Syracuse: Sicily’s Ancient Greek City

Find out why Syracuse was crucial for the Ancient Greeks and the history behind it.

Syracuse: Sicily’s Ancient Greek City

Written by Ian Cross, edited by Kaz Bosali

On Sicily’s south eastern shore sits Syracuse, nowadays a grand baroque styled city,  but in ancient times one of the greatest powers and, for the Greeks, the most important city outside Greece itself.

The Temple of Apollo, the oldest Doric temple in Western Europe, and the first in Sicily, has over centuries served as a Byzantine church, a mosque and a fortress.

The Greek City here was founded by the Corinthians, and the surviving theatre is one of the best examples of ancient theatre architecture anywhere.

Designed in the 5th century BC by the Greek architect Damacopos, it seated 15,000 people.

Great Greek playwrights including Aeschylus premiered their tragedies  here and staged their works in this magnificent setting.

The local tyrant Dionysius was a monumental builder. Enormous caves nearby served as rock quarries and prisons. The Ear of Dionysius is one of the most impressive. According to legend, thanks to its extraordinary acoustics, the tyrant Dionysius could hear the whispers of his most dangerous prisoners and take precautions.

The quarries meant Syracuse had the grandest public works in the western world. Much here was built by slaves.

Syracuse and its succession of bellicose and often cruel dictators was defeated by Athens which dispatched a massive fleet here in 413 BC and it declined further after the Roman victories two centuries later.

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