Castello Eurialo, Siracusa
Castello Eurialo is a ruined Greek fortress outside the city of Siracusa in Sicily. It’s a remarkable survival of an ancient Greek military stronghold, and is a fascinating, as well as picturesque, place to visit.
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Castello Eurialo history
Castello Eurialo (‘Euryalus Castle’) was built in about 400BC by the Greeks of ancient Syracuse/Siracusa. It stands on a low ridge a few miles from Siracusa, and was a major element of the city’s outer defences. Supposedly impregnable thanks to advanced military building techniques and cunning designs (perhaps the famous inventions of Archimedes), the fortress may not even have seen any action as the Romans took Siracusa. Although it was used for several more centuries, the castle was then left to decay and nowadays consists of flower-strewn ruins.
The fortress commands a wide view from the steep edge of the Hyblean hills to the island of Ortigia at the heart of Siracusa. It looks over the low-lying land surrounding the city, and out over the sea towards Augusta and the ancient site of Thapsos. Nowadays this stretch of coast is blighted by industry, and the giant tankers moored offshore are a surreal addition to the view over ruins, flowers and countryside.
Visiting the castle
The castle is a State monument; there’s an admission charge with the usual reductions/free entry for some categories of visitor. At the time of writing it’s open daily 9am until 7pm (or dusk if earlier); you can check the latest times on the council (comune) website, listed on the right of this page. There is a small custodian’s office where you buy tickets, and a lavatory, but otherwise this is a remarkably undeveloped site. An information board provided some background, and makeshift signs indicated a suggested itinerary, but otherwise, when I visited, the few visitors were left free to wander, explore, clamber up stairways and explore tunnels. A bit more maintenance would render overgrown areas more accessible, but it would be a shame if it became too manicured or the health and safety officials moved in.
Conveniently, there is a pizzeria on the corner of the main road just outside the castle entrance, whiere visitors can obtain refreshments. Picnics are probably not permitted in the site, but I found a quiet corner of the ruins where I could discreetly eat my packed roll.
It is perhaps best to arrive at the Castello Eurialo not knowing what to expect. Given the monument’s age and low profile, I anticipated a few stubby ruins. Approaching from the ticket office, this is indeed what you see. Then a steep-sided walled moat opened at my feet, and the row of ruins I had viewed turned out to simply one layer of extensive defences. I was amazed and impressed at how much of the fortifications remained – other than temples, theatres and tombs, it is rare to find much evidence of Greek buildings, let alone military structures.
Most reconstructions of the fort’s use must remain speculative, but there is a lot of evidence left to build upon. The highest remaining walls are those of five towers, once surmounted by catapults. Other small buildings around the inner yard have been identified as officers’ quarters. The buildings and walls are constructed on a rocky ridge and the bare rock forms part of the structure and defences – with parts of the Greeks stronghold being dug right into the stone. It’s these underground areas which are the most remarkable to visit – and the most fun, if you are with children. Look out for signs indicating ‘Alle gallerie’.
There are several deep defensive ditches around the fortress, and visitors can still see the supports for a drawbridge. Galleries and tunnels lead to and along the moat, used for access, escape, for stores and for keeping horses (you can see tethering slots cut into the rock). Concealed entrances and cunningly-angled passages were intended for confusing and ambushing attackers. The most remarkable element is a tunnel running for 180 metres, which passes right under the main part of the castle and emerges on the hillside below.
The fort is located around five miles outside Siracusa, near a village called Belvedere. It is signposted, and lies just off the main road, Viale Epipoli, down a short lane. When driving out from Siracusa, you will actually pass through a gap in one of the town’s defensive walls from the Greek era; great blocks of stone built high with the modern road simply passing through.
Getting to Castello Eurialo is easiest with a car. However, it can also be reached by Siracusa’s urban buses, operated by AST. The numbers 25 and 26 (Monday-Saturday) and 11 (Sun and public holidays) stop on the road very close to the site. The buses depart from Siracusa’s bus terminal and head up Corso Gelone. Bus tickets can be bought in tabacchi shops in Siracusa; buy tickets for your return as well as your outward journey. Ask for the Castello Eurialo, and keep your eyes open in case the driver forgets. The journey takes around twenty minutes. The stop is on the main road, just uphill from the castle’s entrance lane (outside an abandoned youth hostel). Check the online timetables (on the AST or Comune websites) closely before you set off, as they are complicated, and there are only one or two buses an hour. Be aware that buses 25 and 26 are circular services, so depending on the timetable, you may need to wait for a bus on the same side of the road where you alighted.
I spent an hour waiting for a bus when I visited and frankly, if I were to visit again, I think I would book a taxi, at least for the return journey into Siracusa. The castle, in any case, is a really great site to visit and worth the hassle of getting there.
Useful external links
Our selection of the best (and the best value) Siracusa hotels and B&Bs, with reviews and online booking.