On the east coast, Syracuse takes you into the sheer timelessness of Sicily, as you immerse yourself in a thousand-year-old city, with an even older origin story. Syracuse’s Old Town, known as Ortigia, is in fact a small island, but is connected by little bridges. Roam the medieval streets and decadent Baroque piazzas, and discover an impressive collection of ancient Greek ruins, as you breathe in the salty sea air of the nearby sparkling waters.
One of Sicily’s greatest archaeological sites is the Neapolis Archaeological Park, which dates back to 734 BC and was one of the largest cities in the ancient world. It’s a classicist’s dream - and an ideal spot for Indiana Jones! Unsurprisingly, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site.
All in all, we recommend about an hour and a half to visit the park, which you can enjoy independently or on a private guided tour.
At the entrance of the park, you’ll find a second century Anfiteatro Romano (Roman amphitheatre), where horse races and bloody combat took place between gladiators and, occasionally, wild beasts. It’s one of the more recent monuments, so is usually left until the end of a tour. Sadly, much of the amphitheatre was destroyed by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century. You’ll also find the Altar of Hieron, allegedly the largest stone altar ever built by the ancient Greeks, where bulls would be sacrificed on feast days to honour the Greek god of sky and thunder, Zeus.
The pièce de résistance of the archaeological park is its 5th century BC Teatro Greco (Greek Theatre), which was rebuilt in the 3rd century. It’s best viewed at its lowest position to give you a sense of size. You’ll find a few artificial caves surrounding it, some of which are believed to have been used to supply water for mock naval battles, and also as burial sites in the Byzantine age. At one point, this impressive amphitheatre could have accommodated an audience of up to 16,000 to watch all the famous tragedies of its time. Even today, you’ll find a season of classical theatre running from early May until early July.
You can also explore the Latomia del Paradiso (Paradise Quarry), an ancient limestone cave that is teeming with catacombs, but has also bloomed into a beautiful Mediterranean garden of citrus and magnolia trees.