ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARKS IN THE SYRACUSE AREA
Close your eyes and imagine that you are among the ruins of an ancient, thousand-year-old capital. Now, open them: in Syracuse, reality overcomes the imagination. The Corinthians founded the city in 733 B.C. And Thucydides decided to use this date as a reference for dating the foundations of other Sicilian cities (as we use Christ’s birth ). Even in Hellenistic and Byzantine times, Syracuse was considered the Greek capital of the western Mediterranean. Its decline began when the Arabs conquered the whole island and moved the capital to Palermo.
There are two archaeological parks in the province of Syracuse. Are you ready to discover them?
We begin with the Archaeological Park of Syracuse, Eloro and Villa del Tellaro.
The first stop is the Archaeological Park of Syracuse. The park includes the northern area of the Neapolis district, one of the five districts that were part of Syracuse in Greek and Roman times. Here you will find the city’s most famous monuments. First of all, we can visit the Greek theatre. Since 1914, thanks to INDA, ancient tragedies and comedies have been performed again in this stunning location. Then, let’s take a look at the Roman amphitheatre and at the Altar of Hieron II. This ancient altar was the place for public sacrifices. Don’t miss the scenic arch of the Latomie del Paradiso and Santa Venera. Ancient and enormous caves sprout up from luxuriant vegetation of orange trees and centuries-old trees. We can see the Grotta dei Cordari and the Orecchio di Dionisio. Caravaggio visited this cave in the 17th century and named it after its peculiar shape of a donkey’s ear. Legend tells that the tyrant Dionysius locked up his enemies inside the cave and eavesdropped on their speeches from above. The cavity amplified their voices. In the eastern part of the park, near the Santa Venera quarry, there are a series of burial chambers. Among them is the so-called ‘Tomb of Archimedes‘. Let us take our time to enjoy this journey into antiquity.
Let us now move to the second stop: the Paolo Orsi Regional Archaeological Museum. It is one of the largest museums in Europe in terms of exhibition space. It is unique because it houses the results of a series of researches in the area from the end of the 18th century onwards. On the ground floor of the Museum, we can visit the Auditorium and the warehouses, the restoration area, and the graphic and photographic office. Here we can also see the Medagliere, with one of the most prestigious numismatic collections in the world. On the first floor, there is an exhibition dedicated to the prehistory and protohistory of Eastern Sicily, one dedicated to the Greek colonies and a section devoted to the sub-colonies of Syracuse, Gela and Agrigento. We will also discover the skeleton of the dwarf elephant. It is an extinct prehistoric animal, about one and a half metres tall. A famous legend says that ancient Mediterranean travellers found these skulls with an enormous hole in the forehead and thought they belonged to one-eyed giants. Hence the Cyclops legend.
We now leave the town and head a few kilometres to the east. The first site of interest we encounter is the Roman Gymnasium, along the Via Elorina. The ancient route leads to the subcolony of Eloro. Continuing along the same road, 3 km from Syracuse, we find the remains of the temple of Zeus Olympius. We enjoy a complete view of the Porto Grande, the salt pans, Ortigia and the Plemmirio. We can still admire the base and two columns of the temple. Continuing eastwards, entering the territory of Noto, we come to the Villa del Tellaro: a stunning Roman villa of the late imperial age. The Villa is rich in complex and colourful mosaics (4th century AD) and includes the representation of the scene of the ransom of Hector’s body and other hunting scenes.
From Noto, we now head north towards Palazzolo Acreide. To the west of this stunning baroque town is the archaeological area of Akrai. It is the oldest of the Syracuse subcolonies (according to Thucydides), founded in 664 BC. In the area, we can see the theatre and the bouleuterion, both dating from the 2nd century B.C. We can also admire a thermal building: the central hall has a circular plan. In the acropolis, the foundations of a temple from the second half of the 6th century B.C. remain. C., it would seem to be the temple of Aphrodite. In the early Christian period, a series of catacombs and funerary hypogea were built on the walls of the latomie from the classical period (Intagliata and Intagliatella). Moving away from the acropolis and down the southern slope of Colle Orbo, we find the so-called “Santoni”. It is a sanctuary from the 3rd century B.C., and it is dedicated to the worship of the sea goddess Cybele. In Colle Orbo, we can also admire magnificent rock sculptures. If you have fallen in love with this town so rich in history and surrounded by nature, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Palazzo Cappellani. Here you will find the Archaeological Museum, where you can admire finds from Akrai, Kasmene and Leontinoi.
We return to the north of Syracuse, near the hamlet of Belvedere. Here we find the remains of a mighty fortification: the Euryalus Castle. The castle enclosed the only entrance to a massive Greek wall, more than 27 km long. We continue northwards to reach the Necropolis of Pantalica, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a huge protohistoric cemetery, surrounded by the most unspoilt nature.
Continuing north along the Ionian coast, we enter the Archaeological Park of Leontinoi. The first stop is the archaeological area of Megara Hyblea in Augusta (SR). The Greeks founded the city of Megara Nisea in the 8th century B.C. Together with Lentinoi, Megara is one of the oldest Greek foundations in Sicily. Today the excavations at Megara Hyblea are of fundamental importance. Here the first settlement of a Western Greek city and its urban planning appears. A short distance away, between the towns of Carlentini and Lentini, is the nearby archaeological site of Leontinoi. The Chalcidian Greeks colonised the area in 729 B.C., and finds from the site are now housed in the Archaeological Museum of Lentini (SR). The museum has several exhibition levels. The museological narrative ranges from protohistory to the Middle Ages. It is also possible to admire underwater finds from Contrada Castelluccio. On Monte San Basilio, we can visit the last stop on this itinerary. The hill has a strategic position. The remains of a Greek-Archaic sanctuary and an imposing wall from the classical period have been found here. The fortification had a military purpose and was identified with ancient Brikinnia.