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Cathedral of Syracuse: temple, mosque and place of Christian worship

Valeria Carullo

The Unesco World Heritage site of Sicily’s Cathedral of Syracuse, photographed by Ralph Deakin in the 1930s, contains Greek columns, 15th century floor and baroque facade

Credit: Ralph Deakin/RIBA Collections

Cathedral of Syracuse
Ortygia, Sicily, 480 BC onwards

The small island of Ortygia, part of the historical centre of Syracuse in Sicily, is populated by numerous architectural landmarks from different eras, reflecting the rich history of the city and its region. This variety is encapsulated by the splendid cathedral, which stands at the heart of Ortygia. The first important building on this site was the renowned Temple of Athena (480 BC), which was converted into a church in the early Middle Ages and later became the city’s cathedral. It was probably used as a mosque in the 9th century during Arab domination, and was finally returned to its previous use and transformed again by the Normans. Further additions were the 15th century marble floor and the Baroque facade, completed in 1753. The structure of the Greek temple, as can be seen in this 1930s’ photograph, was never demolished but instead incorporated in the church’s walls, and its columns are still clearly visible from both inside and outside the building. This unique feature has earned the cathedral the status of a Unesco World Heritage Site.