The WetlandsJanuary 29, 2021
Tecnoparco ArchimedeFebruary 3, 2021
Castello Eurialo - a fortress for 'active defence'
At the highest point of the Epipoli plateau, which as the name suggests dominates the entire city, the ring of the City Walls built by Dionysius I of Siracusa, meets at one of the most extraordinary monuments that Greek antiquity has left us: designed by Dionysius and built in various phases between the Vth and the IIIrd centuries BCE, Castello Eurialo is different to all earlier fortifications because it is designed - as the evidence of the structure shows - for the ‘active defence’ of the city.
In other words, Dionysius, the man who in order to become tyrant first gave up his office as polemarch, warlord of the city, built the fortress on the basis of a strategic idea that truly represented himself: an apparent retreat in order to attack better.
But let’s take one step at a time.
A gallery that opens into the defensive ditch
The third defensive ditch
To begin, the main gateway to the city that crossed the higher and more exposed part of Epipoli was blocked not by one defensive ditch - as was normal - but by three ditches; the first one was a typical straight ditch about 50 metres from the fortress; the second had an arrow shape with the tip pointing towards the first one; the third ditch was angled too and as deep as the preceding one, but much more articulated.
The wall of the external margin has various caves carved into it, probably used for storage of food and ammunition; the opposite wall is pierced by a series of underground galleries that link this third ditch to the rest of the fortress, and in particular to the keep, an enormous rectangular area where the troops and war machines could be gathered when necessary. Of particular interest is the wide staircase that runs underground from the bottom of the third ditch to the strip of rock between the second and the third ditches, from which the troops could defend the fortress against the enemy advance.
On the side of the keep that overlooks the ditches and turns its back on the “eurialo”, the “head of a nail” in ancient Greek, stood five towers, the heart of the ‘active’ defence of the fortress; their shape and the stairs that lead to them suggest that their main function was not simply to block the advancing troops ‘passively’, but they could be fitted rapidly with complex war machines which would defend by attacking the enemy troops if they got dangerously close.
It is quite likely that local hero, Archimedes, left his mark on the fortress in the IIIrd century BCE during the long siege of the city at the hands of the Romans, especially in the perfecting of the machines which were designed to fire heavy projectiles at the attackers; some of these stones have been found and are preserved in the surroundings of the fortress.
The five towers overlooking the keep
Ready-cut blocks of stone in front of the city walls
The most astounding thing about this monument is the state of preservation which, despite the weather, time and natural events like earthquakes, still allows us to read the ancient design perfectly. The same is true of the surrounding area which has been spared the worst excesses of building speculation seen elsewhere around the city in recent decades, thanks to the continued ‘active’ defence of the area by the Soprintendenza di Siracusa.
Perhaps the real merit goes to Castello Eurialo itself; don’t presume to say that it has lost the strength it once had, that fine old fellow! Castello Eurialo continues to defend itself with determination and has no intention of surrendering to any enemy, even one armed with concrete.
Drammaturgo, produttore teatrale, attore, cantante, musicista, educatore siracusano. Il mio più grande difetto è l’impegno che profondo nella missione di allungare questa lista…fino al punto di scrivere per SiracusaCulture.
Looking north from Castello Eurialo
The second ditch with the towers of the keep