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The Syracuse Cathedral: The Heart Of Ortygia, Italy

Giuseppe
Updated May 15, 2017

Cradle of ancient civilizations, Syracuse is a white stone jewel shining into the biggest island of the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily. In VIII Century B.C. Greek people from Corinto founded Syracuse, which became one of the biggest metropolis of the Ancient Era and capital of Sicily until the Arabian domination in IX Century B.C. The whole area of Syracuse consists in an island named Ortygia and the mainland. Nestled in the heart of the little island of Ortygia, we find the Syracuse Duomo, the Cathedral of the city. Let’s have a visit of this historical and architectural gem.

Top 3 activities to book in Syracuse

The cathedral baroque facade

The Cathedral facade was built in about 50 years, and this is the reason why it has been defined both baroque and rococo. Looking at the facade during daylight is an unforgettable experience. Indeed, the whole building within the square made of white materials lights up when hit by sunlight, creating a dreamlike atmosphere.

The facade columns are in Corinthian Order, and as you can see, visitors usually sit on the Cathedral stairs to take pictures, or to protect themselves from the Sun in the Cathedral shadow.

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A rich complex of statues

Both outside and inside the Cathedral, you can also experience a rich complex of statues: Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and the Martyrs from Syracuse, Saint Lucy and Saint Marciano. Nested into the facade center is The Virgin Mary statue to whom the Cathedral is consecrated. Looking at the whole facade view, you can experience the strong sense of symmetry of Baroque art.

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The cathedral through centuries

What makes The Cathedral of Syracuse an unique piece of art is what is mounted along the whole Cathedral building : The Temple of Athena.

Athena is the greek goddess of wisdom and war, and the most validated historical theories states that Gelo the Tyrant, after defeating Carthaginian, decided to raise a Doric style temple in her honor in the highest spot of the promontory island of Ortygia.

The Temple of Athena became a religious center of the old Greek Syracuse and after the arrival of the Roman Empire and the incoming of Christianity, it became the spiritual house of the first Christian community in Europe. The Cathedral is the final result of all the political and religious cultures which have existed in Syracuse.

The Cathedral has changed its shape each time Syracuse has been conquered by a different civilization, it changed from a Greek Temple to a Byzantine Basilica, an Arabian Mosque, a Norman Cathedral and a baroque/rococo Cathedral. While the Cathedral went through all this transformations, its Doric columns dated from 5th-century B.C. last there and are still visible, built in the Cathedral walls as you can see in picture.

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Minerva Street – East side cathedral entrance

The east side entrance, facing sundown, was the main entrance when the Cathedral still was the Temple of Athena. The famous philosopher Cicero used to describe this door as one of the most beautiful and rich door of all pagans temples. This wooden common door that you can see in the picture replaced a gold and ivory main door which does not exist anymore. A legend states that behind that door, there was a golden circle shape shield used to lead the old fleets across the sea.

Minerva Street is one of Ortygia’s best spot for bars and restaurants, as well as music concerts, movies, music and arts festivals especially during summer: “Ortygia Film Festival”, “Premio Tonino Accolla”, “Ortygia Jazz Festival”, “Feste Archimedee” etc. In the surrounding area you can also find a funny photos machine where you can snap your tour at the Syracuse Cathedral.

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Refresh yourself with a typical granita at “Gran Caffè del Duomo”

Right in front of the Cathedral facade you can find the historical “Gran Caffè del Duomo”, a bar and restaurant where you can refresh yourself with typical sicilian “granita”. Granita is the best answer to the hot summer in Sicily, here not only the buildings, but also the food his linked to history.

Granita takes its name from the granite’s rock located in the Peloritani Mountains close to Messina city area. In the past, people living close to the mountains found a smart way not to waste milk during summer: they used to drink the snow found inside the granite caves with lemon juice and honey. The more influential someone was, the more drops of honey were used, making it crystallize using a wooden stick. From that time, granita became a typical Sicilian food that you can find in any bar or restaurant. However, as nowadays some places use machines and dry fruit juice to produce it faster , you really need to go to an artisanal place to get a good one.

At “Gran Cafè del Duomo” you will find a handmade granita with a huge variety of flavors as almond (typical of the Avola Syracuse Area), lemon, mulberry, coffee, or seasonal fruits. The staff is very qualified and friendly and you will be served directly at your table facing the Cathedral. Don’t forget to ask them for a brioche with a little hat , which is a typical food to eat in combination with granita .

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Syracuse Cathedral is a must visit

I advise you to find the beauty of the Cathedral not just in the outside but even in the inside, where you can touch antique Doric columns and feel the history flowing through them. Walking around the Cathedral area is an unforgettable experience, you can also find a Caravaggio painting at the “Santa Lucia alla Badia” church nearby. Go and discover the Cathedral square both during daylight and sunset, you can experience almost two different kinds of view.

This article was originally published on Sep 10, 2015

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Hi, I am Giuseppe and I am a 24 year-old musician and traveler from Italy. I was born in Sicily, a land of history, mysteries, beautiful landscapes and astonishing seaside spots. At the age...Read more

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