Ancient Sites in Sicily on a Resort Holiday (2023)

Ancient Sites in Sicily on a Resort Holiday (1)

In the Ear of Dionysius, at the Archeological Park in Syracuse, Sicily.

I was delighted and somewhat surprised by the number of ancient sites in Sicily.

I'm never surprised to see Roman ruins anywhere south of Hadrian's Wall on Scotland's border. I've seen them in England, Germany, Switzerland, and Spain. The Romans were everywhere.

However, I was surprised to discover so many Greek ruins in Sicily. Until this trip,I had thought of the Greek Empire as covering Greece, western Turkey and the islands of the Adriatic. Sicily is far west of these and yet it was colonized by the Greeks in the late 8th century BCE.

Travel and learn!

I first visited Sicily 16 years ago. Then, I was with my husband and eleven-year-old son and we were taking a break at a resort after months of being on the road. This time I was traveling as a guest of Just You, a tour company that caters exclusively to solo travelers. All 25 people on the trip were single. Or, at least, single for the duration of the trip.

Unlike my first time in Sicily, which was focused on the resort, as our goal was to relax, this trip found the balance between resort life and touring. A balance between relaxing and learning.

Syracuse was Greece's most important Sicilian city. Apparently, Cicero called it“the biggest and most beautiful Greek city.”

So, Syracuse is where I'll start my review of three ancient Greek and Roman sites in Sicily.

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The Greek theater at the Neapolis Archaeological Park in Syracuse was used for theater, unlike the Roman amphitheater which is also within the park. It was used for more violent entertainment like gladiator combats andanimal slayings.

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(Video) Where to stay in Sicily - The 7 best areas

Ancient Greece in Syracuse, Sicily

The entire city of Syracuse along with the Neapolis Archaeological Park was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005. The archaeological parkfeatures mostly Greek ruins. The highlights are the semi-circle Greek theater and the Roman Amphitheater. When the Romans took over the ancient city of Syracuse, the Greek theater didn't suit the Roman taste for violent entertainment. They wanted an amphitheater, a stadium, which is better for gladiator contests and fights with wild animals. The Greek theater continues to be used today, most notably foran annual Greek Theater festival held from mid-May until the end of June.

From the Archaeological Park, we headed to theOrtigia, an island and the historic center of Syracuse. A short walk across the bridge to the city center and we were introduced to Apollo's Temple and then the Temple of Athena (modified over the years and now the Syracuse Cathedral). After our guide explained the ancient history of these sites we were given free time to wander the city and enjoy lunch along the waterfront.

Then it was back to the resort, dinner, and dancing on the patio overlooking the ocean. A fun evening!

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The city of Syracuse and the Neapolis Archaeological Park are a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. As the map shows, the Greek Theater which is in the archaeological park is quite a way from the city center. It was made easy by our local guide and transportation.

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The Roman amphitheater was used for blood sports such as gladiator fights.

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Remains of the Apollo Theater in Syracuse.

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This is my favorite cathedral in Europe. I have never had a favorite before but now I do and I will write about it in its own post soon. From this angle you can see the Doric columns from when it was the Greek Temple of Athena.

(Video) Agrigento, Sicily: Valley of the Temples - Rick Steves’ Europe Travel Guide - Travel Bite

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Free time to wander Syracuse and…

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… have lunch by the sea.

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After a day of visiting ancient Sicily we were back into the present at our resort for dinner, a beautiful sunset, and dancing to a live band. This photo has not been touched up at all!

Villa Romana del Casale

Almost entirely covered by a landslide in the 12th century and cultivated for crops for centuries thereafter, Villa Romana del Casale, a 4th century Roman palace was rediscovered and, in fits and starts, developed as an archaeological site in the 19th and 20th centuries. Located near the city of Piazza Armerina, it wasn't until the 1950's that this site, one of the richest, largest, and most varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, underwent major excavations.

Those are the basic facts of the Villa.Let me tell you how the Villa feels.

The Villa was likely owned by one ofRome’s senatorial class. A visit evokes the lives of this elite class and the people who visited them. At the entrance you first encounter thethermal baths and spa complex.From there you move inside to theliving area and guest rooms, the private rooms of the owner that includes a basilica where the owner would greet his guests, a dining area, and a courtyard with fountain. Our local guide gave us lots of detail on the Villa's history.

After the visit, we moved on to our second resort, even better than the first.

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The landslide that covered the villa in the 12th century protected many of these incredible, ancient mosaics from destruction. This one is almost entirely intact.

(Video) Road trip Agrigento, Porto Empodecle & WOW ancient artifacts at our hotel!

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Many of the rooms in the villa revealed what the rooms were for or the values of the villa owner which is under debate. In this room you can see in the top left corner the original floor that was in this room. For some reason the owner chose to add a new floor with the women doing gymnastics in bikinis.

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A view of the countryside from the gardens.

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The courtyard in the center of the villa. In the cement structure in the center of the courtyard was a fountain.

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Our resort, the pool, and the sea plus delicious food and the traditional Aperol Spritz, all awaited us at the end of the day.

The Valley of the Temples

Of all the ancient sites we visited in Sicily, the Valley of the Temples,near Agrigento, was the highlight for me.It is thanks to sites like the Valley of the Temples that Sicily is considered an outdoor museum and landed on the map for those on their Grand European Tours in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Oddly, one does not experience this archaeological park like a valley. It is more like a ridge with views of Argrigento and the sea to the south and sweeping landscape views to the north. Walking down the road, passing almond and olive trees and one very friendly goat, one also passes eight templesbuilt between about 510 BC and 430 BC.

There are temples forHera, Concordia, Heracles, Olympian Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Hephaestos, Demeter, and Asclepius. Our guide had stories about each and on many we could see modifications made by conquering civilizations.

On the way back to the resort we stopped for a late lunch. A pizza feast! And then back to the resort in time for a swim before dinner.

(Video) Agrigento (Sicily) Vacation Travel Video Guide

There was lots of learning on this trip with exploration of the ancient sites in Sicily balanced with time to relax at a resort.

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Our group following our guide in the Valley of the Temples

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Our local guide was an forensic archaeologist specializing in the analysis of bones. Here he is standing in front of burial sites and explaining what and how they learned from these sites.

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The Temple of Concordia with a modern statue of Icarus in the foreground.

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The very famous Tempio dei Dioscuri.

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Our pizza feast. We started with bruschetta, then came the pizza, in waves, three kinds. Delicious!

(Video) Sicily Vacation Travel Video Guide • Great Destinations

You can read more about this trip inSolo Traveler on a Solos-Only Tour.

Thank you to Just You for sponsoring this trip. Solo Traveler maintains full editorial control over all content on this site.

Last updated: 20th September, 2018


Are there ancient ruins in Sicily? ›

On the southwest coast of Sicily, not far from Mazara del Vallo, lies the largest archaeological site in Europe. On a par with pretty much anything found in Greece itself, Selinunte has lain abandoned for nearly 2,500 years, its numerous temples, its acropolis and its agora in dignified ruins.

Are there Greek ruins in Sicily? ›

The Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) is a famous archaeological site in Agrigento, Sicily, housing some of the best-preserved Ancient Greek ruins in the world outside of Greece. More a ridge than a valley, the Valley of the Temples mainly comprises the beautiful ruins of 9 ancient sacred temples.

Are there Roman ruins in Sicily? ›

The Valley of the Temples, Sicily is home to Greek and Roman ruins but it is the eight Greek temples, built between around 510BC and 430BC that are the most remarkable. Highlights include the Temple of Concord, one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, and the Temple of Juno.

Are there Greek ruins in Italy? ›

The ancient ruins at Paestum are among the only Greek ruins left on Italy's mainland, and they're definitely the best-preserved. (Many more wonderful remnants of ancient Greece can be found on the island of Sicily).

Were there Vikings in Sicily? ›

Viking Age

In 860, according to an account by the Norman monk Dudo of Saint-Quentin, a Viking fleet, probably under Björn Ironside and Hastein, landed in Sicily, conquering it.

What is the oldest building in Sicily? ›

The building is the oldest royal residence in Europe; and was the private residence of the rulers of the Kingdom of Sicily and the imperial seat of Frederick II and Conrad IV.
Palazzo dei Normanni.
UNESCO World Heritage Site
CriteriaCultural: (ii), (iv)
Inscription2015 (39th Session)
Coordinates38°06′39″N 13°21′11″E
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Are Sicilians ethnically Greek? ›

The genetic contribution of Greek chromosomes to the Sicilian gene pool is estimated to be about 37% whereas the contribution of North African populations is estimated to be around 6%.

What part of Sicily is Greek? ›

Naxos, the earliest Greek colony in Sicily, founded by Chalcidians under Theocles (or Thucles) about 734 bc. It lay on the east coast, south of Tauromenium (modern Taormina), just north of the mouth of the Alcantara River, on what is now Cape Schisò.

Is Sicily Greek or Italian? ›

Sicily, Italian Sicilia, island, southern Italy, the largest and one of the most densely populated islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Together with the Egadi, Lipari, Pelagie, and Panteleria islands, Sicily forms an autonomous region of Italy.

Was Sicily Roman or Greek? ›

Sicilia (/sɪˈsɪliə/; Classical Latin: [sɪˈkɪ. li. a], Ancient Greek: Σικελία) was the first province acquired by the Roman Republic, encompassing the island of Sicily. The western part of the island was brought under Roman control in 241 BC at the conclusion of the First Punic War with Carthage.

Is there a colosseum in Sicily? ›

The amphitheatre of Catania is the most complicated and largest of all the amphitheatres in Sicily. It is one of a group of large arenas, which also includes the Colosseum, the Amphitheatre of Capua, and the Verona Arena.

Which civilization left ruins in Sicily? ›

The Greek civilization in Sicily dates as far back as 8 centuries before Christ, and its decline in the final few centuries BC coincided with the rise of Roman power.

Is Greek still spoken in Sicily? ›

The Griko people traditionally speak Italiot Greek (the Griko or Calabrian dialects), which is a form of the Greek language.
Griko people.
Total population
Sicily500 (2012)
Greek (Griko and Calabrian dialects), Italian, Salentino, Calabrese
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Is Pompeii Rome or Greek? ›

It was originally Greek

Pompeii is famous for its Roman city past, but it was actually, in fact, a Greek city before it became Roman. This can be seen by some of the oldest structures unearthed, which appear to be designed by ancient Greek settlers who made the town part of the Hellenistic sphere in the 8th century BC.

Are there ancient ruins in Italy? ›

However, there are several remarkably well-preserved pre- and Roman ruins in Italy worth visiting. From underground markets, important monuments and even whole towns, these ancient sites offer an insight into life in the past.

What is the DNA of a Sicilian? ›

MtDna and Y DNA studies

According to one study, Y-DNA haplogroups were found at the following frequencies in Sicily: R1 (36.76%), J (29.65%), E1b1b (18.21%), I (7.62%), G (5.93%), T (5.51%), Q (2.54%).

What ancestry are Sicilians? ›

Sicilians are darker than Northern Italians, their ancestry reflecting a mixed heritage of peoples passing through the island. The Greeks, the Moors, the Normans and the Romans were among these peoples whose presence helped to create what we now think of as Sicilian culture.

Are Sicilians Arabic? ›

Siculo-Arabic (Arabic: اللهجة العربية الصقلية), also known as Sicilian Arabic, is the term used for varieties of Arabic that were spoken in the Emirate of Sicily (which included Malta) from the 9th century, persisting under the subsequent Norman rule until the 13th century.
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Why are there so many abandoned houses in Sicily? ›

Apparently, due to large waves of immigration to the New World over hundred years ago followed by natural disasters, crumbling economies and a demographic problem, there are thousands of abandoned houses and even whole deserted villages and towns all over Italy.

What is Sicily famous for? ›

The island is famous for its cathedrals, vineyards, island beaches, and amazing architecture. The Palermo Opera House and UNESCO Baroque churches in Noto and Modica are world-renowned Sicilian architectural landmarks, along with The Greek Temples of the Valley of Temples located in Agrigento.

What was Sicily called in ancient Greece? ›

The Ionians were the first Greeks to establish a permanent presence in Sicily, where they encountered an Italic society, the Sicels, hence the Greeks' name for the island, Sikelia. A group arrived to found Naxos (near Taormina) around 735 BC. This is believed to be the first permanent Greek settlement in Sicily.

What is a Sicilian last name? ›

The most common patronymics are Basile, Di Mauro, Di Salvo, Di Stefano, Giuffrida, Leonardi, Orlando, Vitale. Other surnames derive from medieval names, mostly augural, such as Bellomo, Bonaccorso, Bonanno, Bonfiglio, Bongiorno, Bonsignore.

Are some Sicilians African? ›

On current information to date, the present-day Sicilian gene pool has a small, significant contribution of African (Negroid) genes, from contacts either numerically minor or for a brief time span.

What physical features do Sicilians have? ›

There is also the matter of physical appearances. You would find that there are many Sicilians with brown hair and dark eyes but a significant number having red or blondish hair and blue eyes - albeit rather few with extremely light blonde locks. Fashion is fickle and highly individualistic, even among young people.

Which is better Sicily or Sardinia? ›

If you're looking for classic historical sites and lots of Greek history then Sicily is the best option, whereas Sardina has much older examples of ancient monuments and has more Roman history than the other island.

What language do Sicilian speak? ›

Sicilian dialects in use

Sicilian, or its dialectal offshoots, is still spoken by many people on a daily basis, though Italian is, of course, the official language common to all.

Did Sicilian come before Italian? ›

It is a not a variant of Italian, a local version of Italian, and it's not even derived from what became Italian. In fact, in truth, Sicilian preceded Italian as we know it.

How are Sicilians different from Italians? ›

Unlike Italian, which is almost entirely Latin based, Sicilian has elements of Greek, Arabic, French, Catalan, and Spanish. This can be seen in many Sicilian words, like azzizzari [to embellish, adorn] from the Arabic aziz [beautiful], or foddi [angry], which can be traced to the Norman French fol.

Are there poisonous snakes in Sicily? ›

The Asp Viper (Vipera aspis) is a venomous snake species that is present locally and has been sighted on base housing. The adult Asp Viper can grow up to 90 cm (35.4 inches) long, however most are smaller. The snake has a slender body with a triangle-shaped head and upturned snout.

What does the three legged symbol of Sicily mean? ›

The arrangement of the three legs refers to Eastern religious symbolism. The three legs represent the three capes of the island of Sicily: Peloro (north-east), Passero (south), and Lilibeo (west), which form the three points of a triangle.

Who were the native people of Sicily? ›

There were three indigenous groups on ancient Sicily: the Elymi in the western part of the island, the Sicani in the centre, and the Sicels in the east - the latter being the root of the island's name.

Who were the first people in Sicily? ›

Prior to the Greeks arriving in Sicily, it was already inhabited by three peoples: the Siculi or Sicels in the east (from whose name the name of the island is derived), the Sicani to the west, and the Elymians in the extreme west.

Is the Sistine Chapel in Sicily? ›

It's not a question of rewriting art history but paying proper tribute to an artistic prodigy that deserves the (deliberately strong) association with one of the best works of human ingenuity: there's a Sicilian Sistine Chapel and it's in the Chiesa di San Domenico in Castelvetrano, in the province of Trapani.

Where is the volcano on Sicily? ›

Mount Etna is an active stratovolcano on the east coast of Sicily, Italy, in the Metropolitan City of Catania, between the cities of Messina and Catania. It lies above the convergent plate margin between the African Plate and the Eurasian Plate.

Did Romans live in Sicily? ›

From the Greek stronghold to the breadbasket of Rome

The Greek tyrants led the Greek culture in Sicily to such prosperity to rival that of ancient Greece itself. With the first Punic War the Romans finally came to Sicily and gradually occupied the land, which they exploited to death.

What is the oldest city in Sicily? ›

Messina, Italy (Tie)

Later renamed Messina, it remains the oldest continuously inhabited city on Sicily and is one of its largest ports.

Where is the ancient city of Sicily? ›

Sicily, Italian Sicilia, island, southern Italy, the largest and one of the most densely populated islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Together with the Egadi, Lipari, Pelagie, and Panteleria islands, Sicily forms an autonomous region of Italy. It lies about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Tunisia (northern Africa).

Was Sicily ruled by Africa? ›

Culture clash: how North Africa changed Sicily forever. First the Carthaginians, then the Moors; Sicily was conquered twice over by invading North African forces. And while they didn't give up their island without a fight, the resulting fusion of cultures gave birth to a truly unique way of life.

Is English widely spoken in Sicily? ›

Wherever tourists can be found around the globe, people speak English. Sicily is no exception. Many tourists, of course, pass through Sicily's three airports. At each airport you will find it easy to make your way using English, especially since the auto rental offices at each airport also use English.

What does Grego mean in Italian? ›

Greco (Italian pronunciation: [ˈɡrɛːko]) is a common Italian surname, ranking 10th among the most widespread surnames in Italy, and it literally means "Greek".

Are Southern Italians Greek? ›

Southern Italians are closest to the modern Greeks, while the Northern Italians are closest to the Spaniards and Southern French. There is also Bronze/Iron Age Middle Eastern admixture in Italy, with a much lower incidence in Northern Italy compared with Central Italy and Southern Italy.

What race were the Pompeii? ›

Typical features of Pompeii people were of the Mediterranean complexion, with tanned skin, dark eyes, and even darker hair. However, around 30% of the entire population of Pompeii were slaves, who varied in complexion due as they were thought to be from a wide range of countries.

Did any Romans survive Pompeii? ›

One survivor who we have a record of was Cornelius Fuscus, who later died in a military campaign. In an inscription following his name, it states that he was from the colony of Pompeii, then he lived in Naples and then he joined the army.

Is Pompeii worth visiting? ›

If you're in Naples or on the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii is a must-visit attraction that no one should miss. This massive archeological site is the best way to glimpse the daily life of ancient Romans. We highly recommend taking a Pompeii tour to fully appreciate the history here.

What is the most visited archaeological site in Italy? ›

Pompeii. Pompeii a journey back in time The rediscovered ancient city. A unique heritage of history and culture anywhere in the world. Forming a UNESCO World Heritage Site together with Herculaneum and Oplontis, Pompeii is one the most visited museum sites in Italy and attracts huge numbers of tourists every year.

What is the oldest site in Italy? ›

The first of the most ancient ruins in Italy are those of Selinunte. Selinunte was an ancient Greek city in Sicily dating back between 628 and 654 BCE. Its ruins can now be seen in Castelvetrano. The archeological site includes many temples and fortifications, a sanctuary and the necropoleis.

What was Sicily called in ancient times? ›

Sicilia (/sɪˈsɪliə/; Classical Latin: [sɪˈkɪ. li. a], Ancient Greek: Σικελία) was the first province acquired by the Roman Republic, encompassing the island of Sicily. The western part of the island was brought under Roman control in 241 BC at the conclusion of the First Punic War with Carthage.

Was Sicily Part of ancient Rome? ›

Roman Sicily: Roman involvement in Sicily began in the 3rd century BC with the Punic Wars against Carthage, which controlled the Phoenician colonies in Sicily. After the famous siege of Syracuse in 211 BC, Rome incorporated the whole of Sicily, Phoenician and Greek, into its first ever province.

Does Italy have ancient ruins? ›

There are numerous ancient sites and Roman ruins in Italy.

Are Sicilians and Italians the same? ›

Speaking Sicilian vs Speaking Italian

Most Italians find full-blown Sicilian incredibly hard to understand and to be a total departure from traditional Italian. There are also minor differences in sentence structure, as well as a different accent.

What did the Muslims call Sicily? ›

Palermo was made the Muslim capital of Sicily, renamed al-Madinah ("The City"). The conquest was an incremental, see-saw affair; with considerable resistance and many internal struggles, it took over a century for Byzantine Sicily to be fully conquered.

Is Sicilian older than Italian? ›

Sicilian (u sicilianu) is neither a dialect nor an accent. It is a not a variant of Italian, a local version of Italian, and it's not even derived from what became Italian. In fact, in truth, Sicilian preceded Italian as we know it.

Is Sicilian Greek or Italian? ›

Sicily (Italian: Sicilia [siˈtʃiːlja]; Sicilian: Sicilia [sɪˈʃiːlja]) is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the 20 regions of Italy. The Strait of Messina divides it from the region of Calabria in Southern Italy.

What did the Greeks call Sicily? ›

The Ionians were the first Greeks to establish a permanent presence in Sicily, where they encountered an Italic society, the Sicels, hence the Greeks' name for the island, Sikelia. A group arrived to found Naxos (near Taormina) around 735 BC. This is believed to be the first permanent Greek settlement in Sicily.


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