Top historic sites in Sicily

Cathedral of Monreale

The Cathedral of Monreale is one of the greatest existent examples of Norman architecture. The construction of Monreale, started in 1172, was approved by Pope Alexander III with a bull on 30 December 1174. Works, including an annexed abbey, were completed only in 1267 and the church consecrated at the presence of Pope Clement IV. In 1178 Pope Lucius III established the archdiocese of Monreale and the abbey church was elev ...
Founded: 1172-1267 | Location: Monreale, Italy

Santa Maria dell'Ammiraglio Church

The Church of St. Mary of the Admiral (Santa Maria dell"Ammiraglio) is a Co-cathedral to the Eparchy of Piana degli Albanesi of the Italo-Albanian Catholic Church, a diocese which includes the Italo-Albanian (Arbëreshë) communities in Sicily who officiate the liturgy according to the Byzantine Rite in the ancient Greek language and Albanian language. The name Ammiraglio ('admiral') derives from the foun ...
Founded: 1143 | Location: Palermo, Italy

Catania Cathedral

Catania Cathedral has been destroyed and rebuilt several times because of earthquakes and eruptions of the nearby Mount Etna. It was originally constructed in 1078-1093, on the ruins of the ancient Roman Achillean Baths, by order of Roger I of Sicily, who had conquered the city from the Islamic emirate of Sicily. At the time it had the appearance of a fortified church. In 1169 it was almost entirely destroyed by an eart ...
Founded: 1711 | Location: Catania, Italy

Cathedral of Syracuse

The Cathedral of Syracuse (Duomo di Siracusa) origins on this site date to prehistory. The great Greek Temple of Athena was built in the 5th century BC. The temple was a Doric edifice with six columns on the short sides and 14 on the long sides. Plato and Athenaeus mention the temple, and the looting of its ornament is mentioned by Cicero, in 70 BC, as one of the crimes of the governor Verres. The present cathedral was ...
Founded: 7th century AD | Location: Syracuse, Italy

Greek Theatre of Taormina

Teatro antico di Taormina is an ancient Greek theatre in Taormina, built in the third century BC. The ancient theatre is built for the most part of brick, and is therefore probably of Roman date, though the plan and arrangement are in accordance with those of Greek, rather than Roman, theatres; whence it is supposed that the present structure was rebuilt upon the foundations of an older theatre of the Greek period. With ...
Founded: 3rd century BCE | Location: Taormina, Italy

Palermo Cathedral

Palermo Cathedral was erected in 1185 by Walter Ophamil (or Walter of the Mill), the Anglo-Norman archbishop of Palermo and King William II"s minister, on the area of an earlier Byzantine basilica. By all accounts this earlier church was founded by Pope Gregory I and was later turned into a mosque by the Saracens after their conquest of the city in the 9th century. Ophamil is buried in a sarcophagus in the ch ...
Founded: 1185 | Location: Palermo, Italy

Norman Palace

The Palazzo dei Normanni (Norman Palace) was the seat of the Kings of Sicily during the Norman domination and served afterwards as the main seat of power for the subsequent rulers of 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. The palace stands in what is the highest point of the anc ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Palermo, Italy

Cefalù Cathedral

The Cathedral of Cefalù is one of nine structures included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalù and Monreale. The cathedral was erected between 1131 and 1240 in the Norman architectural style, the island of Sicily having been conquered by the Normans in 1091. According to tradition, the building was erected after a vow made to the Holy Saviour by ...
Founded: 1131-1240 | Location: Cefalù, Italy

Villa Romana del Casale

The Villa Romana del Casale is a large and elaborate Roman villa or palace located about 3 km from Piazza Armerina. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest, and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world, for which the site has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mosaic and opus sectile floors cover some 3,500 sq metres and are almost unique in their excellent state of preservation ...
Founded: 4th century AD | Location: Piazza Armerina, Italy

Ear of Dionysius

The legendary Ear of Dionysius is the most famous cave in Syracuse. It’s called this way for its ear shape and above all for its remarkable acoustic properties which amplify the sounds inside it. Its name was given by the painter Michelangelo da Caravaggio. According to the legend, the tyrant Dionysus used it as a jail and he used to eavesdrop on the prisoners’ conversations. This cave was dug in Greek/Roman times a ...
Founded: 5th century BC | Location: Syracuse, Italy

Greek Theatre of Syracuse

The Greek theatre of Syracuse lies on the south slopes of the Temenite hill, overlooking the modern city of Syracuse. It was first built in the 5th century BC, rebuilt in the 3rd century BC and renovated again in the Roman period. Today, it is a part of the Unesco World Heritage Site of 'Syracuse and the Rocky Necropolis of Pantalica'. It seems that the theatre was renovated in the third century, transforming it into the ...
Founded: 5th century BC | Location: Syracuse, Italy

Messina Cathedral

Messina Cathedral dates back to the 12th century, but it was thoroughly restored between 1919-1920 due to the earthquake that had caused serious damage in 1908. During the Second World War when the Allied dropped bombs on the city, a fire destroyed part of the cathedral which was rebuilt in 1943. The apsidal area has its original Norman structure and the three outstandingly decorated portals of the façade built followin ...
Founded: 1197 | Location: Messina, Italy

Temple of Apollo

The Temple of Apollo is one of the most important ancient Greek monuments in Syracuse. It is dated to the beginning of the 6th century B.C. and is therefore the most ancient Doric temple in Sicily and more or less, the first which corresponds to the model of the temple surrounded by a peripteros of stone columns that became standard in the whole Greek world. The temple underwent several transformations: closed during the ...
Founded: 6th century BCE | Location: Syracuse, Italy

Segesta Temple

Segesta was one of the major cities of the Elymians, one of the three indigenous peoples of Sicily. The hellenization of Segesta happened very early and had a profound effect on its people. On a hill just outside the site of the ancient city of Segesta lies an unusually well preserved Doric temple. It is thought to have been built in the 420s BC by an Athenian architect, despite the city not having a large Greek populati ...
Founded: 420 BCE | Location: Calatafimi-Segesta, Italy

Monastery of San Nicolò l'Arena

The Benedictine Monastery of San Nicolò l"Arena in Catania, Sicily, is one of the largest monasteries in Europe and the second biggest Benedictine monastery in Europe. The monastery was founded in 1558 and today it hosts the Department of Humanities of the University of Catania. The monastery complex is located in the historical centre of the city of Catania, with the church of San Nicolò l"Arena. It shows a ...
Founded: 1558 | Location: Catania, Italy

Altar of Hieron

The Altar of Hieron is a monumental grand altar in the ancient quarter of Neapolis in Syracuse. It was built in the Hellenistic period by King Hiero II and is the largest altar known from antiquity. The structure is aligned roughly north-north-west to south-east-east, and is located in the Neapolis. Almost nothing except the foundations of the structure survive today. The structure was partly built from masonry blocks an ...
Founded: 3rd century BCE | Location: Syracuse, Italy

Ursino Castle

Castello Ursino was built between 1239 and 1250, as one of the royal castles of Emperor Frederick II, King of Sicily. In 1295, during the Sicilian Vespers, the Parliament which declared deposed James II of Aragon as King of Sicily, replacing him with Frederick III, was held here. The following year it was captured by Robert of Anjou but was later again in Aragonese hands. After the move of the capital away from Catania a ...
Founded: 1239-1250 | Location: Catania, Italy

Segesta Greek Theatre

Built in the 3rd century BCE in the Hellenistic period but under Roman domination, the Segesta Greek Theatre comprises a perfect, vast semicircle 63 metres in diameter situated on a rocky slope: the steps face towards the hills behind which, to the right, the gulf of Castellammare can be discerned. Every year, in summer, the theatre comes to life and fills with spectators ready to enjoy, in a timeless moment, the tragedie ...
Founded: 3rd century BCE | Location: Calatafimi-Segesta, Italy

Valley of the Temples

The Sicilian town of Agrigento was an important Greek colony in the 6th century BC and today it has some of the best preserved Greek remains outside of Greece itself. The Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) contains a number of ruined temples in a spectacular countryside setting. Temple of Concordia Due to its good state of preservation, the Temple of Concordia is ranked amongst the most notable edifices of the Gre ...
Founded: 500 BCE | Location: Provincia di Agrigento, Italy

Venere Castle

Castello di Venere ('Venus Castle'), dating from the Norman period, was built on top of the ancient Temple of Venus, where Venus Ericina was worshipped. According to legend, the temple was founded by Aeneas. It was well known throughout the Mediterranean area in the ancient age, and an important cult was celebrated in it.
Founded: 12th century | Location: Erice, Italy

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Broch of Gurness

The Broch of Gurness is an Iron Age broch village. Settlement here began sometime between 500 and 200 BC. At the centre of the settlement is a stone tower or broch, which once probably reached a height of around 10 metres. Its interior is divided into sections by upright slabs. The tower features two skins of drystone walls, with stone-floored galleries in between. These are accessed by steps. Stone ledges suggest that there was once an upper storey with a timber floor. The roof would have been thatched, surrounded by a wall walk linked by stairs to the ground floor. The broch features two hearths and a subterranean stone cistern with steps leading down into it. It is thought to have some religious significance, relating to an Iron Age cult of the underground.

The remains of the central tower are up to 3.6 metres high, and the stone walls are up to 4.1 metres thick. The tower was likely inhabited by the principal family or clan of the area but also served as a last resort for the village in case of an attack.

The broch continued to be inhabited while it began to collapse and the original structures were altered. The cistern was filled in and the interior was repartitioned. The ruin visible today reflects this secondary phase of the broch's use.

The site is surrounded by three ditches cut out of the rock with stone ramparts, encircling an area of around 45 metres diameter. The remains of numerous small stone dwellings with small yards and sheds can be found between the inner ditch and the tower. These were built after the tower, but were a part of the settlement's initial conception. A 'main street' connects the outer entrance to the broch. The settlement is the best-preserved of all broch villages.

Pieces of a Roman amphora dating to before 60 AD were found here, lending weight to the record that a 'King of Orkney' submitted to Emperor Claudius at Colchester in 43 AD.

At some point after 100 AD the broch was abandoned and the ditches filled in. It is thought that settlement at the broch continued into the 5th century AD, the period known as Pictish times. By that time the broch was not used anymore and some of its stones were reused to build smaller dwellings on top of the earlier buildings. Until about the 8th century, the site was just a single farmstead.

In the 9th century, a Norse woman was buried at the site in a stone-lined grave with two bronze brooches and a sickle and knife made from iron. Other finds suggest that Norse men were buried here too.