Cathedral of Syracuse: My Favorite Church in Europe


The Cathedral of Syracuse, or Duomo di Siracusa, was a fascinating surprise. Like many of you, I have seen many of the churches of Europe.
I've visited the occasional synagogue and mosque, but it is Christian churches that dominate Europe. Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Byzantine, Baroque: there are many different styles. I've seen sweet, simple churches, which I tend to like a lot, and elaborate cathedrals with enormous paintings, statues, and gold leaf everywhere. However, on my trip to Sicily, I discovered that I have a favorite. I've likely visited more than a hundred churches in Europe.
My favorite church is in Syracuse, Sicily. It's actually the Duomo di Siracusa, located on the island of Ortygia in old Syracuse. The building itself dates back to the 5th century BCE. It was first built as the Temple of Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom and War. Like many Greek and Roman temples, it was transformed to be a church in the early Christian era.
The cathedral has seen 2,500 years of change. Excavations show that the site was a place of worship centuries earlier. What makes this cathedral so fascinating to me is that it was actually built on and around the original Doric temple. As a visitor, you can see the layers of architectural change.
You can see the Doric columns from the 5th century BCE on the outside of the cathedral. Building the walls between the columns, an orthodox, Byzantine church was created in the 6th century. The columns are visible on the inside of the church as well. In the 9th century, Arabs took Syracuse and converted the church to a mosque. Then, in the 12th century the Normans invaded, making the building, once again, Christian, but this time under the jurisdiction of Rome. After an earthquake in 1693, the façade was rebuilt in the Baroque style, with Corinthian columns. I love this church because its long history is so evident. You can get a feel for this in the images below.