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The Cathedral of Siracusa

Table and Theatre
April 6, 2021
C.I.A.O.
April 8, 2021
Table and Theatre
April 6, 2021
C.I.A.O.
April 8, 2021
Ph. © SK

The Cathedral of Siracusa

 
The history of what is today the Cathedral of Siracusa actually begins in the first twenty years of the Vth century before Christ’s birth.
These were the years in which Gelon, of the Dinomenid dynasty of Gela, took control of Siracusa and became its tyrant. After his great victory over the Cathaginians at Himera in 480 BCE, Gelon had this great building erected - the largest temple on Ortigia, dedicated to Athena. Built with the spoils of war to celebrate the victory, it looked symbolically towards the East, facing the direction of the rising sun.
Athena, goddess of wisdom and war, was represented by a shining shield of gold that crowned the temple, erected on the acropolis of Ortigia in her honour; Atheneo tells how sailors, as they left the harbour, would turn back for a last glimpse of the light on the shield and when it was no longer visible, they would pour offerings into the sea - honey and perfumes for the goddess - invoking her protection for the voyage.
 
A splendid example of the canons of the Doric style, the temple was peripteral - surrounded by a colonnade - and hexastyle, with 6 columns on the short sides and 14 on the long. In front of the cella was a pronaos facing East and an opisthodomos to the West.
The building, constructed using the pale limestone from quarries not far from the site, was rendered more precious by the addition of prized Paros marble from the Cyclades, used for certain parts of the temple - the sima (part of the roof edge), the roof-tiles, and the 172 fine lionshead waterspouts that ran along the long sides of the building.
Today the ancient Doric temple, framed and set into the Christian Cathedral, has the warm golden glow of the stone with which it was built, but we know that in the past it was bright with vivid colours, cancelled by time and by the taste for white or the natural colour which became fashionable in the neoclassical period.
Ricostruzione digitale di Siracusa Reborn
Ricostruzione digitale di Siracusa Experience
 
We know from Cicero’s writings that a series of paintings hung on the internal walls of the temple, illustrating Agathocles’ cavalry in battle, and there were also 27 important and evocative portraits of the kings and tyrants of Sicily. These were all looted by Verres, who also removed the precious decoration in ivory and gold that decorated the door of the temple and which demonstrated the wealth this famous sacred building could boast of.
During the Vth century CE, as a result of the political decisions taken by Justinian to affirm Christianity decisively, and similar to transformations carried out in the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Concordia in Agrigento, the Athenaion of Siracusa was converted into a church, by walling up the spaces between the columns and cutting eight arches into the inner walls of the cella - this created a basilica plan with a central nave and two side-aisles with the entrance to the West - at the opposite end to the main facade of the Greek temple which faced East.
 
We can imagine that the demolition of the internal dividing walls between the pronaos and the opisthodomos took place at this time too. It is not clear whether the three apses and the presbytery added to the east end of the building were created inside the area of the ancient pronaos or actually within part of the cella.
From the “Life” of Zosimo, a bishop of Siracusa in the second half of the 7th century CE, we learn that he restored the church dedicated to the Mother of God, and transferred the seat of the Cathedral there, as the tradition claims, thus consolidating once more the central role of the topos of the area, the piazza, around the Cathedral of Siracusa.
Marzo 2021
 
CETTINA VOZA

Saggista e scrittrice, tra le sue pubblicazioni Archimede. Siracusa e il suo genio. Ha studiato Lettere classiche con indirizzo archeologico. Ha lavorato a numerosi progetti di valorizzazione dei beni culturali in Sicilia, ai testi e all’ambientazione di audiovisivi riguardanti la storia e l’archeologia aretusee.