settlers once from Corinth 's ithsmus built
two harbours their great battlements.
has forever depended upon the sea, railying herself around the island
of Ortygia, overlooking a wonderful bay on the east coast; its name
is synonymous with an ancient Greek past, a series of valiant tyrants,
the rivalry between Athens and Carthage; a past which has left a
number of vestiges for the modern day visitor to see and enjoy.
Alongside this dramatic historical background, there exists another
less obvious past that can be explored among the streets of the
island, where time seems to stand still somewhere between the medieval
and Baroque eras. Just behind Ortygia stretches a flat area called
Akradina – yet another name inherited from Antiquity.
district of Neapolis, literally meaning the ‘new town’,
is one of the most evocative quarters claiming the theatre, the
Ear of Dionysius and the Latomia del Paradiso within its boundaries.
On the eastern side lies Tyche, so-called because there was a temple
there dedicated to the goddess of fortune (from the Greek Tyche
– fortune or luck). Dominating the remainder of the city is
the part called Epipolae, guarded and defended by the Castle of
Euryalus, strategically built in the most advantageous position.
was colonized sometime in the 8C BC by Greeks from Corinth, who
settled on the island of Ortygia. Soon this power base was seized
by a succession of mighty tyrants. Under their rule the city enjoyed
success and great splendour (5-4C BC); its population stabilised
at the 300,000 mark, and established its supremacy over the rest
of Sicily. Between 416 BC and 413 BC, there developed a furious
conflict between Syracuse and Athens. The Athenian warriors were
captained by Alcibiades. So the people endured one of the most famous
and cruel periods of ancient history.
last the city fell to the Romans, and so to subsequent invaders
– Barbarians, Byzantines, Arabs and Normans.
of Syracuse – The tyrant in Antiquity corresponds
with the modem dictator, and several such figures populate the history
of Sicily during the Hellenistic period, particularly in Syracuse.
already tyrant of Gela, extended his dominion to Syracuse in 485
BC. His expansionist ambitions baited the hostile Carthaginians
to such an extent as to provoke open conflict. Gelon, in alliance
with Theron, the tyrant of Akragas (Agrigento), succeeded in defeating
them at the famous battle of Himera in 480 BC. He was succeeded
by his brother Hieron I (478-67), and it was during his reign that
Cumae was assisted in averting the Etruscan threat (474 BC); from
this battle there exists a bronze helmet, found at Olympia and now
displayed in the British Museum, London.
a brief period of democracy, punctuated by battles against Athens,
the famous Dionysius the Elder acceded to the throne (405-367 BC).
This shrewd strategist underpinned his government with popular consensus,
which he secured with gifts and favours, and by his reputation as
the defender against the Punic threat, which he did not, however,
succeed in eliminating during his tyrannical rule.
by sea – Boat trips around the Porto Grande and Ortygia
by motor-launch aree provided by Selene from March to November (and
out of season, weather permitting). Excursions along the coast offer
unusual prospects of the town. Outings last on average 30min but
can be extended on request;
they can also include lunch or dinner by prior arrangement. Those
timed around sunset and nightfall are especially enjoyable for then
the monuments may be seen dramatically floodlit.
should be emphasized that this is also the only means of seeing
Castello Maniace, since it is now a military bamracks and out of
bounds; otherwise, the only view from dry land may be snatched from
the eastern shore (see ORTYGIA).
than a hotel – The Domus Mariae is a small, elegant
hotel situated in the heart of Ortigia (modem Ortygia), administered
and its provincia offers a series of alternatives to the traditional
hotel, inciuding a number of campsites and agriturism. Details of
facilities and addresses are available from the Syracuse Azienda
Provinciale per l'incremento del Turismo.
dinner, we recommend staying in Ortigia, where the narrow streets
conceal various typical and atmospheric restaurants.
became an independent and mighty force in its own right. On a more
personal level, Dionysius I appears to have been haunted with suspicions,
ever fearful that someone might be plotting against him. His fears
developed into manias of persecution and culminated in his decision
to retreat with his court to the castle of Ortygia, which he made
into an impregnable private fortress. The story of his life is dotted
with strange happenings from which were hatched numerous malicious
rumours, half fiction and half fact. Such writers as Valerius Maximus,
Cicero and Plutarch describe how the tyrant was so distrustful of
the barbers that he entrusted the task of shaving to his own daughters
but fearing that even they might be tempted to murder him, he insisted
that sharpened walnut shells be used rather than razors or scissors;
he had a small ditch dug around his marital bed with a small bridge
that he could remove when he retired for the night and, to show
that the life of a ruler was fraught with danger, he had a sharp
sword suspended from a single horsehair above the head of an envious
member of his court called Damocles (hence the expression “the
sword of Damocles” to allude to a looming threat). His greed,
it is said, led him to take possession of the golden mantle from
the statue of Zeus, replacing it with a woollen one.
his death, he was succeeded to the throne by his young son Dionysius
II, the Younger, who lacked the political astuteness of his father:
he was briefly toppled by his uncle Dion in 357 BC who in turn was
assassinated four years later (Dion’s life is celebrated in
a poem by William Wordsworth). Dionysius II was expelled a second
time following a desperate plea from the Syracusans to the mother-city
Corinth; in 344 BC Timoleon, an effective general, was sent to the
rescue, as a wise and moderate statesman he restored peace to Sicily.
There followed Agathocles, who in order to secure power harboured
no qualms in murdering the aristocracy; his attempts to rout the
Carthaginians from Sicily were also unsuccessful (culminating in
his defeat at Himera in 310 BC).
last tyrant to govern Syracuse was Hieron II (269-216), a mild and
just ruler celebrated by Theocritus (Idyll xvi), who oversaw the
last golden age of Syracuse and signed up to an alliance with Rome
against the Carthaginians in the First Punic War. In 212 BC, despite
the clever devices designed by Archimedes, the town fell to Roman
rule and became the capital of the Roman Province of Sicily.
– There exists no reliable source of information for details
on the life of Archimedes, the famous mathematician, born at Syracuse
in 287 BC. It is said that he was so absent-minded and absorbed
by his research that he even forgot to eat and drink; his servants
were forced to drag him by force to the public baths and, even there,
he continued to draw geometric shapes in the ash. It was while he
was soaking in his bath that he came upon the principle which was
to ensure his fame endured there-after: a body immersed in a liquid
receives a force equal and opposite to the weight of the volume
of the liquid that has been displaced. Thrilled with his discovery,
he is supposed to have stood up suddenly and rushed out of the house
shouting “Eureka” (I’ve got it). Besides his contributions
to the study of arithmetic, geometry, physics, astronomy and engineering,
Archimedes is credited with several significant mechanical inventions,
notably the Archimedes’ Screw – a cylinder containing
a spiral screw for moving liquid uphill, like a pump (see Saline
dello STAGNONE); the cog-wheel; celestial spheres; burning glasses
– a combination of senses and mirrors with which he succeeded
in setting fire to the Roman fleet. According to tradition, Archimedes
was so deeply involved in his calculations when the Romans succeeded
in penetrating the city, that he died more or less oblivious of
what was happening from a sword wound inflicted by a Roman soldier.
muses – Syracuse played its own part in developing
its artistic prowess in Antiquity. Several of its rulers became
so taken with the power of patronage and the benefits of promoting
the arts that before long established foreign poets and writers
were being welcomed to their court. Some, like Dionysius the Elder,
tried to establish themselves as writers but without any great success.
The first to take a truly effective interest was Hiemon who proclaimed
himself protector of poets and invited to his court such illustrious
figures as Bacchylides, Xenophon and Simonides, and highly competitive
rivals Pindar and Aeschylus, one of the most eminent early Greek
dramatists and author of The Persians (470 BC) and The Women of
Etna (now lost); both plays are known to have been performed in
the Greek theatre in Neapolis.
contrast, Plato was to endure difficult relations with Syracuse,
most particularly with its rulers, Dionysius the Elder welcomed
him reluctantly only to expel him shortly afterwards; after his
demise, the philosopher returned (under the protection of the regent
Dion), to be expelled a second time by Dionysius II after failing
to persuade the tyrant to accept the principles of his Utopian state
(outlined later in his Dialogues in the section entitled Republic).
the protagonist of a kind of bucolic poetry at which Virgil was
later to excel, was probably a native of Syracuse, in more recent
praetenta sinu lacet insula contra
undosum; nomen dixere priores
Ortygiam, Alpheum fama est huc Elidis amnem
egisse vias subter mare, qui nunc
Arethusa, tuo Siculis con funditur undis’
in front of a Sicanian bay lies an island, over against
wave-beaten Plemyrium; men of old called it Ortygia. Hither,
so runs the tale, Alpheus, river of Elis,forced
a secret course beneath the sea, and now at thy fountain,
Arethusa, mingles with the Sicilian waves.'
Virgil, The Aeneid, Book III (line 692-695)
are so many wonderful buildings and interesting outlooks as to make
it impossible to set an itinerary including all that might be worth
seeing. The descriptions given below therefore mention only the
most interesting streets, leaving a large section of the historical
city without commentary for visitors to explore at will according
to inclination. A word of advice: remember to raise your gaze as
often as possible so as not to miss any understated secret lurking
in the narrow streets among their splendid buildings.
look at the coast...
island, the most ancient area of settlement, is linked to the mainland
by the Ponte Nuovo, a natural extension of one of the main thoroughfares
of Syracuse, Corso Umberto I. A powerful awareness of the sea and
all things associated with it pervades this area: the harbour, filled
with colourful boats, moored or going about their business, stretches
both to the right and to the left.
the eye roams the sea front, its attention is caught by the lovely
neo-Gothic palazzo on the corner: this red-plastered house with
two-light windows was once the home of the poet and writer Antonio
Cardile (born in Messina 1883, died in Syracuse 1951), its distinctive
appearance may perhaps arouse the curiosity of visitors to these
parts, inspiring him to take a walk around the perimeter of the
island, and explore the intriguing quality of the place, absorbing
its atmosphere, quieter and more peaceful than elsewhere, and contemplating
the attenuated sounds that signal life within its walls. To the
right lies the sea; to the left, the old Spanish walls stand as
a reminder of times when (until 1800) the old town was fortified.
bold linearity of the Porta Marina is interrupted by a decorative
Catalan aedicule framing the entrance to Passeggio Adorno, a walkway
created along the top of the walls in the 19C. Finally, a glance
will also take in the great Porto Grande, the scene of several major
Aretusa – The Fountain of Arethusa played a significant
part in persuading the first group of colonists to settle here in
Antiquity. Legend relates how Arethusa, one of Dianas nymphs, tormented
by the demonstrations of love from a hunter named Alpheus, turned
to the goddess for help. Diana intervened by turning Arethusa into
a stream so that she might escape underground and re-emerge
on the island of Ortygia as a beautifully clear fresh-water spring
or fountain. Alpheus meanwhile
was not to be defeated: he too changed himself into an underground
river, crossed the Ionian Sea and came up in Ortygia having mingled
his waters with those of Arethusa. Today, the fountain sustains
palm trees and clumps of papyrus, ducks and drakes.
fronts of the houses painted in pastel shades make for an attractive
picture, a harmonious three-dimensional visual entity that extends
along the streets of the island. Looming on the horizon on the far
side, sits the solid profile of the Castello Maniace (closed to
the public), a sandstone fortress built by Frederick II of Swabia
in the first half of the 13C, its name honours the Byzantine general,
George Maniakes who, in 1038, tried to rescue Ortygia from the Arabs,
and then fortified the island especially the area where Frederick
II would later rebuild the castle. The massive square structure
is a typical example of Swabian building: the architectural features
are both functional and cosmetic suggesting that the castle was
conceived to function as a defensive stronghold and also as a bold
visual reminder of Swabian authority.
the tip of the island to reach the eastern shore, from where, a
series of wonderful views extend over the castle (the best view,
however, is from the sea); pass before the Church of Santo Spirito,
with its fine three-tiered white façade unified by volutes
and decorative pilasters. Leave Forte Vigliena behind and make for
Belvedere San Giacomo, once a defensive bastion, which offers a
magnificent view back across to Syracuse.
and a stroll through the narrow streets
Duomo – The attractively presented irregular square
precedes the cathedral, curving gently at one end to accommodate
its majestic front elevation. The open space becomes especially
effective when the cathedral façade is dramaticaily caught
by the setting sun or floodlit after nightfall. The other fine Baroque
buildings enclosing the square include the striking Palazzo Beneventano
del Bosco which conceals a lovely internal courtyard, and opposite,
Palazzo del Senato whose inner courtyard displays an 18C senator’s
carriage: at the far end stands the Church
of Santa Lucia.
– The area now occupied by the cathedral has been
a place of worship since early Antiquity. A temple erected in the
6C BC was replaced by a temple dedicated to Athena, honouring the
goddess with some of the profits from the fateful and decisive defeat
of the Carthaginians at Himera (480 BC), in the 7C AD, the temple
was incorporated into a Christian church: walls were raised between
the columns of the peristyle and a double arcade of eight arches
was inserted in the cella
to provide two lateral aisles. Still today, the majestic Doric columns
may be seen among the left side of the church, both inside and outside
the building. Possibly converted into a mosque during the Arab domination,
it was restored for Christian use by the Normans. The 1693 earthquake
caused the front façade to collapse, thereby causing it to
be rebuilt in the Baroque style (18C) by the
Palermo architect Andrea Palma. He used the column as the basic
unit module for his design.
entrance is preceded by an atrium screening a fine doorway flanked
by a pair of twisted columns, the spirals of which are decorated
with vines and grapes (a symbol of the Passion).
the right side of the south aisle incorporates the columns of the
temple; today these frame the entrance into the lateral chapels.
The first bay on the right contains a lovely font made from a Greek
marble krater, supported by seven small 13C wrought-iron lions.
The next chapel, dedicated to St Lucy, is furnished with an 1BC
silver altar-front. The silver figure of the saint nestling in the
niche is by Pietro Rizzo (1599).
the cathedral is furnished with several statues by the various Gaginis:
the Virgin is by Domenico, St. Lucy is by Antonello (north aisle);
the Madonna della Neve in the north apse is by Antonello.
Landolina, north of the piazza, accommodates the powerfully fronted
Chiesa dei Gesuiti.
Civica d'Arte Contemporanea – The former Convento
e Chiesa di Montevergini (entrance in Via delle Vergini) presently
houses the municipal collection of contemporary art. This consists
mainly of paintings by Italian and foreign artists (Sergio Fermariello,
Marco Gingolani, Aldo Damioli, Enrico De Paris).
Regionale di Palazzo Bellomo – Via Capodieci. Palazzo
Bellomo, initiated under Swabian Rule (13C), was extended and raised
in the 15C. Such is the reason for the two markedly different styles:
at ground level, the combination of the pointed archway and narrow
arrow-slit openings give it the appearance of a fortress; the first
floor is graced with elegant three-light windows separated with
slender columns. The palazzo was built as a private residence before
being acquired by the nuns from the adjoining convent of St. Benedict
in the 18C. Today it is all part of the same rnuseum. The Church
of San Benedetto, standing alongside, contains a fine coffered ceiling.
Inside, the palazzo shelters a lovely internal porticoed courtyard
with a staircase leading to the first floor. The top part of the
parapet is ornamented with rosettes and trilobate tracery. At the
top of the first flight of stairs, note the fine Flamboyant aedicule
above the doorway.
– The museum is dedicated in the main to Sicilian art. Byzantine
influences clearly pervade a series of paintings (Room IV) by Venetian
artists working in Crete (at a time when it formed part of the Venetian
Empire). These show The Creation (six panels), Original Sin and
Earthly Paradise. The upper floor is largely devoted to painting:
perhaps the most striking, despite being damaged, is the Annunciation
by Antonello da Messina. As with other paintings by the same artist,
there is an inherent Flemish quality to this picture especially
in its minute attention to detail (the saint’s mantle, crowded
landscape through the window); the overall formality, spacious composition
and precise definition of perspective is more typically Italian.
Entombment of St. Lucy by Caravaggio might even be modelled on the
saint’s actual tomb
in the catacombs which bear her name nearby in Syracuse. The characteristically
dramatic and provocative style of this artists work is here evident
in the arrangement of the crowd: the main figures jostling around
the saint, who lies dead upon the ground, are the gravediggers,
including one in the foreground turning his back to the onlooker.
Atmosphere is imparted by the strong light which in turn casts disturbing
museum also displays an eclectic collection of objects: furnishings,
holy vestrnents, nativity figures, furniture and ceramics.
short walk from here, tucked away in Via San Martino, stands a church
dedicated to St. Martin with a Gatalan Gothic doorway. The original
church was founded in the 6C.
Mergulese-Montalto – Via Mergulensi. This superb
palazzo, although rather dilapidated, dates from the 14C. The main
elevation rises through two storeys separated by an indented string-course.
The upper section is ornarnented with wonderful highly elaborate
wlndows, set into richly carved arched settings subdivided by delicately
slender twisted columns. The ground floor is graced with a pointed
arched entrance surmounted by a decorative aedicule.
the palazzo lies Piazza Archimede. This square was inserted more
recently. Presiding over the central space, overlooked by fine buildings,
is the 19C Fountain of Artemis. Via della Maestranza leads off the
della Maestranza – Not only is Via della Maestranza
one of Ortygia’s main thoroughfares, it is one of the oldest.
It threads its way between a succession of aristocratic residences,
predominantly Baroque in style. Among the most interesting, look
out for: Palazzo Interland Pizzuti (no. 10) and, a little further
on, Palazzo Impellizzeri (no. 17) with its sinuously linear arrangement
of curved windows and balconies. Palazzo Bonanno (no. 33). which
now accommodates the headquarters of the Tourist Office, is an austere
medieval building sheltering a lovely inner courtyard and a loggia
on the first floor. At no. 72 stands the imposing Palazzo Romeo
Bufardeci with its exuberant frontage and Rococo balconies. The
street opens out into a small square before the Church of San Francesco
allIimmacolata flanked by a 19C bell-tower. The light-coloured,
curved and elegant front elevation is gracefully articulated with
columns and pilasters. At one time the church used to host a ritual
rooted in Antiquity: during the night of the 28 November the Svelata
(literally, the unveiling) took place, during which an image of
the Madonna was unveiled. This event was timed to occur in the early
hours of the morning before dawn (so that people could go off to
work, in an epoch when the working day started very early) after
a long vigil accompanied by local bands.
at the end of the street may be discerned the curved façade
of Palazzo Rizza (no. 110). Palazzo lmpellizzeri (no. 99) dominates
the street rising to its full height through a sumptuous and highly
original frieze ornamented with human faces and grotesque masks,
surmounted with organic decorations.
this last section of the street extends the Quartiere della Giudecca,
a quarter that retains its medieval street plan, threaded by narrow
perpendicular streets. During the 16C a considerable community of
Jews settled and thrived there until it was expelled.
– Renamed Via Vittorio Veneto, this street was once the main
thoroughfare of Ortygia. This was the route followed by kings as
they entered the town, by official parades and royal processions.
It is logical therefore that it should be lined with fine palazzi.
Palazzo Bianco (no. 41) is graced with a niche in which stands a
statue of St. Anthony on the outside and a lovely internal courtyard
and staircase within. Casa Mezia (no. 47) has a doorway surmounted
by a projecting griffin. Beyond the Church of San Filippo Neri there
follows Palazzo Interlandi and Palazzo Monforte, badly damaged alas.
This last palazzo marks the corner with Via Mirabella, which is
also contained by yet more fine buildings. Note, right opposite
Palazzo Monforte, the elegant Palazzo Bongiovanni: the doorway is
surmounted by a mask, and, above, a lion holding a scroll bearing
the date 1772 which in turn acts as a central support for a balcony:
its central window is omnamented with volutes.
along Via Mirabella. A small diversion to the right allows for a
detour past the neo-Gothic Palazzo Gargallo (Archivio Distrettuale
Notarile records office). Palazzo Gargallo graces Piazzetta del
Carmine (no. 34), built in the same style. Via Mirabella also heralds
the beginning of the Arab quarter, characterized by extremely narrow
streets known as ronchi. One of these streets conceals the paleo-Christian
Church of San Pietro distinguished by its fine doorway, which is
now used for concerts and presentations.
little further along Via Mirabella stands the Chiesa di San Tommaso
which was founded in Norman times (12C). Turn back along the Mastrarua:
no. 111 has a lovely doorway decorated with monstrous creatures.
No. 136, on the other hand, is the birthplace of the writer Elio
Vittorini (born 23 July 1908).
di Apollo – Piazza Pancali. The Temple of Apollo,
built in the 6C BC, is the oldest peripteral Doric temple (that
is, enclosed by columns) in Sicily. According to one inscription
it was dedicated to Apollo; according to Cicero it was dedicated
to Artemis – before being transformed into a Byzantine church,
then a mosque, and back again into a church by the Normans. The
remains of the peristyle columns and part of the wall of the sacred
precinct are still in evidence.
Matteotti, described as the drawing-room of Ortigia, leads off the
piazza, flanked on either side with elegant shops.
ARCHEOLOGICO DELLA NEAPOLIS
are two different entrances: one is in Via Rizzo and the other in
Viale Paradiso. To follow the itinerary prescribed below, begin
from the entrance in Via Rizzo.
Greco – This is one of the most impressive theatres
to survive from Antiquity. The cavea was completely cut out from
the bedrock, taking advantage of the natural slope of Colle Temenite.
The date of construction has been established as the 5C BC, largely
on the basis of factual reports documenting the first performance
of Aeschylus’ play The Persians. It is also known who the
builder was, namely a certain Damocopus, known as Myrilla, because
he used miroi (unguents) at the official opening of the theatre.
The theatre was modified by Hieron II in the 3C BC, when it was
divided into fine wedge-shaped sections, and a passageway was inserted
around the cavea about half way up. The wall in front of each section
is inscribed with the name of a famous person or deity. Today, certain
letters may still be distinguished including those spelling out
Olympian Zeus in the central section; to the right, facing the stage,
appear the letters naming Hieron II himself, his wife, queen Philistis,
and his daughter-in-law, queen Nereis. It was altered in Roman times
so as to host water sports (it is thought) and gladiatorial combats
before the amphitheatre (see below) was completed. Later it was
put to improper use. In fact, the Spaniards installed various water-driven
millstones in it: the furrows left by two mill-wheels in the central
part of the cavea may still be seen as can the drainage channel
bearing the water away. Behind the cavea is a large open area with,
in the centre the Grotta del Ninfeo (Nymphs Cave). The rectangular
tank set before it was filled with water drawn from the aqueduct
that was built by the Greeks to carry water over a distance of some
35km from the Rio Bottigliera, a tributaty of the River Anapo, near
Pantalica (see PANTALICA). Having fallen into disuse during the
Middle Ages, the aqueduct was restored in the 16C by the Marchese
di Sortinoto in order to power the water-mills erected in the theatre.
the left extends the Via dei Sepolcri (Street of Tombs). Pock-marking
the rock face on each side are a series of Byzantine tombs and votive
niches in which offerings used to be placed.
the theatre is still used during the summer for performances of
Classical Greek and Latin plays (in June of every even year).
di Dionisio – The haunting cave known as the Ear
of Dionysius is situated in one of the most striking former limestone
quarries (Latomie) in Syracuse: the one that is aptly named Latomia
del Paradiso, now a delightful garden shaded with orange-trees,
palm trees and magnolias. As its name suggests, the cave resembles
an auricle (cavity inside the ear) both in the shape of the entrance
and the winding internal space beyond. It was the artist Caravaggio
who gave the cave its name
during his visit to Sicily in the early 1600s on hearing the intriguing
explanation of how Dionysius the Elder was able to hear his enemies
thanks to the cave’s extraordinary echo, without seeing them.
smoothness of the walls, so tall and even, together with the maze-like
intererior permanently swathed in shadow, make it difficult to imagine
that this was once a quarry. In fact, its peculiar shape is explained
by the way the limestone was quarried. A small crack was made in
the surface at the top, this was then broadened into a narrow channel
that gradually was excavated downwards (possibly with the aid of
water) until the good stone was reached. The cave has amazing acoustics
which the occasional guide or visitor will put to the test by suddenly
bursting into song. Many stories concerning the cave once quarrying
ceased are circulated by guides and guidebooks: the most likely
hypothesis is that it was used as a prison (like all the other latomie);
the rnost imaginative tells of how it came to be used as a hearing
trumpet by Dionysius; others sustain that it was used by choirs
performing at the nearby theatre.
neighbouring Grotta del Cordari earned its name from its use until
fairly recently by ropemakers for twisting long stretches of sisal
and twine, as it provided them with a pleasantly cool area in which
to work. Although only visible from the outside (for safety reasons),
it clearly shows how it was quarried.
di Ierone II – This enormous altar, some 200m long
and partly carved out of the rock, was commissioned by the tyrant
Hieron II in the 3C BC for public sacrifices. Originally, there
may have been a large rectangular area stretched out before it.
Probably with a portico and a central pool.
Romano – The Roman amphitheatre was built during
the Imperial era. Its situation makes best use of the naturai lie
of the land and required only half of the cavea to be cut out of
the bedrock. This is the best preserved section. The other half
of the circle was built using large blocks of stone which have been
pillaged through the successive centuries. Two entrances may be
discerned: one on the north and one on the south side. The rectangular
pit in the centre of the arena is connected to the southern entrance
by a ditch. This “technical” area was reserved for the
stage machinery apparatus that provided performances with special
the entrance to the amphitheatre stands the pre-Romanesque Church
of San Nicolò dei Cordari (11C). To its right, sits a water
tank built by the Romans for collecting water that was used to flood
the amphitheatre for performances of naumachiae (sea battles re-enactments)
and for cleaning the arena after the gory fights pitched by gladiators
against wild animals.
di Archlmede – Visible from the outside only from
the corner of Via Romagnoli and Via Teracati. At the eastern end
of Latomia Intagliatella is the Grotticella Necropoglis. Among the
many cavities hollowed out of the rock, one is ornamented with Doric
columns (badly damaged), pediment and tympanum. This so-called Tomb
of Archimedes actually conceals a Roman columbarium (a chamber lined
with niches for funerary urns).
latomie, from the Greek litos – a stone and temnos –
a cut, are the ancient quarries that supplied blocks of limestone
for the construction of public buildings and grand houses. Quarrying
was initiated after a suitable site was selected on the grounds
that it might yield regular, good-quality blocks of stone. Crevices
were made in the bedrock into which wooden wedges were inserted:
these were then dampened to make them expand, causing the rock to
split. In the search for layers of compacted rock, the quarriers
would excavate funnel-like tunnels that gradually broadened out
the deeper they were dug. Pillars of rock would be left to prop
up the ceilings of these hollows. It has been calculated that in
such a way, enormous quantities of material could be efficiently
quarried. Once the quarry was exhausted, the cavities would be used
as prisons, as described by Cicero in his Speeches against Verres
(or Verrine Orations): it is highly probable that the 7000 Athenian
prisoners captured in 413 BC were held in the latomie; all of these
perished after eight months of incarceration there, save for the
few who were lucky enough to be sold as slaves or those who, according
to legend, were able to recite verses by Euripides from memory.
The caves, it should be noted, would have been very different in
those days: they would have been wider, darker and more suited to
accommadating large numbers of prisoners; what we see today has
been severely affected by falls of rock dislodged, for the most
part, by earth tremors. In subsequent eras, the quarries have hosted
lengthy funeral rites, have served as refuges and been used as garden
allotments. Only recently was it thought appropriate to reassess
their historical importance and restore them.
map situating all the latomie (twelve have been identified but some
are buried below buildings) reveals how they lie in a kind of arc
that corresponds to the limestone terrace formation skirting more
or less the edge of the two ancient quarters of Neapolis and Tyche.
most compelling is the Latomia del Paradiso (see above), located
in the Archaealogical Park: this in fact consists of a series of
caves, around which a lovely garden has been landscaped. An overview
(from beside the Greek theatre) provides a better understanding
of how it was engineered, for where the ceiling has collapsed as
a result of earth tremors, it is possible to see a number of the
stone supports or pit props still in situ.
along the arc, from west to east, they appear in the following order:
Latomia Intagliatella, Latomia di Santa Venera, Latomia del Casale
and Latomia dei Cappuccini.
last one is perhaps the most majestic and spectacular of them all,
on account of its steep limestone walls.
ARCHEOLOGICO REGIONALE PAOLO ORSI
Paolo Orsi Museum nestles in the garden of Villa Landolina, virtualIy
hidden from view. Its importance lies in the fact that it provides
a fundamental benchmark in the understanding of Sicily’s prehistory
right up to the period of the colonies of Syracuse. The museum presents
the inception and development of the various cultural phases in
chronological order. The three main sections, all extremely well
laid out, are provided with a centrally-located introductory area,
below which, in the basement, is an auditorium where audio-visual
presentations are given (see programme schedule at the entrance).
A: Prehistory and Proto-history – Displays open with a collection
of fossils and minerals, skeletons and prehistoric animal remains
along with an exhaustive supply of information about the fauna of
the island. There follows various human artefacts representing the
Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras, followed by specimens dating from
successive phases. The majority of artefacts comprise fragments
of pottery, including a large red-burnished vase from Pantalica
– a simple yet of a
highly sophisticated tall-footed shape. Finally, a number of hoards
are shown alongside groups of bronze objects (spear-heads, belts
and buckles) recovered from containers that had been concealed or
hidden (underground or in a cavity).
B: Greek colonisation – These objects mark and illustrate
the foundation and development of Greek colonies in eastern Sicily.
The three Ionic colonies included: Naxos, Katane and Leontinoi from
where the beautiful headless marble kouros (Archaic male figure)
came. The two Doric colonies rneanwhile were: Megara Hyblaea and
Syracuse, both of which are extremely well-represented. The singular
limestone figure of the Mother-goddess nursing twins (6C BC) was
recovered from the necropolis at Megara Hyblaea. Seated and headless,
the figure powerfully embodies maternity, extending her arms to
embrace and contain the two babies which seem to melt into her,
as if they were one.
Syracuse collection is vast and includes two famous exhibits which
are often reproduced: a polychrome shallow-relief clay panel with
a gorgon from the Temenos of the Athenaion, and the bronze statuette
of a horse, the symbol of the museum, found in the necropolis at
Fusco. At the entrance to this section devoted to Syracuse, is temporarily
displayed the splendid headless statue of Venus Anadyomene or Landolina
Venus after the man who discovered her. This Roman copy of an original
by Praxitebes is one of many made in Antiquity (others include the
Medici Venus, the Capitoline Venus) graced with soft sinuous lines.
The poise with which she holds the drapery is somehow underlined
by the very delicate way in which the light fabric falls into folds
that echo the perfect shape of a shell.
C: Sub-colonies and Hellenized centres – The first part, devoted
to the sub-colonies of Syracuse, contains various fine anthropomorphous
figures, including a clay acroterion representing a rider on horseback.
The second part deals with the history of minor centres. Note the
tall clay sculpted enthroned figure of Demeter or Kore dating from
the half of the 6C BC. The third and last part of this section is
devoted to Agrigento and Gela. The striking painted Gorgon’s
mask, part of a decorative temple frieze, comes from Gela as does
the fine Attic red-figure pelike (two-handled vase) by Polygnotos.
Three wooden Archaic statuettes are rare examples of votive art:
although these were probably extremely widespread, in most cases
the wood will have perished and disintegrated with time.
papyrus is a plant which grows rigorously in Egypt. It has also
been known to man here in Syracuse, along the banks of the River
Ciane (see Excursions). Since Antiquity, it consists of a perennial
marsh plant which grows in various forms and sizes, and produces
a profusion of tall stems ending with ruffs of bracts (inflorescence).
In Ancient Egypt, it was used in all kinds of different ways that
exploited its amazing versatility: stems were bundled together to
build light-weight boats; they were used for making ropes, baskets
and trays, for weaving fabric for clothes and wigs, even for making
shoes (such as sandals). The ruff at the top was used to make fans
and parasols for civil or religious ceremonies and funeral rites.
It has even been suggested that the most tender spongy part of the
stalk might have been eaten. The most famous product made from papyrus
is paper; although this involves a fairly complex process. The variable
factors are the age of the plant, the ablutions-applied to strengthen
the thin strips sliced from the stalk length-ways, and the stabilising
treatment following the bleaching process. The strips are laid in
two perpendicular layers one on top of the other, pressed and dried.
The resulting sheet has a flat surface (with horizontal fibres)
suitable for writing, backed and supported by the vertical fibres.
It is interesting to note that in many languages the word for paper
actually comes from the word "papyrus" (French papier,
German papier, Spanish papelm, English paper, Welsh papur and so
IN "TYCHE" AND "AKRADINA"
del Papiro – 66 Viale Teocrito. The rediscovery of
papyrus in Syracuse can be attributed to Saverio Landolina who,
in the 18C, reassessed the value of the plant which was being used
by the local population at that time for decorative purposes. He
also succeeded in reinventing the means of rnaking papyr (with several
examples displayed in the museum).
material displayed in the museum covers all the possible applications
of papyrus. This includes documents from the time of the pharaohs
(fragments of the Book of the Dead), objects made of rope fans all
made from the same variety of plant, feather-weight boats with slightly
raised prows and sterns adept for navigating through shallow waters
and marshy areas, and still very much in use by hunters and fisherrnen
in Africa. The last section is dedicated to paper: its actual production
(reconstruction of a work-bench) as well as the pigments and instruments
used by scribes.
di San Giovanni – The catacombs are situated in the
Akradina area which, until Roman times, was reserved for the cult
of the dead. Unlike the Roman catacombs elsewhere in mainland Italy
that are excavated from fragile tufa which restricted their size
(less they collapse), these ones in Syracuse are cut from a layer
of hard limestone and therefore could be extended into considerably
larger underground chambers.
complex system of catacombs was developed around the tomb of St.
Marcian, one of the early Christian martyrs (4C-5C). The extensive
network of rectilinear tunnels depend upon a central axis that probably
followed the line of an abandoned Greek aqueduct. At right angles
to this principal artery lead a series of minor vein-like passageways.
The chambers vary in size according to whether it accommodated a
single person or a number (maximum 20 people). Interspersed among
these large cavities, are a number of smaller and shallower hollows
for children (at a time when the infant mortality rate was high).
At intervals, there appear round or square areas used by the Christians
for interring martyrs and saints. The most significant of these
is the Rotonda di Adelfia in which a wonderful sarcophagus was found
intact, carved with biblical scenes (awaiting to be displayed, possibly
on the second floor of the archeological museum). Note also, beside
the main gallery, the Graeco-Roman conical cisterns that have later
been used as burial chambers.
di San Marciano – The Crypt of St. Marcian, situated
near the necropolis, marks the place where the martyr is alleged
to have met his death. The Greek-cross chamber lies some 5m below
ground level. The far wall accommodates three semicircular apses:
the right one is the altar where St. Paul is supposed to have preached
on his return from Malta, in AD 60 (Acts of the Apostles, Ch 28
v12); against the right wall of the central apse sits the tomb that
is popularly believed to be that of the martyr. The peep-hole inserted
on one side was to enable the pilgrims to see the body of the saint
and to allow a cloth to be passed over it that might then be considered
as a special relic-cum-keepsake. The four corners below the central
vault are marked with pilasters and Byzantine capitals bearing representations
of the Evangelists.
di San Giovanni Evangelista – The church stands over
the crypt of St. Marcian. This picturesque ruin, open to the sky,
is one of the most atmospheric spots in all Syracuse especially
at sunset, and even more intensely on saint’s days and holidays
when Mass is celebrated. The basilica was founded in association
with the martyr’s crypt, for it was usual to mark a sacred
burial place with a shrine of some kind. It was destroyed by the
Arabs, and restored by the Normans. The main damage was incurred
during an earthquake when the roof collapsed, never to be rebuilt.
The front portico has been reconstructed using 15C building materials.
The interior, now partly taken over by clumps of tree spurge (Euphorbia
dendroides), preserves its original Byzantine style.
in the 4th century, St. Lucy is the patron saint of Syracuse. Hence
the reason why so many local churches are dedicated to her, including
the Duomo. On 13 December (her dies natalis, when the saint’s
earthly life came to end and her spiritual life began) she is celebrated
with a procession headed by Her silver statue from the Duomo to
the place where she was entombed.
di Santa Lucia extra Mœnia – This basilica faces
onta its own piazza: a wide, rectanguiar area imbued with peace.
According to tradition, it was erected to mark the spot where the
saint was martyred in 303, as Caravaggio suggests in his painting
of the subject (now in Palazzo Bellomo). The original Byzantine
church has undergone a considerabbe number of changes over the years
to arrive at its present form in the 15C-16C. The oldest extant
parts are the front entrance, the three
semicircular apses and the two lower tiers of the bell-tower (12C).
The painted wooden ceiling is 17C. Below the church lie the Catacombs
of Santa Lucia (closed to the public) which by their very existence
might substantiate the truth as to whether the saint was indeed
martyred here. Still in the same square, the small octagonal building
by Giovanni Vermexio, a 17C architect, contains the tomb of the
saint. Her actual relics, however, were transported to Constantinople
in the 11C by the Byzantine general George Maniakea, and thence
to Venice following the fall of that city during the Fourth Crusade.
They are now preserved in the Duomo here.
della Madonna delle Lacrime – The rather cumbersome
mass of this singular modern conical structure in reinforced concrete
(80m in diameter and 74m high) dominates the skyline from a long
way off. The construction of such an imposing building was prompted
by a miraculous event that occurred in 1953 (when an unassuming
painting of the Madonna began to shed tears), since when the shrine
has attracted large numbers of pilgrims. The architects of this
project were the Frenchmen M. Andrault and P. Parat, and the Italian
structural engineer R. Morandi. Inside, a dizzy sensation of lofty
height is provided and accentuated with the use of vertical windows
extending upwards to the apex of the roof.
Romano – The so-called Roman Gymnasium, situated
on Via Elorina beyond the Foro Siracusano, formed with the Forum
a part of the market place of ancient Akradina. The description,
however, is erroneous, in fact it was part of a complex building
that comprised a quadroporticus, with a small theatre – rows
of seating are still visible in the cavea part – and a small
marble temple which served as a stage set.
Eurialo – 9km northwest along Via Epipoli, in the
Belvedere district. The road up to the fortress gives some idea
of the scale of the defensive reinforcements imposed on the city
by Dionysius the Elder. In addition to fortifying Ortygia, the able
strategist decided to build a wall around the entire settlement,
encompassing the districts of Tycho and Neapolis which, until then,
had stood outside the city limits and had therefore been easy prey
for attack. With this in mind, he
ordered the construction of the imposing Walls of Dionysius (mura
dionigiane – 27km) across the Epipolae high plateau enclosing
the north side of the town. The fortification comprised two parallel
walls built of rectangular limestone bocks, in-filled with rubble.
The enclosure reached 10m in height and 3m in width; posterns were
placed at regular intervals around the perimeter so as to allow
traffic to flow freely, and to provide constant surveillance in
case of any thought of attack by
the enemy. The gates of the castle, being vulnerable, were flanked
by defensive towers. One section of the wall is visible along the
road up to Belvedere (on the left).
top of the ridge provided a strategic position for the castle. Its
name Euryalus is derived from the headland on which it stood which
vaguely resembles the head of a nail (from the Greek: Euryelos).
The fortress is one of the most impressive Greek defences to have
survived from Antiquity. The heart of the fortress is ringed with
a series of three consecutive ditches linked by a warren of underground
passages that prevented garrisons from being controlled as a unit,
let alone be supplied centrally with munitions, while at the same
time, enabling any material fired by
enemy into the ditches to be removed before it incurred any damage.
Should the enemy ever succeed in entering the castle precinct, it
would have been completely disorientated. The entrance to the archeological
area coincides with the first of these ditches. A little further
on, the second deep trench lined with vertical walls may be discerned
before, finally, arriving at the third; making this a veritable
Chinese-puzzle masterpiece of defensive design. Three tall square
piers in the third ditch lead to the assumption that there must
have been a drawbridge apparatus providing accoss to the inner stronghold
east side is riddled with a series of communicating passageways,
one measuring some 200m in length led to a pincer-type gateway (trypilon)
and a way out of the fortress. The west side of the ditch accommodated
various underground rooms for storing supplies. Behind stood the
square keep, preceded by an impressive series of defensive towers.
Within the confines of the keep itself there is an open area with
three square cisterns, visible on the right. The far corner provides
a fine view down to Syracuse (opposite) and the plain stretching
away to the left.
di Giove Olimpico – 3km out of town along Via Elorina,
signposted right. The Tempio of Olympian Zeus, built sometime in
the 6C BC, occupies a splendid position, slightly raised above the
surrounding landscape. Its majestic appearance must have been worthy
of the supreme power it represented.
Ciane – 8km southeast. The River Ciane, which almost
merges with the nearby River Anapo, is the main link with the internal
area of Pantalica (see PANTALICA). Its mouth is a favourite starting-point
for boat-trips. Shortly after setting off, a splendid view of the
Grand Harbour of Syracuse opens out before you. The boat then continuous
in among an area of lush vegetation: predominantly reeds, ancient
ash trees, and eucalyptus, before entering a narrow gorge and emerging
in a luxuriant grove of swaying papyrus rising from the water. It
was here, according to
the myth transcribed by Ovid (Metamorphoses: The Rape of Proserpine,
Book 5, l. 409-437), that the water nymph wooed by Anapus, Cyane,
tried to obstruct Pluto from abducting Persephone and, as a result,
was transformed into a spring.
Porto Palo di Capo Passero
Eremo San Corrado
Laghetti Di Avola
Marina Di Avola
Marina Di Noto
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Guide of Sicily
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