Syracuse in Sicily has been an important site throughout history. It is now a city where ancient civilisations exist alongside modern culture, where visitors can see centuries-old ruins and shop for local produce all in the same day. Intrigued? Here are the top things to do in Syracuse.
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The historical centre of Syracuse is on the island of Ortygia, connected to the mainland via two bridges. Visitors will appreciate the baroque architecture as well as the 13th-century Castello Maniace. Other popular stops include the Graziella, Bottari, Mastruarua, Spirduta, Maestranza and Turba districts, as well as the Piazza del Duomo and the Fontana Aretusa.
The Duomo is considered the most important church in Syracuse and is under Unesco protection. Its origins lie in the worship of the goddess Minerva, but the most striking feature has to be the combination of beautiful baroque and rococo architecture. The edifice was constructed in 1753 and is best admired from one of the cute cafes in the piazza.
Fontana Aretusa, is a pretty fresh-water spring on Ortygia. It has a long literary history, having inspired Greek poets to create a myth about the water nymph Arethusa, who chose to be a spring rather than accept the advances of the river god. After that, the spring became a source of inspiration for many of the great poets, and is mentioned in John Milton’s Lycidas as well as Alexander Pope’s The Dunciad and Wordsworth’s The Prelude. It’s a lovely place for a bit of quiet reflection before continuing to explore the island.
Mostly overlooked, the Syracuse Giudecca, or Jewish Quarter, is home to the oldest mikveh (a ritual bath) in Europe. During the Roman times, the Jewish community of Syracuse used the fresh water baths as a sacrament of absolution. In the 1980s, a Sicilian woman found the old synagogue and hoped to convert it into a hotel. During the reconstruction, workers found the ancient baths and it is now a historical site. Guided tours are available in English and reservations are only required for groups of five people or more.
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