Parco Archeologico della Neapoli, Siracusa
The district north of Viale Paolo Orsi and west of Viale Teracati, where Neapolis, the New Town, once lay, is attractive to the visitor because of the range of ancient sites in the Parco Archeologico. Driving round the area along Viale Rizzo there is a fine view to be had of the excavations, and from the junction with Viale Teracati can be seen the Necropolis and the Grave of Archimedes, as it is known.The narrow, made-up road Via Paradiso now leads down to the Altar of Hiero (on the left) and the house where entry tickets can be purchased (on the right). Behind this building turn left to the Greek Theater (Teatro Greco). Returning from there to the entrance, the other path leads down to the quarries (latomias) with the "Ear of Dionysios".Returning once more to the entrance, this time take the Via Paradiso to the section on the right with the Roman Amphitheater (Antiteatro Romano), where entry tickets have to be shown again.
Address: Viale Paradisa, I-96100 Siracusa, Italy
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €4.00
Useful tips: Closes 2 hrs before sunset.
Altar of Hiero II
The Altar of Hiero II in Syracuse is a massive construction. It was endowed by Hiero II, who was king from 269 to 215 B.C., in memory of the fall in 466 B.C. of the tyrant Thrasybulos, which was celebrated every year in Syracuse with the Feast of Zeus Eleutherios (the Zeus of Freedom). The historian Diodor recounts how 450 bulls were sacrificed at this feast, to provide a banquet for the citizens.The Altar of Hiero was used for these sacrifices. The foundations, hewn out of the rock and measuring over 180m/606.75ft (one "stadium" in Greek measurement) in length and 23m/75.5ft wide, have been preserved, and steps and ramps for the sacrifices can be discerned at each end. The building above, which has long since gone, must have been about 15m/50ft high and decorated with sculptures. At the end of the road the Roman Amphitheater can be seen.
In its original form, the Greek Theater (Teatro Greco) in Syracuse was built in the reign of Hiero I c. 470 B.C.; the master builder was named Demokopos. It was here that the tragedy "The Persians" by Aischylos was first performed in Sicily. There is also little doubt that the festival production "The Women of Aitne", which the same Attic tragedian wrote for Hiero I during his stay in Syracuse, was premièred here too. In addition it saw tragedies by Sophocles and Euripides and plays by the Sicilian comedy writer Epicharmos.The theater was later changed. Its present form results from a reconstruction which - as is shown by a dedication inscribed on the wall of the diazoma - was completed at the time of King Hiero II, his son Gelo and his two wives. As Gelo married in 238 B.C. and Hiero died in 215, this gives us the dates between which the rebuilding took place.With a diameter of 138m/453ft and 61 rows of seats hewn out of the rock and providing places for some 15,000 spectators, it is one of the largest theaters in the whole of the ancient Greek Empire. The auditorium (cavea) has remained in its entirety, except for the lowest rows of seats, which were removed in the Flavian period (between A.D. 69 and 96) to make room for the orchestra who played at the gladiatorial games, as was the fashion then and for which the Roman amphitheaters were later designed. The stage and scenery buildings were multi-storyed edifices between two cubes hewn out of the rock, but these have disappeared.For many years now Greek drama has been re-enacted here, but in the Italian language.
On a terrace above the theater in Syracuse was a colonnade and in the rock-wall behind a nymphaeum dedicated to The Muses; the spring water still flows from one of the niches and finds its way through ancient channels.To the left lies a cemetery road cut into the rocks, with Byzantine grave-niches.Finally, to the west of the theatre, stood the Temenos of Apollo Temenites, with the remains of a temple.
Latomia di Santa Venera
Immediately east of the Ear of Dionysius in Syracuse is the Latomia di Santa Venera, with a particularly lush growth of vegetation.
Latomia del Paradiso
The Latomia are ancient stone quarries which were worked from the sixth century B.C. onwards, and in the course of time were dug out over 20m/66ft down into the limestone.The largest and best known of these quarries is the Latomia del Paradiso, which is reached by returning from the Greek Theater in Syracuse to the entrance to the archeological site and then going down to the left. Here there are two underground galleries, one of which is 60m/200ft long, 5 to 11m/16 to 36ft wide and 23m/75ft high, and because of its accoustics has been named "The Ear of Dionysios" (l'Orecchio di Dionisio); according to legend the tyrant Dionysios could stand at one end and listen to even whispered conversations of those imprisoned therein - the name "Ear of Dionysios" was first used by the artist Michelangelo Caravaggio.The second gallery is the Cave of Ropes, Grotto dei Cordari, where rope-makers practiced their trade through the centuries; it is now closed off.
Ear of Dionysius
Inside the entrance archway of the Archeological Park in Syracuse, along the garden wall, we come to the so-called Ear of Dionysius, an S-shaped cave hewn from the rock, 65m/213ft deep, 23m/76ft in height and 5-11m/5.5-12yd wide, contracting towards the top, in which sound is considerably amplified without any recurring echo. It has born its present name since the 16th century, reflecting the belief that the tyrant Dionysius was thus able to overhear even the whispered remarks of state prisoners confined in the quarry. Farther to the right, under the west wall of the quarry, is the Grotta del Cordari, named after the ropemakers who carried on their trade there.
The Via Paradiso in Syracuse leads to the upper entrance and a road where ancient sarcophagi have been grouped together. A little further lies the A.D. third century Roman Amphitheater (Antiteatro Romano). It was partly hewn from the existing rock. Entrances were at either end. Below the front row of seats is a walkway for the gladiators and the wild animals used in the competitions. The arena was also suitable for spectacles representing fights at sea (naumachias). Today rock concerts are held here from time to time.
To the northeast of the Roman Ampitheater in Syracuse lie the Necropoli Grotticelli with large numbers of graves which were hewn out of the limestone rock during Greek, Roman and Byzantine times.
Grave of Archimedes
Below the Necropoli Grotticelli in Syracuse lies what has become known as the Grave of Archimedes, recognizable by its gabled facade which, when the site is closed, can be seen from outside by taking Via E. Romagnoli from the amphitheater to Viale Teracati. The famous mathematician, who was killed when the Romans conquered Syracuse in 212 B.C., was in fact not buried here at all, but in front of the gateway to Agrigento; the building here is actually a Roman columbarium (sepulchral chamber) dating from the first century A.D.
Latomia dei Cappuccini
From the catacombs in Syracuse, going northeast along Via Augusto von Platen, with the entrance to the Catacombs of Vigna Cassia, and then 500m/550yd east along Via Bassa Acradina, past the Old Cemetery, we come to a Capuchin monastery and beside it the Latomia dei Cappuccini, one of the ancient quarries, in which the 7,000 Athenian prisoners taken in 414 B.C. were probably confined.
From the church of San Giovanni in Syracuse a flight of steps leads down to the cruciform Crypt of St Marcian (fourth century, with remains of frescoes) and the adjoining Catacombs (Catacombe di San Giovanni), which are among the most imposing known, far larger than the catacombs of Rome.
Streets of Tombs
The Streets of Tombs (Via dei Sepolcri) in Syracuse, hewn from the rock, runs up in a curve for some 150m/165yd with numerous cavities and tomb chambers of the late Roman period.
Map - Parco Archeologico della Neapoli
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