This Sicilian city delivers.

In other words, there is no shortage of experiences that will delight ALL of your senses. And there also is no shortage of stranieri (tourists), which can cramp one’s style. I highly recommend making Siracusa a stop on your Sicily itinerary, but I advise doing so outside of the peak vacation months of June, July, and August. It’s not that other months are devoid of crowds, but doing so means discovering Siracusa with a less impeded view. (We were there in mid-July and navigating the main arteries could be a challenge).

La Cattedrale di Siracusa is the city’s centerpiece.

As is the grand piazza surrounding it. When I entered La Cattedrale di Siracusa (read the more expansive history here), I thought, “Hey, another wonderful Italian duomo.” But this “duomo” is so much more.

You’ll understand more of Sicily’s complex past by making a visit to this church, a real-life architectural shape-shifter. Formerly called Cattedrale Metroplitana della Navità di Maria Santissima, this “Duomo” began as a Greek temple in 5th century BC. Then it became a Christian church, then a mosque, then a Christian church again. Paying for an audio guide was a wise move for me to keep track.

Take a look at the images below, particularly the ones where you can see the preserved Greek columns in the Doric style. They’re embedded into the current outside church walls (you can see them from outside as well).

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Cattedrale di Siracusa
Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Cattedrale di Siracusa
Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Cattedrale di Siracusa

From simplicity to opulence

Over 2,500 years ago, Greek settlers came and mixed with (not conquered) the native population, which is why the structure began like this. Then fast forward over two-thousand years to the devastation of the 1693 earthquake (thanks Etna), and simplicity received a cloak of opulence. I’m talking about the Sicilian High-Baroque facade (see the featured image for this post) in particular. Yes, making sense of this complex marriage of elements and styles is a head-spinner.

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Cattedrale di Siracusa

Touring Siracusa in an artfully rendered Ape

If you don’t already know, an Ape (Italian for “bee”) is an important Italian icon made by Piaggio (also the maker of the Vespa). Farmers and workers most often use this hard-working three-wheeler. Discovering Siracusa in style means negotiating a half-hour or an hour with one of these Ape drivers. Each vehicle is rendered with a different visual identity.

These Ape drivers know Siracusa and it’s history. And they also know how to use these diminutive vehicles to buzz about the city’s streets, many too narrow for a car.

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Ape

Discovering Siracusa includes seeing a stunning Caravaggio with a fascinating story.

As our Ape driver explained, Caraggio painted The Burial of Saint Lucia after he fled prison in Malta and landed in Sicily. Supposedly, he’d been imprisoned for murder (yikes!). He painted this work as his way of thanking the people of Siracusa for taking him in. Today it is housed in Chiesa di Santa Lucia al Sepolcro, a five-minute Ape ride from Ortigia, the “island” part of Siracusa. Read the painting’s full story here on Wikipedia.

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Caravaggio

OMG! The food!

I’m still salivating. And, truth be told, ALL of Sicily is massive temptation to gluttony.

Let’s begin with the sweet stuff. Fortunately, I’m not a sweet-tooth kinda guy. So, the granita (a shaved-ice treat that veers towards ice cream decadence) didn’t tempt me. Whew! It’s often served for breakfast with fresh brioche. Then there are cannoli in every size and variety. Again, I was easily able to abstain. On the other hand, I couldn’t abstain from gelato. Not only do Sicilians excel in gelato, but I told myself that eating it was a good heat-management strategy for our humid and sweltering days there.

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - granita
Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - cannoli

Marzipan is a high form of Sicilian art.

I don’t know how they take marzipan turn it into what appears to be freshly picked fruit. I need to hop on YouTube to see if I can see a start-to-finish demonstration. Read more about it on Wikipedia and take a look at this shop window I captured in Siracusa.

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Marzapane Siciliano

Oh, the savory dishes!

For me, the big winners are the arancini, deep-fried rice balls stuffed with varying ingredients. The classic style comes with a meat ragu, mozzarella, and piselli (peas, not my favorite, but too few to be noticeable). I sampled this variation as well as a seafood version (stuffed with mussels). You can make an easy, inexpensive, and filling lunch out of these beauties.

The second especially memorable thing (for me) was the caponata. Caponata isn’t exclusive to Sicily, but I’m here to tell you that Sicilians kick butt. It’s made from of sauteed vegetables (mostly eggplant), seasoned with tomato sauce, celery, onion, olives, capers, sugar, and vinegar. There are numerous variations, depending on the ingredients. My favorite rendition included a topping of slivered almonds. Read more on Wikipedia.

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Arancini
Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Caponata Siciliana

The Teste di Moro (Moorish heads)

In Siracusa, you will see an enormous selection of these ceramic beauties. Low-end to high-end shops throughout the city sell these. Lower-priced, mass-produced versions or high-end and pricier handmade renderings are available.

The legend of the test di Moro is a bit disturbing. And there are a couple of variations. One is about the doomed love of a young couple, the girl from a noble Sicilian family, and her lover, a young Arab. The girl’s angry family beheaded them as punishment and hung the severed heads on their balcony as a warning. Read more at (an excellent resource for all things Sicily).

Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Teste di Moro
Discovering Siracusa - Italywise - Teste di Moro

And so much more…

Siracusa is on the sea and part of the southeastern triangular point of Sicily. Swimming in the brilliantly-colored waters is a must, as is partaking of the excellent seafood, much of it fished locally.

You also can venture inland to other Sicilian gems like Noto and Ragusa. Like Siracusa, they are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Stay tuned for stories about these breathtaking cities.