Founded in the middle of the 8th century BC by the Greeks, the city rapidly grew in strength and prosperity so that by the 5th century BC it could rival Athens. Finished in 397 BC, the city walls were an impressive 27 kilometres long but the centre of the city was always the island of Ortigia. Today the centre of the island is the Piazza del Duomo and, standing in the square, the eye is immediately drawn to the facade of the cathedral. Dating from the first half of the 18th century it is indeed a beautiful example of Sicilian Baroque. However, there is so much more to this building than this magnificent piece of architecture and the first clue is visible if you walk along the side street to the left and look at the wall. Embedded in the wall you will see massive Greek Doric columns for this building was originally the temple of Athena and dates from the 5th century BC. The temple was converted into a cathedral in the 7th century with the battered Doric columns of the original temple being incorporated in the walls. The building was converted into a mosque in the 9th century and was then converted back when the Norman king, Roger I of Sicily, retook the city in 1085. The roof of the nave is of Norman origin.
When you enter the cathedral you are entering a four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Trying to analyse who built what and when is not easy. However, if you remember that inside the pillars of a Greek temple were a series of walls and that the two main walls ran parallel to the long axis then it becomes clearer. These walls remain, dividing the nave from the aisles, and have now had arches cut into them to allow light to enter. If you look carefully you will also see where the walls were extended upwards by the Normans in the 11th century. But the most amazing thing for me is that walking here you are walking in the footsteps of Archimedes, for it was he who commanded the defence of the city in 211 BC and would undoubtedly have visited the temple. Now that is really bringing history to life.