Syracuse (city, Italy)

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Syracuse (city, Italy)

Syracuse (sĬr´əkyōōs, –kyōōz), Ital. Siracusa, city (1991 pop. 125,941), capital of Syracuse prov., SE Sicily, Italy, on the Ionian Sea. It has a port and is a market and tourist center. Its manufactures include machinery and processed food. The old town, on the small island of Ortygia, is connected by a bridge with the mainland, where the more modern districts are situated.

Points of Interest

Numerous remains testify to the city's past greatness. On Ortygia are the cathedral, built (7th cent. AD) on the remains of a Greek temple, with 12 Doric columns; the remarkable archaeological museum; the fountain of Arethusa; ruins of a temple of Apollo; and a castle built (13th cent. AD) by emperor Frederick II. Among the remains on the mainland are a large, well-preserved Greek theater (5th cent. BC), still used for performances of classical works; a Roman amphitheater (2d cent. AD); the large Greek fortress of Euralus; and the extensive Catacombs of St. John (5th–6th cent. AD).

History

Founded (734 BC) by Greek colonists from Corinth, Syracuse grew rapidly and soon founded colonies of its own. Its democratic government was suppressed by Gelon, tyrant of Gela, who took possession of the city in 485 BC Under his rule, marked by a great victory (480 BC) over Carthage at Himera, Syracuse took the lead among the Greek cities of Sicily. Gelon's successor, Hiero I, made it one of the great centers of Greek culture; the poet Pindar and the dramatist Aeschylus lived at his court. Soon after Hiero's death a democracy was again established; it lasted from 466 BC to 406 BC During this period Syracuse extended its control over E Sicily and defeated an Athenian expedition (begun in 415 BC by Alcibiades) in a great land and sea battle (414 BC). In 406 BC, Dionysius the Elder became tyrant. Under his long rule Syracuse reached the high point of its power and territorial expansion.

After the death of Dionysius there followed a period of bitter internal struggle in which Dionysius the Younger, Dion of Syracuse, and Timoleon were the chief protagonists. There were several decades of democratic government until tyranny was reestablished by Agathocles and Hiero II (4th–3d cent. BC). Hiero's reign was relatively peaceful and prosperous, but after his death Syracuse suffered catastrophically when it abandoned its traditional ally Rome in favor of Carthage, in the second of the Punic Wars. After a long siege by the Roman consul Marcellus, the city fell in 212 BC and was sacked; Syracuse thence was reduced to the status of a provincial town. The period from Dionysius the Elder to 212 BC was brilliant in terms of culture. The philosopher Plato visited Syracuse several times, and the poet Theocritus probably lived at the court of Hiero II. The mathematician and physicist Archimedes, born (287 BC) in Syracuse, directed the defense of the city against the Romans and was killed during the sack of the city. Syracuse suffered another major setback in the late 9th cent. AD, when it was badly damaged by Arab conquerors. It was captured by the Normans in 1085.

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