
Of the proto-cathedral, which consists of three naves divided by 12 Doric columns, only the remains of the colonnade with the middle nave and the apse in local stone can be seen today.
The church underwent several innovations in Norman times and was further modified during the seventeenth century. Damaged by the earthquake of 1693, it was restored through the reconstruction of the facade and the present arcade with ogival arches and decorated capitals, obtained with the use of fifteenth-century elements.
From the court of the Church, a staircase leads down to the crypt of San Marciano, which welcomed the body of the first bishop until the transfer of the remains to Gaeta, due to the Arab invasion; the crypt is the place where it is believed that he preached St. Paul the Apostle around the year 61 AD where, inside the crypt is kept the masonry tomb of the saint. Of particular interest are the capitals with the symbols of the Evangelists incorporated in the four pillars, built in Norman times, around the altar, located in the center of the crypt, still frequented as a religious place by both Catholics and Orthodox.

Discovering Syracuse – The Hypogeum of Piazza Duomo

The hypogeum of Piazza Duomo is an underground route of great historical and anthropological interest that, starting from the highest point of the island of Ortigia (Piazza del Duomo), leads to the Foro Italico, where the fortified walls of the Marina are located.
The hypogeum is divided into a main gallery from which branch off the so-called minor galleries. One of these is connected to the tank located in the courtyard of the Archbishop’s Palace, near the starting point from above.
In a first nucleus of galleries we remember the existence of a previous quarry, considered very important because it was obtained and extracted the stone with which the Cathedral of Syracuse was built.
Historically speaking, the hypogeum played a fundamental role for the city of Syracuse during the Second World War, offering shelter to the natives during the aerial bombardments right inside it.
It was reopened in relatively recent periods (2006), following restoration work and now displays the images taken in the refuge during the Second World War.

Discovering Syracuse – The Maniace Castle

The Maniace Castle is undoubtedly one of the most important monuments of the Swabian period of Syracuse.
The castle presents a massive quadrilateral structure of 51 meters on each side of about 12 m high, with a typically defensive structure. At the four corners of the building are four cylindrical towers harmoniously inserted in the masonry work.
The castle is accessible through the gate of the former barracks of Abela located in Syracuse, in Piazza Federico di Svevia. A masonry bridge leads to a door with side columns dating back to the Spanish period (16th century). This bridge replaced the old wooden drawbridge that crossed the moat that surrounded the castle at the time of construction and separated it from the extreme southern tip of Ortigia; the wide moat, filled in in the sixteenth century, connected the Great Port of Syracuse with the open sea and a raised bridge allowed a better defense of the castle in case of attack. Excavations carried out for wise purposes have indicated that the original height of the walls was about 18 meters. The average thickness of the main walls is about 3.5 m. The main facade is oriented towards Ortigia, the sides to the north-east and south-west at the time of construction were overlooking the sea and so remained until the sixteenth century when the Spaniards erected their two buttresses.
Contrasts with the general appearance of the work, mainly military, the marble portal decorated, whose depth of splay was used by the builders to create artistic virtuosities Although seriously eroded by time and damaged by the work of men, between the outer jambs and internal pillars, a series of marble columns with capitals leaves hooked still allow the identification of four zoomorphic figures, arranged two on each side, probably of symbolic significance: Two figures of lions and a hippogriph can be identified; the lower arch and the archivolt have floral motifs. An imperial coat of arms from the 17th century is placed at the top of the ogive of the portal itself.
The main hall inside consists of 24 times plus one, representing the kingdoms of Frederick II, where the center is placed in Sicily.
The castle takes its name from Giorgio Maniace, a Byzantine general who in 1038 re-conquered the city for a short time, at that time in the hands of the Arabs. According to Tommaso Fazello, Italian historian and theologian, it was on the occasion of the construction of a fortress, called by the people “Torre Maniace”, that the general offered as a gift two bronze rams of Hellenistic workmanship, brought back from Constantinople, which were placed to decorate the entrance of the fortification, already almost certainly existing, as it is located in an area strategically important for the defense of the Grand Harbour.
During the medieval period it became the seat of the Sicilian Parliament, which sanctioned the inheritance of the son of Alfonso III of Aragon, Frederick III of Aragon, and was the seat of the Royal Chamber, from 1305 to 1536; already in the fifteenth century it became a military building and was used, from ‘500, also as a prison.
During the modern era the castle had to undergo a reconstruction, following an explosion of the powder magazine in 1704, and finally regained its military functions, under the Bourbon reign, these functions remained unchanged until the proclamation of the unity of Italy and, later, until the Second World War.
Nowadays the Maniace Castle has become a place of public enjoyment, through guided tours and the organization of cultural and recreational events.

Discovering Syracuse – The Greek Theatre

The Greek Theatre, emblematic site characterizing the city of Syracuse, is a theatre built in its first phase in the fifth century BC and located in the complex of the Archaeological Park of Neapolis, located within the slopes of the hill Temenite, in the south area of the same.
Built by the architect Damocopos called Myrilla (this name derives from the fact that on the day of the inauguration had spread ointments “myroi”), immediately the theater was of great importance for the theater of the time, also Aeschylus, an important ancient Greek playwright, represented there “Le Etnee”, (in 456 BC ca), a written work to celebrate the refounding of Catania, and “The Persians”.
In its early days, the theatre did not yet have the semicircular shape that still characterizes it today, but it was composed of three steps arranged in trapezoidal form; it was between 238 and 215 BC that the theatre was entirely rebuilt with its characteristic horseshoe shape, typical of Hellenic culture.
The reconstruction was directed by Hiero II who, in consideration of the particular composition and shape of the nearby hill Temenite, made sure to have it built with the intent to make the most of the acoustics: one of the characteristics of the Greek theaters was, in fact, to offer excellent acoustic quality associated with an exceptional panoramic view, characteristics of the Greek Theatre of Syracuse, which offered a pleasant view of the Port of the city and the island of Ortigia, or the oldest and most valuable part of Syracuse.
The theatre’s cavea, as conceived by Hiero II, is one of the largest in the Greek world and originally had 67 steps, mostly carved into the rock, and 9 sectors.
On the fence are engraved the names of the gods and the names of the royal family. Originally, the orchestra was bounded by a large open channel, the eurypo, beyond which there was the beginning of the steps.
The scenic part of this magnificent theatre has now almost completely gone and only the cuts made in the rock remain visible. Also during this first period under the orchestra area there was a passage that allowed the actors to disappear or appear and there was also a groove for the curtain.
Above the roof of the theatre is a terrace, also dug into the rock, which can be accessed via a staircase and a well-known road, “via dei sepolcri”. Originally on this terrace there was a large porch and a cave, where there was installed a tank in which the water of an ancient aqueduct that served the entire theater was deposited. This ensemble was identified as the Mouseion or “Sanctuaries or Muses”.
Numerous and substantial modifications were made to the theatre with the arrival of the Romans. The cavea was modified in a semicircular form (typical of the Romans) and corridors were made that led to the stage building.
Subsequently, other changes were made that could also accommodate the fights of the gladiators.
Following the Romans, the splendid theatre was abandoned for several centuries and, in 1526, suffered serious looting (plundering) by the Spaniards who used the large stone boulders to build the fortifications around the island of Ortigia.
At the end of the eighteenth century, finally, rekindled keen interest in the theater that continued for the next century, where they began real excavation campaigns, thanks to the interest of the Landolina and Cavallari who took care of freeing the monument from the land that had accumulated there.
From 1914 the National Institute of Ancient Drama (INDA) inaugurated in the ancient theater the annual performances of Greek plays (the first was the tragedy of Aeschylus Agamemnon, curated by Hector Romagnoli); interrupted because of the Great War, they resumed in 1921 and attracted more and more admirers, including King Vittorio Emanuele III (1930).
Since 2010 the Theatre has been one of the monuments of the Archaeological Park Service of Syracuse and of the archaeological areas of the neighbouring municipalities.

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