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Siracusa The Greatest and most Beautiful

Carmelinda Gentile
September 21, 2021
Christiane Reimann, the villa and the city
October 31, 2021
Ortigia © Regione Siciliana

Siracusa: "The greatest and most beautiful ..."

Siracusa was founded in 733 B.C. by colonists from Corinth, under their leader Archias. One of the most influential figures of the Corinthian nobility, Archias chose to go into exile from his native city after having killed the beautiful young man, Actaeon, in a crime of passion.The Delphic oracle had directed him to land in Sicily, at a small Carthaginian trading post formed by a large bay at the mouth of the river Anapo, itself enclosed between the rocky coastline of Plemmirio (literally “the flooded place”) and a small island, Ortigia which, in its shape, resembled a quail (ortyx), the bird into which Zeus, in his mercy, transformed his lover Leto (or Latona). According to Strabo the island of Ortigia (where excavation has revealed settlements from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age) and the adjacent mainland as far as Pantalica were inhabited by indigenous Sikels, over whom their last king, Hyblon, ruled. Archias plotted a conspiracy against him, thanks to which he was able to take control of the city and the region. The new colony flourished rapidly and organized itself into five city quarters, each a genuine demos, in which craftsmen and farmers of crops and livestock plied their trades: in addition to Ortigia these quarters were: Akradina (the “land of the wild pear-trees”); Tyche (the name of the Greek goddess of Fortune); Neapolis (the new city) and Epipoli (the high city). In 664 B.C. Siracusa was in a position to found the colony of Akrai (Palazzolo Acreide) in the upper valley of the Anapo River, and the colony Kasmene the same year; Kamarina followed in 599. By then, not only was the hinterland firmly in the hands of the Greeks, but the Siracusans controlled virtually the whole of the south-eastern coast of Sicily.
Castello Eurialo © Regione Siciliana Ph. Giuseppe Mineo
At the beginning of the fifth century B.C., in the space of a few years, the first tyrant of Siracusa, Gelone, succeeded in making the city the epicentre of Greek power in the West. In alliance with Akragas (Agrigento) Gelone annihilated the Carthaginians on the plains of Himera in 480 B.C., and a few years later, when the Etruscans were threatening Siracusan commerce at sea, inflicted a severe defeat on them in the waters off Cuma. These battles not only eliminated dangerous rivals; they confirmed Siracusa’s political dominance in Sicily and on the Mediterranean, and laid foundations which would attract architects, men of letters, artists and playwrights to the city.
Five hundred years later the Greek geographer Strabo described the opulence of the city in these words: "Siracusa found itself in a condition of such wealth that the name of its inhabitants became proverbial; for it was said of those who were too rich that “The tithe of the Syracusans would not be sufficient for them”.
Mura Dionigiane © Regione Siciliana Ph.Marcello Bianca
Midway through the fifth century B.C. Athens decided that it was time to contest the supremacy and the political and commercial arrogance of the Sicilians (sicelioti) of Siracusa. In 427 and 426 Greek ships hastened to the aid of their ally Leontini, which was threatened by the Siracusans, who, however, had the better of it. Nine years later, at the request of Segesta, Pericles sent a new fleet of 134 triremes and thirty thousand men against Siracusa. After three years of siege the Sicilians routed the Athenian fleet and army, executed Nikias, the commander of the expedition, and imprisoned the seven thousand surviving Greeks in the quarries of Neapolis, leaving them to starve to death. The battle of Siracusa marked the end of Athens’ age of glory. The siege prompted the tyrant Dionysus I to transform Siracusa into a fortress. He ordered the construction of an enclosing wall, 27 kilometres long (the greatest wall of the classical world) around the five districts of the city, setting Castello Euryelos (in Greek “big-headed nail”) at the highest point of the defensive ring.

Museo P. Orsi, Sala Kamarina © Regione Siciliana Ph.Giuseppe Mineo
Pantalica © Regione Siciliana Ph.Giuseppe Mineo

In the following 150 years Siracusa consolidated its role as the richest and most powerful polis in the West, rivalling Athens itself for the splendour of its monuments and the life-style of its inhabitants, and becoming, in the third century B.C., the strategic hinge in the wars between Rome and Carthage. The alliance with Rome in the period of the first Punic War enabled Gerone II to guarantee Siracusa independence, peace and prosperity. It lasted only 50 years because, in 212 B.C., his successor broke the treaty and took the Carthaginian side. This provoked the anger of the Romans who, after three years of siege directed by the consul Marcellus, entered Siracusa and abandoned themselves to sack and massacre. There followed eight centuries of decline, at the end of which the Byzantine emperor Constans II chose Siracusa for his residence, and made it, albeit for a brief period, capital of the Eastern Roman Empire.
The sites mentioned are part of the Parco archeologico e paesaggistico di Siracusa, Eloro, Villa del Tellaro e Akrai. Photos provided by the Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana duplication of any kind is not allowed. © Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana – Dipartimento dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana – Soprintendenza per i Beni Culturali, Ambientali e dell’Identità Siciliana – pubblicazione concessa.

Antica Siracusa, Tavola Capodieci © Regione Siciliana

When he was young, he was a voice actor for actors such as Orson Welles and Jeff Goldblum. He is a teacher or Anthropology of alimentation, food-writer, expert and popularizer of social history of food, he curated gastronomic events connected to the representation of food in the art of Caravaggio, Leonardo and Michelangelo. Author and TV presenter, he worked for Rai programmes such as Unomattina, Lineaverde and La prova del cuoco. Creator of the Girotonno of Carloforte and of Mediterraneans in Saudi Arabia and part of manifestations such as the Cous-Cous Fest in San Vito Lo Capo and the Festa del Torrone in Cremona. He writes and is part of the editorial board of SiracusaCulture.