Syracuse, Italy


More than any other city, Syracuse encapsulates Sicily’s timeless beauty. Ancient Greek ruins rise out of lush citrus orchards, cafe tables spill onto dazzling baroque piazzas, and medieval lanes lead down to the sparkling blue sea. But handsome as it is, the city is no museum piece − life goes on here much as it has for 3000 years, as you’ll soon see from the snarling mid-morning traffic and noisy markets.

It’s difficult to imagine now but in its heyday Syracuse was the largest city in the ancient world, bigger even than Athens and Corinth. It was founded by Corinthian colonists, who landed on the island of Ortygia in 734 BC and set up the mainland city four years later. It quickly flourished, growing to become a rich commercial town and major regional powerhouse. Victory over the Carthaginians at the Battle of Himera in 480 BC paved the way for a golden age, during which art and culture thrived and the city’s tyrannical kings commissioned an impressive program of public building. The finest intellectuals of the age flocked to Syracuse, cultivating the sophisticated urban culture that was to see the birth of comic Greek theatre.

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