The most important Archaeological Sites in Eastern Sicily
We have created a guide to the most important archaeological sites in eastern Sicily to help you select the best tours to include in your travel plan.
You can also check our guide to the most important archaeological sites in Western Sicily and our suggestions on the best archaeological sites to visit in Sicily, which also contains some practical information.
Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica
Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica are both listed among the UNESCO sites of Sicily.
Syracuse has its historical center on the island of Ortygia, its original Greek nucleus is now connected to the city through two large bridges.
This beautiful city located on the sea was one of the most important cities in the history of the Mediterranean civilization. It is certainly to be included in a tour of the Eastern side of Sicily.
Indeed, Syracuse has a very rich history as it was founded by the Greeks and then dominated by the Romans, Byzantines, Barbarians, Arabs, and Normans. This history is testified by its many well-preserved buildings.
The Duomo in Ortygia is built on what was a former temple devoted to Athena, so the columns of the temple are now located in the basement of the cathedral.
Also worth visiting is the Fountain of Arethusa, at the center of Ortygia, a natural fountain dedicated to the nymph Arethusa, one of the characters in the tales of Greek mythology. The area is planted with beautiful papyrus.
You can complete your visit to ancient Syracuse with a guided walk along the lovely alleys of the baroque-style historical center and the Jewish quarter.
The Necropolis of Pantalica is instead located at an approximately 45-minute drive from Syracuse, so you will need a transfer by private car to reach the site.
On the road to the necropolis, you will see the Euryalus Fortress, which was essential for the fortifications of the ancient Greek Syracuse.
The Necropolis contains over 5,000 tombs cut into the rock dating from the 13th to 7th centuries BC. In association with the tombs, you will also see the remains of ancient Greek dwellings as well as other Byzantine ruins – the foundations of the Anaktoron, which is the Prince’s Palace.
Why Syracuse archaeological sites are worth visiting
Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica together are a unique testimony of civilizations developed in the Mediterranean Sea over three millennia!
This makes them one of the best ancient sites to visit in Sicily.
Ideas for a full itinerary, including Syracuse
If you love archaeology and the ancient classical world, you might combine the visit to Syracuse and Ortygia with the Neapolis Archaeological Park, which we mention here below.
You might also combine Syracuse with the baroque Ragusa and Noto and consider some beach sites in case you plan to visit Sicily during summer.
To add a special twist to your travel program, consider a full tour of Sicily with all of its remarkable destinations easily reached on board a luxury yacht. If you like this idea, you might take a look at our sample itinerary of Sicily circumnavigation by yacht, which can be adapted according to the time at your disposal and your specific needs.
If you are planning to stay in Syracuse, we suggest the Ortea Palace Hotel, a good five-star hotel in the center of the city.
Neapolis Archaeological Park
This archaeological park located on Tremenite Hill, just outside Syracuse, is a natural oasis where the most important ancient remains of the area are kept and protected.
Among the fascinating sites inside the park, there are three masterpieces:
- The Greek Theater curved in the rock of Tremenite Hill. This was one of the best-renowned monuments of the ancient world and one of the largest theaters ever built. It was used both in Greek and Roman times.
- The Ear of Dionysius, a limestone cave with a special echo and a shape resembling a giant ear. The name was invented by the famous painter Caravaggio since the shape of the cave resembles an ear and because of the acoustic. According to a legend, the tyrant Dionysius used the cave as a prison for political dissidents.
- Latomia of Paradise, one of the stone quarries where prisoners were sentenced to forced labor. This part of the park is perfect to enjoy its lush vegetation made of lemon and orange trees, capers, palms, and prickly pears.
There are more interesting sites along the archaeological itinerary inside the park, such as The Altar of Hieron – the largest known altar of antiquity, the Roman amphitheater, and the Cordari Cave.
Why is Neapolis Archaeological Park worth visiting?
The Neapolis archaeological site in Syracuse combines the beauty of the local natural environment with the astounding testimonies of ancient history.
It was one of the stops on the Grand Tour in the 17th and 18th centuries when upper-class young European men used to travel through Europe as soon as they came of age.
Ideas for a full itinerary in Eastern Sicily
The Neapolis Archaeological Site is in the area around Syracuse, so you can perfectly combine it with a tour of Ortygia.
You might then travel north in the footsteps of the romantic young European travelers who used to spend some months touring Italy. This was the so-called Grand Tour, a way for the upper class to educate young men and guide them to the appreciation of beauty, art, and history.
Traveling north, you might add Catania – a large city rich in noble palaces and historical buildings, Taormina, and Mount Etna to your program.
You might take a look at the itinerary of our exclusive Grand Tour that we propose also as an inspiration for a bespoke tour of Sicily for our international clientele.
The Ancient Theater of Taormina
Taormina is probably one of the best-renowned cities in Sicily. The historical city center is located on top of a hill dominating the coast, and the ancient theater is right there in the center, a landmark of the city.
From different areas inside the theater, you can enjoy breathtaking views of Mount Etna, the bay of Naxos and Taormina, and even the Calabrian coast with the Strait of Messina.
The theater was originally Greek, built in the 3rd century BC, rebuilt and changed to become an amphitheater in Roman times.
The stage was removed and turned into an arena for combat shows between gladiators and ferocious animals.
After a long period of decline in the Middle Ages, the theater came back to life as one of the favorite stops of travelers on the Grand Tour.
Originally the theater could hold up to 10 thousand spectators, while today, it reaches 4500. The theater is still used during the summer season for concerts, a special experience you might want to include in your travel plan.
Why Taormina’s ancient theater is worth visiting
The enchanting view, combined with the beauty of the ancient remains, makes this archaeological site a must-see Sicilian landmark.
Furthermore, the theater is located right in the historical center of Taormina, and it is easy to include the visit in a guided walk around the city.
Ideas for activities in Taormina and the nearby
Taormina is a lovely city to visit and an excellent place to stay, also thanks to its renowned five-star hotels and a wide choice of very good restaurants.
This is also why we include Taormina in the different thematic itineraries we propose to our clients. It can be easily combined with a visit to the Etna Volcano and to the city of Catania, which is also the nearest airport.
While the historical center of Taormina is located on top of a hill, during summer, you might also want to visit the beaches of Taormina, down to sea level.
When you are in Taormina, you can also add something special to your travel plan, for example, an exclusive wine and food experience like our Michelin-starred cooking lab in Taormina.
Taormina is also the city in Sicily with the largest number of high-quality hotels.
The hotels we recommend are the Belmond Timeo, the Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, the Four Seasons San Domenico, and The Ashbee
In this article, we only listed the most important archaeological sites in eastern Sicily, and this means that there is so much more to see in Sicily!
You will need to set your priorities based on your interests and plan what to include in your travel.