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Siracusa (Syracuse) was founded in 734 or 733 BC by Greek settlers from Corinth, led by Archias, who called it Sirako, referring to a nearby swamp. The nucleus of the ancient city was the small island of Ortygia. The city grew and prospered, and for some time stood as the most powerful Greek city anywhere in the Mediterranean. Colonies were founded at Akrai (664 BC), Kasmenai (643 BC) and Kamarina (598 BC). Gelo, first despot of the city, moved numerous inhabitants to Siracusa (Syracuse), building new quarters and a new theatre, designed by Damocopos, which gave the city a flourishing cultural life: this in turn attracted personalities such as Aeschylus, Ario of Metimma, Eumelos of Corinth and Sappho. The enlarged power of Siracusa (Syracuse) made unavoidable the clash with the Carthaginians, who ruled over the Western part of Sicily. In the Battle of Himera, Gelo decisively defeated the African force led by Hamilcar. A temple, entitled to Athena (on the site of today's Cathedral), was erected in the city to commemorate the event.

In the early 4th century BC, the tyrant Dionysius the Elder was again at war against Carthage and, although losing Gela and Camarina, prevented that power from capturing the whole of Sicily. After the end of the conflict Dionysius built a massive fortress on the OrtygiaIsland of the city, as well as the 22 km-long walls line that encircled the whole of Siracusa (Syracuse). After another period of expansion, which saw the destruction of Naxos, Catania and Lentini, the city entered again in war against Carthage (397 BC). After various changes of fortune, the Africans managed to besiege Siracusa (Syracuse) itself, but were eventually pushed back by a plague. A treaty in 392 BC allowed Siracusa (Syracuse) to enlarge further its possessions, founding the cities of Adrano, Ancona, Adria, Tindari and Tauromenos, and conquering Reggio Calabria on the continent. Apart from his battle deeds, Dionysius was famous as a patron of art, and Plato himself visited Siracusa (Syracuse) several times.

In 275 BC Hiero inaugurated a period of fifty years of peace and prosperity, in which Siracusa (Syracuse) became one of the most renowned capitals of Antiquity. He issued the so-called Lex Hieronica, which was later adopted by the Romans for their administration of Sicily; he also had the theatre enlarged and a new immense altar, the "Hiero's Ara", built. Under his rule the most famous Syracusan lived, the natural philosopher Archimedes.

Hiero's successor, the young Hieronymus, broke the peace with the Romans, who, led by Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus, besieged the city in 214 BC which fell in 212 BC.

Though declining slowly through the years, Siracusa (Syracuse) maintained the status of capital of the Roman government of Sicily and seat of the praetor. It remained an important port for the trades between the Eastern and the Western parts of the Empire. Christianity spread in the city through the efforts of Paul of Tarsus and Saint Marziano, the first bishop of the city, who made it one of the main centres of proselytism in the West. In the era of persecutions massive catacombs were carved, whose size is second only to Rome's.

The city was struck by two ruinous earthquakes in 1542 and 1693. The 17th-century destruction changed forever the appearance of Siracusa (Syracuse), as well as the entire Val di Noto, whose cities were rebuilt along the typical lines of Sicilian Baroque, considered one of the most typical expressions of art of Southern Italy.

After the Unification of Italy of 1865, Syracuse regained its status of provincial capital. In 1870 the walls were demolished and a bridge connecting the mainland to Ortygia Island was built.

Heavy destruction was caused by the Allied and the German bombings in 1943. After the end of World War 2 the northern quarters of Siracusa (Syracuse) experienced a heavy, often chaotic, expansion, favoured by the quick process of industrialization.

Siracusa (Syracuse), together with the Necropolis of Pantalica, is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.