A few thousand years ago, in the 8 and 9th centuries BC, Southern coastal Italy was colonized by the Greeks. Called Magna Graecia, which is Latin for Greater Greece, these new rulers constructed enormous temples and theaters, many of which still stand all over Southern Italy and Sicily.
Temple of Segesta
Segesta is a hilltop town in Western Sicily, not far from Trapani. This Greek Doric temple is thought to have been constructed in the 4th century BC and is in remarkable condition. Historians now think that this temple was never completed because a roof wasn’t added, and there are no traces of the usual decorations found on temples of this era.
Temple of Concordia, Agrigento
The Valley of the Temples in Southern Sicily, near the city of Agrigento, is truly an archaeological wonder. The Temple of Concordia is the largest and best-preserved Doric temple in Sicily and generally accepted as one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world. Concordia was the Roman goddess of harmony and this temple dedicated to her was constructed in 420 BC.
Ancient Theatre of Taormina
The drama views are just the beginning of the astounding Greek theater in Taormina. Perched high above the sea in the far corner of the town, this centuries-old theater is still used today for film screenings and live concerts.
Built primarily in the 12th century, Palermo’s main cathedral is a historical and architectural mish-mash, much like the city it represents. A prime example of the Arab Norman style that is protected by UNESCO, it features elements of Western, Byzantine and Islamic cultures. The exterior is Gothic in style and inside is the Cathedral Treasury, with jewels and garments once worn by Sicily’s former kings and queens.
Massimo Theatre, Palermo
Teatro Massimo is the the largest theater in Italy. Built in the late 1800s, it is still renowned for its perfect acoustics. The Neoclassical design was inspired by Sicily’s great Greek temples. You might recognize the interior, which was used to film the final scenes of The Godfather III.
The Palazzo Mirto in the city of Palermo was the home of the aristocratic Filangeri family for almost four centuries. Today it is a museum, where you can visit the 21 lavish rooms filled with extravagant art and lush furnishings. The palace was once an Arab fortress as well. You will find this grand former residence in the Kalsa neighborhood.
Cathedral of San Giorgio, Modica
This Baroque church in the town known for its unique chocolate commands your attention. Rebuilt after the devastating earthquakes in the Middle Ages, the current structure was completed in the 18th century. The impressive church is a flight of 250 wide steps from the main piazza. Inside, you can find paintings and sculptures celebrating Saint George and a meridian sundial on the floor of the church.
Cathedral of St. Nicholas, Noto
The cathedral in the town of Noto is another example of Sicilian Baroque architecture that is recognized and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in the golden toned sandstone that is characteristic of the region in Southeastern Sicily, the bold curves and orate decorations glow in the light. In 1996, a main section of the church collapsed and renovations took 11 years to complete.
Villa Romana del Casale
A few thousand years ago, this was the home to a wealthy Roman ruler who built a mansion to display his power and wealth. Today, the Villa Romana del Casale still retains the most extensive collection of Roman era mosaics in the world, including the very famous girls in red bikinis.
Archaeological Park of Neapolis
Syracuse (Siracusa) is home to a wealth of ancient treasures. The Archaeological Park of Neapolis holds some highlights, including ruins and the archaeological museum of Syracuse. The Latomia del Paradiso is now a citrus grove and The Ear of Dionysius is a fun acoustic trick. There are two ancient theaters to visit here, the Roman amphitheater dates back to the 1st century and the Greek theater which dates back to the 5th century BC. Both are still used today for summer performances.
Zisa Palace Palermo
This Moorish style castle lies on the western edge of the city of Palermo. The name Zisa comes from an Arabic phrase al-Azīz – which translates to splendid – and is inscribed at the palace’s entrance. It was once the summer residence to the Norman king Guglielmo I, who enjoyed its unique architecture that kept the palace cool in spite of the scorching Sicilian sun. After years of neglect, it is now a museum where visitors can seek a cool respite.
The cathedral in the seaside town of Cefalù is part of the protected Norman Arab collection. It features Northern Europe Romanesque architecture, which is a different style than the others. Inside, are glittering gold mosaics and a beautiful Byzantine style cloisters.