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Syracuse and the Pantalica rock necropolis

Certainly there are monuments, from different epochs and in different styles, bearing witness to a glorious past, attempts being made to recover the memory of it and respect for it. But also sea, clear and rich in flora and fauna, luxuriant papyri, more and more intense cultural life, craft activities and artists' studios, and gastronomy. There are so many things that are interesting about Syracuse, the last place, chronologically, to be declared World Heritage by UNESCO. This is undoubtedly a recognition of the historical prestige of this city that for a long time was one of the capitals of the Mediterranean. But it is also a recognition of its determination to once again play a major role in the Mediterranean today, also, indeed above all, through the recovery and valorisation of the signs of the past. Which means not only Magna Graecia, but also Swabian and Baroque, art nouveau and modern architectures. A ferment of rebirth is running through Ortygia, the oldest part of the city, where prehistoric peoples settled well before the Greeks. On this islet that, at the centre of the water on which the city looks out, was once the stronghold of the tyrant Dionysius I, one of the most important characters in ancient Sicilian history, roads, piazzas, houses, churches and buildings are being restructured, transformed and opened to the public, and hotels, pubs, eating and drinking places of every kind are multiplying. All this is for a night life that is a worthy conclusion to a day spent visiting monuments: the Neapolis, with the imposing Greek theatre where every year classical performances are done, the altar of Hiero, the latomias with the famous "Dionysius' Ear." Then there is the area of the Epipolis, with the little San Giovanni Evangelista church, over an immense network of palaeo-Christian catacombs, and the modern sanctuary devoted to the miraculous Madonna of Tears. There are the museums, including the archaeological one, the biggest in Sicily and one of the most important in Italy, and the Regional Gallery, at which there are authentic treasures like the Annunciation by Antonello da Messina and the Burial ofSaint Lucy by Caravaggio. And last but not least there is Ortygia, with irregular little medieval streets gathered around the elegant cathedral square, one of the most beautiful in Italy, all surrounded by splendid buildings and dominated by the cathedral, whose Baroque façade hides the structure of an ancient Greek temple. Here the cult of the virgin martyr St. Lucy, the highly venerated patron saint, replaced that of the goddess Athena, and the traces of the ancient architecture are placed side by side with the more modern architecture in splendid syncretism. On the islet one walks very slowly, looking up to admire the stone volutes and the wrought iron balconies of the Baroque buildings, but also allowing the gaze to wander on the sea, which appears every now and then, sparkling like a mirror. One visits Maniace Castle and the Jewish miqwe (tubs for purification baths), the oldest in Europe, and one halts at the spring of Arethusa , which according to legend is a nymph who was turned into a spring to escape too ardent a suitor. One goes shopping and one stops for lunch, an ice cream or a snack. One can also go swimming, taking advantage of the little flights of steps that go down to the surface of the sea from the bastions, the sea now being clean thanks to the sewerage having been redone, and one sunbathes comfortably stretched out on the solariums reaching out over the sea. From Ortygia one can set out in a wooden fishing boat to go to visit the caves on the Maddalena peninsula , whose extremity for some time now has been protected through the Plemmirio marine reserve; here you can go scuba diving or snorkelling to discover splendid seabeds. Not far away there are the boats that go up the river Ciane , a pleasant and relaxing trip, but also one of great botanical interest, allowing you to observe the only wild colony of papyruses in Europe, as these grow along the banks of this river. From Syracuse you can also get to another important place which was declared World Heritage in 2005: the Pantalica necropolis. This is a place of wild beauty, at the confluence of the rivers Anapo and the Calcinara, which in addition to the archaeological interest is also interesting in terms of nature and landscape thanks to the richness and variety of the plant and animal species that live on the banks of the watercourse. Here the rocky bastion of Pantalica rises high over the deep valley hewn out by the water, in the shade of plane trees and oleanders, in its millennial flow. Here in the stone, the Siculi, the prehistoric people that lived in Sicily before the advent of Greek colonization, dug out almost five thousand graves. It is not known for certain how they succeeded in doing so, since in the Bronze Age, from which the necropolis dates, the Siculi did not know iron, and therefore they had to use axes or ancient systems that combined water and fire. The workers were suspended in the air, tied to ropes by the waist, or astride a beam, on tottering scaffolding. The corpses, in turn, were pulled up or lowered with ropes, "a grisly spectacle seen from afar and from the opposite slopes" (Paolo Orsi). With the passing of the centuries, the graves became a refuge for persecuted Christians, a hermitage and then a residence for Arabs and Norman. Then, gradually, the site was abandoned. A mysterious people remained, that of the Siculi, swallowed up by the history of other much more daring and therefore more famous people. But the Pantalica graves, though mute, hand down the memory of them, together with the scattered ruins of the mysterious Anaktoron, the prince's palace, a perfect geometry of walls of stone whose splendours the imagination can only guess at. This is all that is left of a city that must have existed, and who knows what it was like.

(source: Sicilian World Heritage)

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