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The Coast of Siracusa

Archeology in the Province
November 3, 2020
Alagonian Library
November 30, 2020
Archeology in the Province
November 3, 2020
Alagonian Library
November 30, 2020
All photos ©

The forgotten toponyms of the coast-line of Siracusa as described in the 16th century.

If we look over the long list of names of the coastline of Siracusa contained in the report Descrittione delle marine di tutto il regno di Sicilia con le guardie necessarie da cavallo e da piedi che vi si tengono,(Description of the coast of the entire Kingdom of Sicily with the guards on horse and on foot that should be kept there), we can see that many of the names used today are the same as those used in that report. Compiled by Camillo Camilliani, the military engineer from Florence, many names such as the Scogli dei Due Fratelli (cliff of the two brothers), l'Isola delli Cani (island of dogs), gli Scogli di Sant'Antonio (rocks of Sant’Antonio, today Molo Sant'Antonio), punta e grotta della Pellegrina (the point and the cave of the Pilgrim) ring as familiar today as they did in the 17th century.
nno ab incarnatione Domini nostri Iesu Christi MDLXXXIV.
A small group of men moored an elegant brig with a lateen sail in the Cala del Molinaro - miller’s bay - near the cape of Santa Panagia, and started to walk along the coastal track, carrying a heavy theodolite and some measuring canes, and a chest containing a variety of scientific instruments.
Camillo Camilliani, an engineer, led the group. The year before, Viceroy Marcantonio Colonna had given him the task of surveying the state of the numerous but neglected watchtowers dotted all round the Sicilian coast-line. Captain Giovan Battista Fresco had been sent to represent the Spanish government, as an important member of the Deputation of the Kingdom, the office responsible for the maintenance of these towers.
Together, in around two years, they surveyed the entire perimeter of the island and produced a final report. This Description of the coast of the entire Kingdom of Sicily was fundamental for the planning of the new defensive system for the Sicilian coast against the increasingly frequent incursions of Ottoman and Barbary pirates.
A few decades later, the famous mathematician Don Carlo Ventimiglia from Palermo, accompanied by the versatile artist Francesco Negro, went back over the same route to improve the project. Only when this second survey was complete did the very expensive task of raising or restoring the fortifications begin, to be concluded about one hundred years later.
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«La Sicilia in Prospettiva, 1709»

Andrea Massa, Jesuit
The project, revised and enriched with numerous additions by the Jesuit Andrea Massa, was published in two volumes in Palermo in 1709 by the printer Francesco Cichè, called La Sicilia in Prospettiva - Sicily in perspective.
This precious edition by Massa doesn’t only give us important information about the fortifications, but it also gives a meticulously detailed description of the toponyms of the entire Sicilian coastline, their capacity in terms of boats, the presence of fresh-water springs, and the names which were used in the local popular traditions. Along with the names of the bays, we find two terms used; the Sicilian scaro or the Italian cala, which both mean the same thing: “an area of sea protected by land where boats and similar can be safely moored”.

According to Massa, the coast-line of Siracusa started at the Scogli delle Timpe, by the beach of Avola near Cassibile, and ran from the south to the north, ending at the Acqua dei Palombi (water of the doves) just beyond the mouth of the bay of Santa Panagia, where “one prays in a small Oratory with the name Santa Panagia". From this point on, the coast of Melilli began.

From the sequence of the place-names, we discover many places that still use the same names today. Other names are associated with old activities and trades found along the coast, such as the many bays called calcarelle or calcara, which refer to the production of lime, and the bay of the Ciaramiraro, the tile maker, where roof-tiles were made.
We read of places that no longer exist, for example, near the cliff of the two brothers, between the Fornelli and the Scoglio del Ridotto where there was “a cave similar to the Grotto of San Giovanni (the catacombs in Siracusa) where it is impossible to enter at present because the earthquake of 1693 blocked the entrance with ruins”. Many islands, caves and beaches cited by the author have disappeared today, eaten away by the fury of the sea, while others still exist but have lost their names, although it would be possible to identify and rename them as they were.
Here is an extract of the fascinating description by Massa of the splendid stretch of coastline running from the grotta della Pellegrina (cave of the pilgrim), luckily still cement-free and much as Camillo Camilliani must have seen it on his journey, to the Punta del Palombo near the Cappuccini Convent.
Sergio Cilea
From "LA SICILIA in prospettiva"; The Coast of Siracusa
138. Next one encounters the bay of Tufazzo; the rock of Altavilla; the rock, grotto and mouth of Traversa with the bay that holds seven galleys; the cliff of Pietre Rizze; the Point of Mazzamarello, that reaches a long way into the sea, and the bay of Mazzamarello, that holds 4 galleys. Nearby one finds the cave of the Pellegrina, and the point; the beach of Pozzillo; the point of la Calella with the mouths of the Calella, for small boats. Next come the point and the rocks of the Mola, and the stepped cliffs, but not very high above sea level; the Ridotto is like the Mola; the point of Ripe Bianche, or as some say the Cuti Bianche with the bay of the same name; Grotta della Paglia; Punta del Falcone; Grotta del Parrino with a rock of the same name, and which due to the violence of the storms of November 1707 disappeared under the waves. Next comes the Promontory of Massa Oliveri, the Plemmyrion of Thucydides, Plutarch and Virgil. The Bay holds 4 galleons and almost 60 canes distant lies the islet of Castelluzzo, named by some Plemmiria.
139. Here opens the mouth of the most famous harbour of Siracusa, of over 500 steps wide, looking east towards the Ionian Sea. Those who enter this harbour on the left side pass the following places: Punta dello Scaro; Grotta di Horatio; Scalilla; and not too distant from the beach the Island of San Martiano, called la Galea by the Siracusani; next comes the Grotta, and scaro of Calagrande; Punta di Mezzo; the Piro beach; Punta and Scaro della Spianazza; the beach, Punta, and Punticella della Maddalena; the Punta and beach del Sacramento; the Scogli and Spiaggia di Sgotto with two small bays, and the Fonticello di S. Marta that pours sweet water onto the aforementioned beach.
140. This leads to the Punta del Papa, and to certain rocks called li Scogli delli Salarini. Next comes the Cala Calda, which contains some shallows; nearby are the mouths of the Marsh of the Columns, named after a few marvellous columns, ruins of the Temple of Olympian Jove which are still standing; then the estuary of the river Anapo, mentioned by Thucydides, Theocritus, Livy and Ovid... Next comes the beach of the Anapo; the Rivulet of Pantanelli; the beach of Ponte di Mezzo; the Rivulet of Vanella dell' acqua; the beach of the Little Stone Bridge; the rocks of S. Antonio; the estuary of the Mills; and finally, the most noble city of Siracusa, built on the Island of Ortigia.
141. Circling past the maritime, southern flank of the city, one leaves the mouth of the most famous Fountain of Aretusa and then the point of Castello Maniace, and following the route to the north, you see the Island of the Dogs facing the city: next one enters the Small Harbour, then passes by the scari of Santa Lucia, and the Holy Thorns, Spine Sante; past the rock of Pietra Longa; past the bay of the Capuchins; the Point of the Round Rock or as some say, the Large Rock; the Tonnarella, the bay of the Scalilla; and round to the Punta del Palombo (...)
Ph.credits Eliseo Lupo