Better known as the Duomo, this is an example of a Greek temple that has survive as a Christian church
the C5th BC, the Greek temple to Athena dominated the Acropolis on the
highest point of the island. It was a typical Greek temple with six
columns on the short sides and fourteen on the long sides. It became a
church when the island was evangelised by St Paul. The present cathedral
was constructed in the C7th by Saint Bishop Zosimo of Syracuse. The
Doric columns became part of the outer walls. These, along with the
three stepped platform they were built on, and can be seen along
Arches carved through walls of cella to form nave.
The church was elevated to a Byzantine cathedral in 640AD. During the Arab settlement, it was converted into a mosque.
When Sicily fell to the Normans, they appointed Latin bishops and the building became (and still is) a Roman Catholic Cathedral. The original roof was removed and the walls were extended upwards and crenellated. An apse was added at the east end.
The west front was damaged in the 1693 earthquake and was replaced by the splendid Baroque facade with the statue of the Virgin Mary above the west door. On pinnacles on either side are St Lucia, the patron saint of Siracusa and a C5th bishop, St Marciano.
Next to the cathedral is the Archbishop’s palace, which looks very plain in comparison.
Splendid Baroque doorways with decorated columns lead into the cathedral.
Inside, the cathedral is unique and has a very different feel to other Christian churches and cathedrals. It still has the feel of a Greek temple. The only natural light comes through windows high in the walls adding to the intimate feel.
The original Doric columns can still be seen along the outer walls of the side aisles and on either side of the west door.
At the end of the north aisle is a simple Norman apse with a blocked Norman window containing a small stone altar with a statue of the Madonna of the Snow.
It is very different to the main apse at the east end with its white plaster walls, Baroque altar and reredos with a painting of the Nativity of the Virgin, which feels out of place compared to the rest of the building.
A passage to the right of the main altar leads to the Chapel of the Crucifix, with its C13th crucifix and painted dome. his is very dark with little natural ligh.
On the side walls are massive altars containing reliquary boxes with the bones of saints.
There are Baroque chapels off south aisle behind decorative metal grille doors. The Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament is reserved for private prayer and has a massive Baroque altar with gilded pillars and a huge tabernacle. On either side are large Baroque plaster doors with fluted pillars and the painted ceiling has C17th frescoes.
Next to it is the Chapel of St Lucia. The altar holds a silver reliquary box with bone fragments from the saint. Above is a portrait of St Lucia. A C16th silver statue of the saint in a locked glass fronted niche is paraded round the streets on December 13th, her festival day.
At the back of the right aisle is a small baptistry with a C13th Norman stone font with seven bronze lions round the base.
||Back to top