The old town of Syracuse is on the island of Ortygia, connected to the new town by three bridges. It’s where you’ll find the main historical delights typical of an ex-Greek, Roman and Spanish colony, and also the cultural highlights of piazza, palazzo, church and fortification. Fun fact: the mathematician Archimedes was killed here... by a Roman soldier sent specifically to bring him safely back to Rome.
At the Archeological Park of Neapolis, you’ll find the fifth-century BC Greek theatre and the Latomia del Paradiso limestone quarry from which much of ancient Syracuse was built. There are also catacombs and the famous ‘Ear of Dionysus’ – a manmade cave whose perfect acoustics allowed the eponymous tyrant to listen to the prisoners kept within. The second-century AD Roman amphitheater – site of predictably grisly gladiatorial combat – is also worth a look.
Syracuse’s Duomo is a weird assemblage of architectural Lego formed from the bits and pieces of two ancient Greek temples: one to Minerva and one to Athena. Note the Doric columns, which are thousands of years older than the rest. Around the square, you’ll see the grand palazzi of past grandees. Thereafter, feel free to get lost among the streets of this beautiful old town.
Two places worth visiting from Syracuse are Ragusa and Modica. UNESCO-listed Ragusa has a spectacular mountain setting and is famous for its amazing natural produce such as cheese and olives. Modica is known for its chocolate, made in the same way that the Aztecs made it, according to a recipe brought back to the village by marauding Spanish conquistadors.