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.
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 park features 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 for an annual Greek Theater festival held from mid-May until the end of June.
From the Archaeological Park, we headed to the Ortigia, 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!
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 of Rome’s senatorial class. A visit evokes the lives of this elite class and the people who visited them. At the entrance you first encounter the thermal baths and spa complex. From there you move inside to the living 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.
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 temples built between about 510 BC and 430 BC.
There are temples for Hera, 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.
There was lots of learning on this trip with exploration of the ancient sites in Sicily balanced with time to relax at a resort.
You can read more about this trip in Solo 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.