Dubbed “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all” by Cicero, Syracuse boasts the richest history of anywhere in Sicily. Syracuse, City of Legends – the first historical guide to the city – explores Syracuse’s place within the island and the wider Mediterranean and reveals why it continues to captivate visitors today, more than two and a half millennia after its foundation.
For more than 1600 years, from its foundation by ancient Greeks in about 733 BC, Syracuse was the leading city in Sicily. As a Greek city state it competed with Athens and Carthage and was for a while an important ally of Rome. When Sicily became Rome’s first province, Syracuse was the island’s capital and seat of the Roman Governors. Later it became an important centre for early Christianity and its catacombs are second in scale only to those in Rome. Under Byzantine rule, the Emperor Constans II moved his court to Syracuse for five years. Capture by the Arabs in 878 AD was the event that marked the end of ancient Syracuse. In 1693, during the Spanish era, a devastating earthquake caused great destruction in eastern Sicily. The rebuilding programme that followed gave Syracuse the characteristic Baroque appearance it retains today.
Head of Arethusa surrounded by dolphins, one of the symbols of ancient Syracuse, on a silver coin from around 480 BCThe city’s outstanding cast of characters includes Archimedes, the greatest mathematician of the ancient world, whose original eureka moment took place in Syracuse. It was here that Damocles endured a sword hanging over his head. Plato visited the city to discuss philosophy with the tyrant Dionysius and was lucky to escape with his life. The Roman General Scipio Africanus collected his army in Syracuse before crossing to north Africa to defeat Hannibal. Santa Lucia, patron saint of the city, was martyred here in the time of the Emperor Diocletian and it was in Syracuse that Caravaggio painted one of his last masterpieces, The Burial of Santa Lucia, which can be seen in the Basilica for which it was commissioned in 1608.
Generously illustrated, Syracuse, City of Legends offers detailed descriptions of the principal monuments and works of art. They come from different historical eras, mainly the ancient Greek, Roman, early Christian and Baroque, and are presented in their historical context, including maps showing their locations.
“Syracuse, on Sicily’s east coast, has much to live up to – Cicero described it as “the greatest Greek city and the most beautiful of them all”. Settled in 733BC, it was Rome’s first province and played a key role in the development of Christianity in Sicily, but was largely devastated in 1693 by an earthquake. History aside, it is the intensely creative figures who peopled the city’s streets that bring this fascinating narrative alive. Archimedes, Plato and Caravaggio all called Syracuse home. This is a meticulously researched and beautifully written history, offering a vivid and entertaining journey around the city, linking the past with the many surviving sites from antiquity that can be seen today. The tone is erudite and intimate, and Dummett is especially good on the historical context of many of the monuments, placing them within a firmly human context, bringing to life one of the most engaging locations in the Mediterranean.”
Rochelle Del Borrello, an Australian expat living in Sicily, has published a review of Syracuse, City of Legends, along with a little interview conducted by email, on her blog Sicily Inside & Out.
A discerning traveller called Browney has written an extensive review of the paperback edition, which you can read on his blog.
Other reviews are reproduced in full here.
“In 2010, Jeremy Dummett published his first book about a Sicilian city: Syracuse, City of Legends: A Glory of Sicily. It was more than well-received: combining a description of the main monuments with a very well-informed, up-to-date and beautifully written account of the city’s history, it can be considered a prime example of a city guide. The book is as useful to the visitor while there as it is to those preparing to go or to those who want to learn more after a visit. If some of us were wondering what Dummett had been up to for the last five years, now we know: he has applied the same concept, the same effort and the same care to Palermo, Sicily’s capital since the Middle Ages. Arabs, Normans, Swabians, Spanish and continental Italians rub shoulders with the local Sicilians throughout the fascinating history of Palermo, all leaving distinctive mementos, from cathedrals and palaces to street names and modest memorials, and Dummett knows them and places them in context. We can only wish that his approach, detailed, sensible and sensitive, catches on: many a fine city deserve this treatment!”
Dr Michael Metcalfe of Peter Sommer Travel, December 2015
“This book should have people booking tickets to Sicily. Dummett tells the story of one of the Mediterranean’s most intriguing and emotive cities. He also recommends where to go to experience Syracuse’s cultural highlights for yourself, whether you’re interested in the achievements of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the glories of Baroque architecture or just taking it easy.”
William Gianone, CNN Traveller 1st May 2010
“For newcomers exploring Sicily for the first time, as well as for returning visitors, Jeremy Dummett’s Syracuse, City of Legends is a welcome travelling companion whose enthusiasm is catching. Dummett offers a rich trove of information about its deep past, which he helpfully links to the places that can be visited today, including the more intimate places off the beaten path.”
Judith Harris, author of Pompeii Awakened
“At last Syracuse is receiving the attention it deserves. Congratulations to Jeremy Dummett for his celebration of this Sicilian gem. Don’t leave for Sicily without this guide.”
Jordan Lancaster, author of In the Shadow of Vesuvius: A Cultural History of Naples
Syracuse, City of Legends: A Glory of Sicily is available from all good bookshops, including Daunt Books. You can buy it online from the publisher, Bloomsbury, from Waterstones and amongst other retailers Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com and Amazon.it.
In Syracuse, you can buy the book in person from Libreria Gabò, in Corso Matteotti.