The Greek theatre in Syracuse is a true open air time machine. I visited this ancient monument in the past month, during a private archeological tour along with my husband. That is the second trip I did after the one in the Roman Villa in another famous place in Sicily. I can’t describe what I felt as soon as I put my feet on the same ground where Archimedes walked 2500 years ago! Hence, during my tour, I walked in the city of this eminent and famous genius and scientist of Sicily. Anyway, I am here to tell you about the details of my unforgettable tour to the Greek theatre of Syracuse. I also shot some photos, but to admire the beauty of this place, you must visit it personally.
The Greek theatre of Syracuse is in an archeological area called Neapolis. The name means new city in Greek and represents the new settlement that the Greeks built in this part of Sicily around the III century before Christ. Indeed, nowadays, this area is called the Archeolgical Park of Neapolis. With its remarkable extension, this archeological park contains important monuments which represent the history of Syracuse. It is divided into two parts: the Greek part containing the theatre and other important archeological artifacts and the Roman part, which, in turn, contains a stunning Roman amphitheatre. I never saw so many ancient burials, grottos and circular rows like the ones seen in the day of my archeological tour in this zone of Syracuse.
The most extensive area is the Greek one. It is contains the so called Ara of Ierone, the Greek theatre and a long series of grottos called “Latomie”. During my visit, I started my tour just from the Greek theatre of Syracuse. That is the most famous monument of the archeological park, engraved on the rocks of Temenite hill. Its history and its changes often identify the same history of the city of Syracuse. This Greek theatre has very ancient origins. Some written sources said that it has existed since the V century before Christ.
Thanks to this impressive archeological monument, Syracuse was the most important and famous Greek capital in Sicily. The current shape of the theatre was designed by the Greek tyrant Ierone, in the context of an urban renovation of Neapolis. To do this, Ierone followed the architectural rules of the magnificent Greek style. The space for the public included 67 rungs divided into nine wedges by eight rows of stairs. A high railing corridor divides the lower part from the upper part. At the center of the theatre, it is carved the name of Zeus. The structure was planned to be magnificent and to be used by the Romans. In reality, the zone was used by the Spaniards as a fort for Ortygia. In the lower part of the theatre, dedicated to the shows, namely the scenic apparatus, you can see an ancient and massive wood ship. In the upper part, there is a long path leading to picturesque grottos and waterfalls, such as the grottos where the so called waters of Ninfeo gush (see the image below).
In the superior part, just in front of the grotto, Ierone built an arcade with the shape of L. After leaving the center of the Greek theatre, I moved in the so called Ara of Ierone. That is a zone dedicated to Zeus in the context of the renovation of the city wanted by the Greek tyrant. The Ara of Ierone is the greatest altar of the ancient world. In the dinner room of this altar, the Greeks offered their sacrifices to the Greek deities. Indeed, during my visit there, I walked along many burials and grottos. Some of them were like ancient Greek temples, others were simply impressive grottos used as ancient baths and water basins. The final step of my tour to the Greek theater of Syracuse was to the so called Latomie.
The Greek Latomie
The Latomie are ancient, limestone grottos used as prisons during the Greek age. Nowadays, these same caves have been turned in lush gardens which gave me the impression to travel into a prehistoric age. The path I toured is divided by two long rows of high trees and ancient species of plants. The Latomie surrounded the ancient Greek city and formed two zones, the one called Paradise (I traveled it during my tour) and the one called Cappuccini. Among them, the most picturesque is just the Latomia of Paradise.
There, I visited a very high pointed grotto with the strange shape of an ear (see the image). Indeed, it is called the Ear of Dionysus (l’Orecchio di Dionisio). It was Caravaggio who gave this name to the cave. The Italian painter linked the shape of the grotto with the legend of tyrant Dionysus who segregated the prisoners to hear their secrets.
Near that, there is the so called grotta dei Cordari (the grotto of the Ropers, see the image), called like this because in the XVI century and until the half of 1900 it was used by ropers to weave natural fibers and craft ropes. Only a few steps, adiacent to this grotto, there are the Grotto of Salnitro, the latomia of Intagliatella and the one of Santa Venera. The latter is characterized by small niches engraved on the rock to worship the dead.
To the East end of the archeological Park, there is a great burial with a magnificent architectural style, namely: the tomb of Archimedes.
During my tour, I couldn’t visit Archimedes’ tomb, because the facility was unsafe and undergone to improvement works. I hope you’ll be luckier when you come to visit it.
The Roman zone of the Greek Theatre of Syracuse
As said, the archeological park I visited also contains a Roman zone. I visited that after exploring the Greek zone. If you start visiting the Greek Theatre, the Roman archeological area is just in the exit of the theatre. In short, you must move back on the same path you followed to visit the Latomie. Below a church, there is a Roman pool with a three nave design. It is near the Roman Amphitheatre (see the image above). That is a magnificent and spectacular example of a typical Roman monument in a city with a strong Greek imprint. Syracuse, indeed, became a Roman colony for the will of Augustus in the 21 year before Christ. The amphitheatre is half built and half engraved on the rock. I went through the evocative Roman rows of this ancient monument and saw many ancient stone burials and a corridor that was the access for animals and gladiators into the Arena. I think this is the small version of the Coliseum in Rome. Its origin dates back to the III and IV century before Christ.
How to reach the Greek theatre of Syracuse
It is very easy reaching this stunning Greek theatre in Sicily, above all if you landed at the Fontanarossa airport in Catania. You must ride the highway Catania – Syracuse (I suppose you’ll rent a car to visit this marvelous monument). The path leading you to the Greek theatre is always straight, a medium length road that, after about one hour of driving, will take you straight in the entrance of the Greek theatre of Syracuse. That is the same road I did for my tour: Catania-Syracuse. After one hour, I and my husband saw the road sign to the theatre. On the left, you’ll also see a large parking where you can leave your car.
The parking guards are very kind people. The park lot is inside a lush wood, where you must pay a fee of five euros for the entire day. There, you can also pay for a ticket including a shuttle to visit Ortygia. Soon after, you can easily reach the near Greek theatre on foot. The ticket office is in front of the entrance of the archeological park of Neapolis. The ticket to visit this famous relic of the past is 10 euros per person; teachers and 18/25 year people pay a discounted ticket. If you want to avoid a boring row of tourists at the ticket office, you can buy the ticket online.
Greek theatre opening hours
From spring to summer (April –August) the Greek theatre of Syracuse opens from 8.30 AM to 7 PM. In March and September, the closure is at 6 PM. In November, the closure is at 3.30PM. From December to February, the closure is at 4PM. The opening days are from Monday to Sunday.
Syracuse Greek theatre shows
This legendary theatre has always hosted festivals and shows, since its ancient foundation. In this same theatre or theater, the Greek poet Eschilo staged the Etnee in 476 BC and maybe also the Persians. Also nowadays, the theater hosts shows and festivals relating the ancient Greek tragedies. The festivals are held every year from May to July. If you love the Greek tragedies, you can book a ticket here. Among the others, this year, Italian actor Luca Zingaretti (who starred Inspector Montalbano) will read the tragedy The Mermaid. This show is scheduled for July, 1, 2019.
Photocredit: Sicily On Web