Ortigia and EuropeApril 20, 2021
The Altar of Hieron IIApril 21, 2021
© Regione Siciliana Ph. Giuseppe Mineo
Neapolis, a stroll through history and nature
The history of what is today the Monumental Area of Neapolis begins between 1952 and 1955 when at long last the most important monuments of the Neapolis quarter of the ancient city are united in a single park area.
In those years, when Luigi Bernabò Brea was superintendent of Siracusa, one of the most important archaeological, historical sites of the Mediterranean was created in an area of about 240.000 mq which includes the Greek Theatre, the Sanctuary of Apollo Temenite, the Altar of Hieron II, the Roman amphitheatre, and the Latomie - the quarries - of Paradise, Intagliatella and Santa Venera, which reach as far as the so-called Tomb of Archimedes.
Teatro greco © Marcello Bianca
At the time of its inauguration, the area was at the margins of the modern city, and its creation came just in time, just before the urban expansion of Siracusa exploded in the following decades. The development of the city was all too aggressive and often lacking in a suitable harmonisation with the pre-existing archaeological remains.
Despite this, the Neapolis area has preserved and enhanced the appeal of the parkland and the manmade ruins that characterise it, becoming a place which symbolically represents the city and which attracts visitors from all over the world.
Grotte Neapolis © Regione Siciliana Ph.Giuseppe Mineo
When you approach the Neapolis park for the first time, you shouldn’t be distracted by the word “monumental”: the grandeur of the ancient buildings is perfectly in harmony with the natural beauty of the sites, where the luxuriant vegetation of the stone-quarries with their cool, damp microclimate contrasts with the slopes of the Temenite hill where the hot rays of the sun warm the bare white limestone of the theatre, the “white shell created by the hands of stone-carvers”.
Latomia S_Venera © Regione Siciliana Ph.Giuseppe Mineo
Anfiteatro Romano © Regione Siciliana Ph.Giuseppe Mineo
A place of detention and forced labour for prisoners of war and political prisoners, once a true hell on earth, today the Latomie are filled with greenery which has earned one of them the name of “Paradise”, where typical Mediterranean essences like laurel, olive, and citrus trees brought to Sicily by the Saracens, grow alongside exotic plants like charming groves of oriental bamboo or the immense tropical ficus trees which have been there for centuries.
Here the acanthus plants grow which, according to Vitruvius, inspired the architect Callichamus to decorate Corinthian capitals with its characteristic leaves, while on the rock faces capers show off their splendid blooms and maidenhair ferns grow where they find enough humidity.
Grotta Cordari © Regione Siciliana Ph.Giuseppe Mineo
Birdsong, scents and dappled shade have replaced the prisoners’ laments, the smell of the fatigue of their bodies and the blinding light that reflected off the white walls of the ancient quarries from which the blocks of stone used to build the most important monuments were extracted.
All along the route you’ll find a continuous combination of history and nature, and when you reach the area which overlooks the theatre, you are greeted with the stunning view over the natural bay of the Great Harbour, source of wealth for the ancient city and the setting for bloody battles.
Tomba Archimede © Regione Siciliana Ph.Giuseppe Mineo
Every corner has a tale to tell, sometimes even older than the city itself, as in the case of the tomb with Mycenaean materials found not far from the Altar of Hieron II. Unhurriedly, listening to what the sites have to tell, the visitor can imagine the Athenian prisoners who survived the disastrous siege of the city who then had to slave in the quarries, or King Hieron and his family watching the tragedies in ‘his’ theatre and the grand sacrifices that took place on the Altar that bears his name, or the people crowding into the amphitheatre to watch the gladiatorial games, or Caravaggio in front of the cave which he named the Ear of Dionysius, or Winston Churchill painting in the Rope-makers Cave while the craftsmen patiently wove the hemp fibres.
This is a walk that retraces steps that have lasted for thousands of years.
L’Area monumentale della Neapolis è un sito del Parco archeologico e paesaggistico di Siracusa, Eloro, Villa del Tellaro e Akrai. Foto su concessione dell’Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana con divieto di duplicazione, anche parziale, con qualsiasi mezzo.
Archeo-zoologist and paleontologist, laureate in science and specialised in cultural heritage. He studies the relationship between humans and animals in ancient societies, as an economic resource, as food, and as a social and ritualistic symbol. A keen reader of history and of classics of Greek and Latin literature, but also of texts on astrophysics and quantum mechanics, he lives constantly in the balance between the world of numbers and that of letters… and he writes for SiracusaCulture.