"Siracusa II - Death and drama" Top 5 Page for this destination Sicilia Things to Do Tip by TheWanderingCamel

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Tangible reminders of these obsessions of the ancient world are to be found in Syracuse.

High on a hill above the city, the Greek theatre is the centrepiece of the Archaeological Park. It was here, in a sweeping stone curve that could seat 16,000, that some of the greatest plays ever written were first performed. If, like me, you like your ancient ruins to show their age, you might be disappointed in the way the theatre looks through the summer months these days. A summer-long season of classical drama necessitates wooden seating and staging to be laid over the ancient stones, lighting gantries and stage sets to be installed and some areas around the theatre blocked off, including the orchestra and much of the seating, so that there is very little of the original structure to be seen.
For details of performances and programmes, contact the tourist office or the ticket office at the Park.

We found the Roman amphitheatre over on the other side of the park to be much more to our liking, as well as the beautiful Latomia del Paradiso (Gardens of Paradise, situated in one of the quarries, a cool green oasis on a hot, hot day) and the cave known as the Orecchio di Dionisio (Dionysius' Ear).

Before you leave the park, consider the Ara di Ierone (3rdC BC) - a monumental altar where death was very much the focus - 450 oxen could be sacrificed at a time on its monstrous stones.

The old gods slowly gave way to new beliefs and Christianity came to the island. The early years of the new faith saw its followers entombing their dead in disused underground aqueducts left by the Greeks. As their numbers grew, so the maze of tunnels grew too and today there are miles and miles of them under the city. A small section of the catacombs is accessible through the Basilica de San Giovanni. Guided tours take you through a succession of passages lined with just some of the thousands of niches that fill the place to chapels - some with frescoed walls - and some of the more notable tombs. Although eerily silent, these catacombs aren't the haunted places of earlier Christian burials such as those in Rome, where brutal persecution made hidden underground ritual necessary. They're not deep and the people who left their dead here did so out of a convention that still held from those first years.

Above the catacombs, the ruined church, still consecrated despite being roofless, is a lovely place, its nave and delicate window tracery open to the sky. Access is only available as part of the catacomb tour.

Address: Catacombs - Via San Sebastian
Directions: The Archaeological Park is open every day from 9am. Closing times vary with the season and the performance schedule.

Catacomb tour: Closed Tuesday. Every 45 minutes or so. 0900-1230 and 1430-1700

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jul 31, 2008
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