Sitting on the white stone tiers of the Teatro Greco amphitheatre in Siracusa (Syracuse) Sicily, you can see Ancient Greek tragedy come alive. Designed c. 500 BC by the Greeks, the amphitheatre is one of the largest ever built, and where playwrights such as Aeschylus premiered their works at what was then the capital of Magna Grecia.
The Teatro Greco is still used for open-air performances staged by the Fondazione Istituto Nazionale del Dramma Antico (National Institute of Ancient Drama), a national organisation for the promotion of classical drama. Plays are performed in May and June, as well as concerts throughout the summer months. To attend a performance on a balmy sunny evening is magical and the spectacle of watching the sun set as it appears to fall like a stone behind the stage before disappearing into the Ionian Sea is unforgettable.
The theatre is just one of the historical treasures in Siracusa’s Parco Archeologico della Neapolis (Neapolis Archaeological Park). The park is also home to a large Roman amphitheatre, where bloody gladiatorial games were the norm. Others monuments of interest include the remains of the Altar of Hieron II, which dates from 269 BC to 215 BC. The large rectangular block of stone and steps is where the ancients slaughtered some 450 bulls at a time in ritual sacrifices to the god Zeus. The site is riddled with old limestone quarries, known as the Latomia del Paradiso, which were used to house prisoners of war captured by the Ancient Greek tyrant, Dionysius I, who ruled the area in the 3rd century BC. The painter Caravaggio even stopped by there in the early 1600s, after he was accused of murder and went into exile. The artist nicknamed one large cave and former prison “Dionysus’ Ear” because of its elongated shape and acoustics. According to myth, the despot Dionysus I eavesdropped on prisoners’ conversations thanks to the echoes that bounce off the cave’s high walls — in contemporary times, schoolchildren amuse themselves calling out their names. The park is also thought to be the burial place of native scientific genius Archimedes.
The Teatro Greco and the park are open daily from 9am to two hours before sunset.
Where: Teatro Greco, Parco Archeologico della Neapolis, Viale Paradiso 1, Siracusa, 96100 Siracusa, Sicily