Study Abroad at the Mediterranean Center for Arts and Science

Study Abroad in Syracuse, Italy

The City of Syracuse (Sicily)

"Syracuse – that illustrious city which Timaeus calls the greatest of the Grecian towns was indeed a most beautiful city; and it's admirable citadel, it canals distributed through all its districts, its broad streets, it porticoes, its temples, and its walls, gave Syracuse the appearance of a most flourishing state..."

-Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 BC)
"On the Republic

A city with origins dating back thousands of years, Syracuse (Sicily) is located at the southeastern corner of Sicily. The city was named Sirako by the Greek colonists who first settled there.

The names of the five districts of the ancient Greek city still survive in the five areas of modern Syracuse: Ortigia, Acradina, Neapolis, Tyche and Epipolis. The island of Ortigia, where the Arcadia Sicily Center is located, is the city’s historical heart.

The island of Ortigia is connected to the mainland by several bridges and ringed by ancient city walls, which are relics of the defenses designed by Archimedes. Students will find it to be a place where immersion in Italian life comes naturally. The city is best imagined as a marvelous labyrinth of intricately paved streets that open up into expansive, well-lit squares or "piazze." This intimate urban landscape naturally breaks down barriers between students and residents. Arcadia in Sicily students frequently join local Italian university students and language students for academic, social, and cultural events.

A sense of continuity from the period of antiquity and the mythological themes that dominated that epoch are two of the most evocative aspects of this otherwise modern city. Temples, castles, fountains, amphitheatres, piazzas and palazzos, all awash in the light and air of the surrounding sea, paint history in bright and living color.

A Rich and Storied History

You will discover throughout your semester that the history of Syracuse is one of conquest and adaptation. Eventually gaining prestige as one of the most important cities of ancient times, Syracuse was ruled successively by Romans, Arabs, Normans, and both the Spanish and French royal houses. Despite successful trade, and cultural and artistic innovation, Syracuse endured both pestilence and plague, as well as two major earthquakes during the 16th and 17th centuries. As a result, much of the city was rebuilt, once again modified by the influences that surrounded it.

A revolution of independence in the mid-19th century was followed by Italian unification, and Syracuse became a provincial capital. The city suffered significant damage from bombing during the Second World War, but much architectural and cultural restoration has taken place, especially since the 1990s.

A City of Archaeological Treasures

Because of its multifaceted history, the archaeological and architectural treasures of Syracuse are amalgamated to reflect its various influences. Fusions of style and significance are evident in its Duomo (cathedral) and elsewhere. As a student on an Arcadia program at the Sicily Center, your studies will be enhanced by your immediate access to all of these cultural and artistic treasures, waiting to be discovered. You will be captivated by this fascinating city, where ancient meets modern.

History of Sicily

The largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicily has borne witness to an almost uniquely diverse historical narrative, from Greek colonists to Roman Governors, from Byzantine Patriarchs and Arabic Emirs to Norman Lords and the Royal houses of Spain and France, before her unification with the Italian Nation. The resulting mixture of architectural styles and artistic traditions represents a microcosm of histories and cultures of the Mediterranean.

Architectural Treasures Impart History

The city’s historical center, the island of Ortigia, is home to the monumental early 6th-century-BC Temple of Apollo and the spectacular Temple of Athena. This latter temple was later converted to the cathedral of Syracuse – a Greek temple with Arabic additions, Norman walls, a Byzantine apse and a Baroque facade.

At the tip of Ortigia stands Castello Maniace, a medieval castle built under the German Frederick II of Swabia. A series of imposing churches begun in the Byzantine period – including the churches of San Giovanni and Santa Lucia, patron of the city – were magnificently restored with the arrival of the baroque movement (following an earthquake in 1693). It is this elegant baroque style that today shapes the intimate streets, palaces, public buildings and squares of Ortigia.

The most important ancient monuments are to be found in the archaeological park in the Neapolis area of Syracuse. This area, which took shape in the 5th century BC, is comprised by the largest altar in the Greek world, a monumental theater, and a series of cavernous prisons, where the unfortunates of the failed Athenian expedition to Sicily of 413 BC were held. These were later named the "ear of Dionysus" by Caravaggio. Further back, there is an elliptical Roman amphitheater (from the Augustan period), which is the third largest in Italy.

A little distance from the Archaeological park is the so-called Roman Gymnasium, a temple to Isis, and the Castello di Eurialo, a unique Greek defense work with many labyrinthine passages and ring walls begun by Dionysius the elder (c. 400 BC).


Getting Around and Living in Syracuse
The modern city of Syracuse, which can be reached on foot in just a few minutes, on the other hand has all the amenities of a modern medium-sized town, complete with train of the Mediterranean. The city as a whole has less than 200,000 inhabitants and has retained a strong local culture.

Syracuse has a main train station and regular bus services, and is is located approx. 45 minutes by car (one hour by bus) from Catania Fontanarossa Aeiroporto (Catania Airport). Buses leave Catania Airport for Syracuse every hour. In fact, what distinguishes Syracuse from a number of other areas is its bus stations, offering hourly services departing in every direction.

Students will be pleased to discover that the cost of living in Syracuse, and all of Sicily, is among the lowest in Italy. In Syracuse, a cappuccino costs about $1.00. Compared to the U.S., fruits and vegetables are less expensive, especially if purchased at the open market. In terms of eating out, a pizza plus drink in a restaurant costs approximately 10 euro. If you cook in your own house, you can live relatively inexpensively in Syracuse.