Syracuse—A Stopover on Paul’s Voyage
ABOUT the year 59 C.E., a ship sailed from the Mediterranean island of Malta bound for Italy. The vessel bore the figurehead “Sons of Zeus,” the deities regarded as the protectors of mariners. The Bible writer Luke relates that the ship put “into port at Syracuse” on the southeastern coast of Sicily and “remained three days.” (Acts 28:11, 12) On board with Luke were Aristarchus and the apostle Paul, who was being taken to Rome for trial.—Acts 27:2.
We do not know if Paul was allowed to disembark at Syracuse. If he or his traveling companions did, what might they have seen?
In Greek and Roman times, Syracuse rivaled Athens and Rome. According to tradition, it was founded by the Corinthians in 734 B.C.E. Syracuse had moments of glory and was the birthplace of well-known figures of ancient times, such as the playwright Epicharmus and the mathematician Archimedes. In 212 B.C.E., the Romans conquered Syracuse.
A visit to the modern city may give you some idea of the Syracuse of Paul’s day. The city was divided into two parts—one on the small island of Ortygia, where Paul’s ship probably landed, and the other on the mainland.
Today, you can find on the island the remains of the oldest Doric-style temple in Sicily—the temple of Apollo, dating to the sixth century B.C.E. There are also columns of a temple dedicated to Athena, dating to the fifth century B.C.E., but it was incorporated into the cathedral.
The modern city center is found on the mainland, where you can visit the Neapolis archaeological park. Close by its entrance stands the Greek theater. It represents one of the grandest surviving expressions of Greek theater architecture. Facing the sea, it offered a spectacular setting for the performances. In the southernmost part of the park is the third-century C.E. Roman amphitheater. It is elliptical in shape, 460 feet [140 m] long and 390 feet [119 m] wide, and is the third largest in Italy.
If you have the opportunity to visit Syracuse, you can sit on a seafront bench at Ortygia, open your Bible to Acts 28:12, and imagine the apostle Paul aboard the ship as it glided into port here.
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Ruins of a Greek theater in Syracuse