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The town of Syracuse, from the Greek word Sirako, meaning swamp, occupies an extremely beautiful position between the waters of the Great Port and the Iblei mountains. It was founded in the VIII century BC, by a group of Greek settlers from Corinth, led by Archia, although a number of remains discovered show that the zone was already occupied in the XIV century BC. From 540 to 478, the construction of the town was begun by the tyrant Gelon, while the zone of Akradina was founded on the mainland. In 405, Dionysius began the construction of a city wall, measuring 27 kilometres, with the castle of Eurialo as its central point of defence, and transferred part of the population making Neapolis an area of monuments and Epipolos the strategic command area of the region. After a period of democracy under Timoleon and of despotism under Agathocles, the arrival in the city of Hieron II brought a period of peace, guaranteed by agreements between Rome and Carthage. In 212, Syracuse was captured and sacked by the Roman Consul Marcellus.

For the city, which had been under siege for two years, an inevitable period of decadence now began, with the construction by the governor Verres of a splendid villa on the extreme point of Ortigia, in the area where subsequently the Byzantines were to set up the first nucleus of what would later become the Maniace Castle built by Frederick II. The presence of this governor became so unbearable for the population of Syracuse that the Roman Senate sent Cicero to make an investigation into the accusation of plundering made against him. In the Paleochristian era, from the I to the III centuries AD, commercial contacts with Palestine made it possible for the city to become an important base of Christianity in Sicily; there are in fact traces of the passage of St. Paul in this area. With the Edict of Constantine in 313 AD, Syracuse became a diocesan centre. The Byzantines arrived in 663 and made Syracuse their capital until 668, giving rise to a period of particular splendour which came to an end in 878, when the Arabs conquered the city, dominating it for the following two centuries. In 1038, Syracuse was once again conquered by the Byzantines, under the command of General Giorgio Maniace. Few traces remain of the Byzantine periods, which were either almost completely blotted out by the two years of Arab domination of the city or else incorporated in or covered up by the constructions of subsequent populations.

The alterations made by the generals of Constantinople to the original fortifications of the Eurialo Castle are still visible today, however, and appear almost as a sort of monument to the useless efforts of the population of Syracuse to defend itself against the Arabs. The Swabian period lasted from 1194 to 1268, and was particularly important because of the close relationship between the power of the Church and that of the King, which provided the stability and strength needed to keep the city in a period of economical and cultural splendour. Frederick II rebuilt the Maniace Castle, getting his architects, who included Riccardo of Lentini, to reinforce the ancient Byzantine fortress on the extreme tip of Ortigia.

In this same period, Franciscan and Dominican monasteries were built; the presence of these strong religious orders conditioned the life of the city for many centuries. With the arrival of the Aragonese in 1361, Syracuse became the seat of the Royal Council. The construction of new buildings testifies to the close alliance existing between the barons and the Church, and also to great economic and cultural prosperity. In 1500, however, the development of the city was interrupted by the heavy taxes imposed on the population by Charles V. Although the earthquake in1693 had caused serious damage to the city, the consequent reconstruction made it possible for the architects and local stone-cutters to "rethink" the aspect of Syracuse, adding rich Baroque elements to the existing palaces.

The underlying secret of the magnificence of Syracuse had been the harmony existing for centuries between the Church and the government, but this peace was now destroyed by the Bourbons, who were against both feudal power and that of the Church. The Unification of Italy led eventually to the dismemberment of church property and the creation of a new urban fabric. Although the violent earthquake of 1693 caused 4000 deaths, it did not completely destroy Ortigia, but led to the widespread conversion of pre-existing palaces into the modern Baroque style, making the area absolutely unique, with its mixture of architectural and urbanistic features which are typical of the "harmonious anarchy" often found at the beginning of the XVIII century - traces of Greek remains together with those dating back to the mediaeval period and that of the Spanish domination. Of particular interest is the Dome (5th century), the old crypt of St.Marciano, the Castle of Eurialo (5th - 6th century), the castle of Maniace (13th century), the Greek Theatre, the Roman Amphitheatre built in Imperial period and Dionysus's Ear, an artificial grotto created after mining building materials, which looks like an ear.



Augusta was founded by the Emperor Augustus in 42 AD, and Frederick II of Swabia transformed it into a strategic city during his first visit to Sicily. From that period Augusta still keeps its chess-board architectural design, together with the Castello Svevo, converted into a prison at the end of the 19th century and still used as such today. Augusta became an important military port during the Aragonese period and in 1571 gave hospitality to the Christian fleet which was on its way to fight the Turks at Lepanto. The city also played a strategic role in the control of Mediterranean sea routes during the Second World War and is still an important Italian naval base. Of interest is the castle built between 1232 and 1242, the Dome and the Spanish gate (18th century).
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Buccheri is situated on the slopes of Monte Lauro, surrounded by woods of chestnut, hazel-nut and cork-trees. It was founded by the Arabs for the defense of the upper Anapo valley, but it was the Normans who strengthened the fortress and decided to erect a village round it. Its name comes from the name of the Arab general, Bucker, who built the first fortress. Of interest is the 16th century Fontana dei Canali, the 18th century church of Santa Maria Maddalena, the church of Sant'Antonio Abbate, the church of Sant'Andrea, a rare example of Swabian religious architecture of the 13th century, the remains of the Norman castle and the Mother church. Also interesting, surrounded by the most beautiful countryside, are the Stritta gorge, containing numerous caves formed by the erosion of the San Leonardo river.
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Canicattini was founded towards the end of the 17th century by the Marquis Mario Daniele, owner of the Bagni feuds. Of interest is the Mother church, the Town Hall, the church of the Anime Sante and the liberty style of its buildings. Out of the town there is the bridge of Sant'Alfano, built at the end of the 18th century.
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Carlentini was founded in 1551 on a hill overlooking the plain of Catania, by the Spanish Viceroy Giovanni de Vega, and was intended as a refuge for the inhabitants of ancient Lentini, who at that time were not only under continual attack by the Turks, but also decimated by the malaria caused by their proximity to the Biviere. Although it was completely destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, it still has the typical chess-board design with a longitudinal axis. Of interest is the Mother church of the Immacolata.
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The town was founded in 729 BC by the Greeks who called it Leontinoi. In the 6th century it was dominion of the tyrant from Siracusa. Set free in 427 BC by the Athenians, it was devastated by the Siracusans and the Carthaginians in 406 BC and sacked by the Romans in 214 BC. Later, it was conquered by the Normans and in the 13th century it was one of the most important state properties. The city was destroyed by the 1693's disastrous earthquake and then rebuilt in the San Mauro valley. Of interest is the Mother Church (18th century), the church of the Fontana and the Archaeological Museum.
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The ancient city was on Mount Alveria, and it was inhabited since the Prehistory, as shown by the necropoli of Castelluccio. (17th-15th century BC), found nearby. Noto had to submit to the Greeks, who were themselves subsequently ousted by the Romans, who made Noto a civitas foederata. In 866, the town was occupied by the Arabs, who nominated it the head city of the valley for the administration of one of the three sectors into which they divided Sicily, thus giving the name "Noto Valley" to the whole of the south-eastern part of the island. In 1503, Ferdinand the Catholic, known as the "Ingeniosa" or "clever one", became king of the prosperous city of Noto. The remains of the imposing gate, the Porta della Montagna, at the entrance to the town destroyed by the 1693 earthquake, can still be seen, and also the ruins of the Collegio dei Gesuiti, of Palazzo Belludia and of the churches of San Nicolò, San Francesco and of the Carmine. In 1693 Noto was destroyed by the earthquakes, but its reconstruction planning led to such marvelous results thanks to the work of a group of three architects, Gagliardi, Labisi and Sinatra, who had to face the problem of rebuilding a city which had been extremely important before being totally destroyed by the disaster. By exploiting the basic anarchy of the Baroque style together with the severity of the chess-board plan metrical design and by taking advantage of the various levels, of the perspectives made up of flights of steps, of slopes and of occupied and vacant spaces, they succeeded in fusing magnificence with the need to save as much as possible of the meager resources left after the earthquake. The heroes of this great work of collective genius were the stone-cutters and the master builders, who became architects and designers in their turn in this magnificent work of art defined by UNESCO as "the patrimony of all humanity" and by the Council of Europe as "the capital of the Baroque style".
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Akrai, was founded by the Siracusans in 664 BC. "Civitas stipendiaria" under the Romans, it was probably destroyed by the Muslims in the 9th century. The evidences of the first settlement date back to 1169, when it appeared with the name "Placeolum" in one of Pope Alexander III's bulls. The village was a feudal property and in the 13th century it started expanding beyond the castle walls. Like most of the towns in the Noto valley, Palazzolo Acreide was also half-destroyed by the terrible 1693 earthquake, which resulted, however, in its urbanistic renaissance at the beginning of the XVIII century in the fashionable Baroque style of that period. A typical example of this is Palazzo Judica Caruso, with its long balcony decorated by a sequence of masks and grotesque figures, the Palazzo Ferla and its balconies with their pot-bellied balustrades, and also Palazzo Zocco, decorated by an interesting series of carved corbels. Of interest is also the Mother Church, rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake on a base dating back to the beginning of the XIII century, the church of San Paolo, one of the most interesting examples of Baroque architecture in the town, built at the beginning of the XVIII century, the church of the Annunziata built after the 1693 earthquake on the remains of a fifteenth-century building and the church of San Sebastiano.
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The name comes from the Latin Portus Palus, that means porto palude (marshy harbour), and in 1975 the words Capo Passero have been added to distinguish it from the homonymous Porto Palo in the province of Agrigento. We do not have many historical evidences on the town, but we know that the settlement was founded at the beginning of the 19th century. The economy of Portopalo is based mainly on its fishing industry and prosperous fish-market. In the main square there is the church of San Gaetano, patron saint of the town, built in about 1812. Along the coast there are traces of ancient silos and harbour buildings. A third-century necropolis has recently been unearthed in the Manniri area. Facing the coast, there is the island of Capo Passero, which can be reached on foot at low tide. It has a lighthouse and a seventeenth-century tower built after the destruction by the Turks in 1526 of the fort constructed in the XVI century by Charles V to defend the coast from piracy. The island is part of a list of thirteen places considered important for their interesting vegetation by the Italian Botanical Society.
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Together with Melilli, Sortino is also famous for the production in the Iblei mountains of excellent honey; both Theocritus and Virgil sing its praises. The name "Sortino" probably goes back to the ancient "Pantalica", and may derive from the word sciuti, or usciti, ("those who have left"), referring to the inhabitants of Pantalica who were forced to leave their town first by the Byzantines and later by the Arabs at about the middle of the eighth century. The first traces of the settlement of Sortino date back to the Angevin period, however, when it became a feudal holding. The old village of Sortino was built in the valley of the river Ciccio. Over five thousand inhabitants lived in houses carved out of the rocks, rather similar to the "sassi" of Matera. After its destruction in 1693, the town was rebuilt higher up on the Cugno del Rizzo hill. The rebuilt, eighteenth-century town of Sortino is dominated by Baroque architecture. Of interest is the church of San Francesco, erected in 1737, the church of Santa Sofia, rebuilt at the beginning of the 18th century over a previous church of the 15th century, the church of the Purgatorio, completed in 1784, with a typical octagonal dome, the church of the Annunciata (1739) and the Mother church paved with black and white cobble-stones.
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