Many of Siracusa’s ancient ruins are clustered in this archaeological park at the western edge of town, immediately north of Stazione Centrale.
The Teatro Greco (Greek Theater) was hewn out of bedrock in the 5th century b.c., with 67 rows that could seat 16,000 spectators. It was reconstructed in the 3rd century b.c., appears now much as it did then, and is still the setting for ancient drama in the spring and early summer.
Only the ancient theaters in Rome and Verona are larger than the Anfiteatro Romano, created around 20 b.c. Gladiators sparred here, and a square hole in the center of the arena suggests that machinery was used to lift wild beasts from below. Historical evidence suggests that the arena could be flooded for mock sea battles called naumachiae; pumps could also have flooded and drained a reservoir in which crocodiles are said to have fed on the corpses of victims killed in the games. The Spanish carted off much of the stonework to rebuild city fortifications when they conquered Siracusa in the 16th century, but some seats remain—the first rows would have been reserved for Roman citizens, those right above for wealthy Siracusans, and the last rows for the hoi polloi.
What is now a lush grove of lemon and orange trees, the Latomia del Paradiso (Quarry of Paradise) was at one time a fearsome place, vast, dark, and subterranean—until the cavern’s roof collapsed in the great earthquake of 1693. Originally prisoners were worked to death here to quarry the stones used in the construction of ancient Siracusa. What is certainly the most storied attraction in the park is here: the Orecchio di Dionisio (Ear of Dionysius), a tall and vaguely ear-shaped cave dug into the cliff by the Greeks to expand the limestone quarry for water storage. Something about this huge cavern always inspired more dramatic accounts, such as the legend (completely unfounded) that the cave was once a prison for Athenians captured by Dionysus’ mercenaries in the Peloponnesian Wars; supposedly he liked how the cave’s acoustics amplified their screams as they were tortured. Almost as fascinating is the well-documented purpose of the Ara di Ierone (Altar of Heron): 5th-century b.c. Greeks built the altar, 196m (636 ft.) long and 23m (75 ft.) wide and approached by gigantic ramps, to sacrifice 450 bulls at one time.
For performance tickets (30€–70€) contact INDA, Corso Matteotti 29, Siracusa (www.indafondazione.org; tel. 0931/487200).