Davide D’OrazioMay 2, 2021
AkraiJune 3, 2021
The Botany of the Neapolis Park
In the 1960s, when Vincenzo Cabianca proposed a scheme for the reorganization of the archeological sites of the Neapolis quarter of Siracusa, of Megara Hyblaea, of Leontinoi, of Akre, and of Tindari and Lipari, he was inspired by the concept, still novel at the time, of the social use of our cultural inheritance. The Archeological Park of Neapolis was created to unite in one great public space the most important archeological monuments of Siracusa, which were scattered over an area of 240,000 square metres in the ancient quarter. The connecting thread of greenery was designed to serve as a “natural” link between the monuments, as well as a visible barrier and protection from the modern city built around them.
In these green spaces, planted about 50 years ago, are to be found trees such as the Aleppo pine (Pinus halepensis), the cypress (Cupressus sempervirens), the Japanese privet (Ligustrum japonicum), the holm oak (Quercus ilex), the olive (Olea europea), and various types of fig, as well as tree-like hedges of laurel (Laurus nobilis) and oleander (Nerium oleander). The oleanders form an enchanting green tunnel towards the entrance of the Ear of Dionysius.
In the historic garden in front of the Grotta dei Cordari (the ropemakers’ cave) an age-old Magnolia grandiflora may be admired, and in the Latomie dell’Intagliatella, a mighty specimen of the Ficus magnoloides.
The variety of herbs which grow here, undisturbed by human activity, include genuine botanical rarities, and enhance the whole archeological area.
The dry Mediterranean climate of Siracusa supports a very special flora comprising more than 200 species of semi-natural plant associations.
The area around the Temenite hill, where the theatre and the other monuments were constructed, comprises a sloping zone of carboniferous rock; it displays many forms of surface erosion, such as honeycombed hollows, corroded depressions, furrows and semicircular impressions which form veritable niches of biodiversity.
In the archeological area of Neapolis, perfectly preserved endemic species and some distinctive variations of Mediterranean species have been found. Widely diffused are the climbing species which can colonise walls, rocks and masonry, and which are easily spotted in the positions most exposed to the sun. The principal species are Sicilian snapdragon (Anthirrinum siculum), an endemic species often associated with capers (Capperis spinosa), and lesser vetriola (Parietaria judaica).
Ophrys sicula in the Amphitheatre
Among the rock-plants that have been identified is Greek purslane (Andrachne telephonides), while Southern maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-veneris) is to be found on cooler surfaces and is widespread in the grotta del Ninfeo, in the upper part of the theatre. The percolation of water above the theatre and the hollows in the rock form a moist microclimate where the vegetation is dominated by torpedo-grass (Panicum repens) together with hairy crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), apple-mint (Mentha suaveolens) and common verbena (Verbena officinalis). And then at the foot of the Latomie del Paradiso and in the undergrowth of the pines are extensive areas where acanthus (Acanthus mollis), alexanders (Smirnium olusatrum) and pellitory (Parietaris judaica) flourish.
Puddles at the Tomba di Archimede
In the most sun-drenched areas above the theatre, and on the rocky pillars that remained standing after the collapse of the roofs of the latomie, grow many varieties of Mediterranean macchia (scrub) such as olive (Olea europea), mastic (Pistacia lentiscus), terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), Italian buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus) and germander (Teucrium fruticans), which show how in a place where the plants are undisturbed by human activity, they can develop naturally.
Smilo grass (Oryzopsis miliacaea) is the characteristic vegetation of the most visited areas, those overlooking the theatre and the latomie, and those on the edges of the paths.
Botanical research conducted during the last ten years has recorded the local flora with the aim of determining how far the archeological monuments are damaged by the vegetation that flourishes there, and to provide guidelines for effective defence against the most invasive of them.
Agronomist and landscaper, she is a member of the Associazione Italiana di Architettura del Paesaggio. As Head of the Soprintendenza Beni Culturali di Siracusa, she has coordinated the techno-scientific aspects of the landscape plan of the province and has collaborated with the defining of the Archeological Parks of Siracusa, Eloro and Lentini. She has planned and directed the works of enhancement of the historic garden of the Museo Archeologico Paolo Orsi in Siracusa. She has done research on the local vegetation in the archeological area of the Neapolis and worked on the environmental recovery plan for Priolo and Augusta.