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Online travel guide to Syracuse

Cathedral of Sanat Maria delle Colonne

Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne Columns of the temple of Athena

Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne

Temple of Athena and modern place of worship

The Cathedral of Santa Maria delle Colonne is an imposing structure, towering over the Piazza Duomo with its gleaming white towers. Flanked by the statues of the Apostles Peter and Paul you can reach the main portal by an open stairway. In the baroque façade of Andrea Palmas, the Doric columns of the previous building, the former temple of Athena, are incorporated and constitute a fascinating contrast. Built on the ancient Greek temple of Athena, the Cathedral of Syracuse is a very special highlight, which is unparalleled. Even by entering the hall, you walk into the ancient world and can marvel at the long history of this sacred place.

From the temple of Athena to the Cathedral of Syracuse

The temple of Athena was founded in 480 B.C. by Gelo and Hiero I after the stunning victory over the Carthaginians. The 22x55 metre Doric ring hall temple was lavishly outfitted - many works of  gold and ivory carvings as well as the portraits of the 27 Syracusan rulers once adorned the great temples. Most of the art treasures were stolen later by the Romans. The former cella of the Athena temple now forms the nave of the current cathedral. In the 7th Century A.D., the temple of the virgin Athena was converted into a church of the Virgin Mary.

The intercolumnar of the peristylar was bricked and the cella walls were broken by eight arches each. The side aisles were converted into what are nowadays the side naves of the basilica. The former temple entrance in the east was closed and the altar was set in its place, while the new entrance was created in the west to the present the cathedral square. Finally, the main nave was made larger and the current roof structure of a modern church was built.

Inside the cathedral

Inside the cathedral, visitors will be fascinated to see the combination of a medieval church and an ancient temple. The Doric columns are all still visible and integrated into the current church building. St. Lucy’s relics were once kept in the eponymous chapel on the right side. After they had been stolen by the Byzantines and taken to Constantinople in 1038 they were brought back by the Venetians in 1204 and now rest in the Church of San Geremia in Venice. In the left aisle there is also a marble statue of the saint. The baptismal font in the baptistery, right of the entrance - an ancient cult bowl - is propped up by tiny Norman bronze lions.

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