Last Updated on 2021/05/01
Pantalica Necropolis, rupestrian funerary architecture
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Pantalica, Syracuse, Sicily, is located on a limestone promontory and is best known for its rock-cut tombs (13th to 7th centuries BC.).
The name of the site seems to derive from the Arabic Buntarigah, which means ‘caves’, due to the obvious presence of multiple natural and artificial caves.
Surrounded by a deep gorge formed by Calcinara and Anapo rivers, is also an important nature reserve (Riserva Naturale Orientata Pantalica): bat caves, flora, and fauna.
The area is crossed by a disused railway track, dismantled in 1956.
Pantalica is one of the most important Sicilian protohistoric sites, useful for understanding the moment of transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age on the island. It is poetically, but not scientifically, identified with the ancient Hybla, a Sicilian kingdom that from the thirteenth to the eighth century BC. it extended from the Anapo valley to Syracuse.
Who built the tombs?
In the 13th century BC, some coastal settlements were abandoned, possibly due to the arrival of the Sicels on the island and the onset of more unsettled conditions. The Sicels were an Italic tribe who inhabited eastern Sicily during the Iron Age. Their neighbors to the west were the Sicani.
The Sicels gave Sicily the name it has held since antiquity, but they rapidly fused into the culture of Magna Graecia.
New large sites, like Pantalica, appeared in the hilly coastal hinterlands, probably chosen for defensive reasons.
Pantalica evidently flourished for about 600 years, from about 1250 to 650 BC. The current name of the site probably dates from the Early Middle Ages or Arab period. The ancient name of the site is uncertain, but is associated by some archaeologists with Hybla, after a Sicel king named Hyblon, who is mentioned by Thucydides in connection with the foundation of the early Greek colony at Megara Hyblaea in the year 728 BC. For several centuries before Greek colonization, Pantalica was undoubtedly one of the main sites of eastern Sicily, dominating the surrounding territory, including subsidiary settlements. By about 650 BC, however, it seems to have been a victim of the expansion of the city of Syracuse, which established an outpost at Akrai (Palazzolo Acreide) at this time. Nevertheless, it was still occupied during classical antiquity, since finds of the 4th-3rd centuries BC (Hellenistic period) are attested, as well as during the late antique or Byzantine periods. After the 12th century it was probably largely deserted, and overshadowed by Sortino.
The remains visible today consist mainly of numerous prehistoric burial chambers cut into the limestone rock, sometimes provided with a porch or short entrance corridor in front of the burial chamber, originally sealed with stones or a slab.
There are also some larger rock-cut houses of uncertain date (often said to be Byzantine, but possibly of earlier origin). The so-called anaktoron, or princely palace, located near the top of the hill, is also controversial. Thought by some archaeologists originally to have been a Late Bronze Age building, inspired by palatial buildings of the Greek (Mycenaean) Bronze Age, it was more certainly occupied in the Byzantine period. The remains of a large defensive ditch, cut into the limestone, are clearly visible at Filiporto (on the western side of the promontory, nearest to Ferla). This probably dates to the 4th century BC and represents a defensive work of Greek military design, possibly in line with a policy of Dionysius of Syracuse, designed to secure allied sites in the hinterland. There are also three small Medieval rock-cut chapels popularly called the Grotta del Crocifisso (near the North cemetery), Grotta di San Nicolicchio (on the southern side) and Grotta di San Micidario (at Filiporto), which preserve very faint traces of frescoes and attest the presence of small monastic communities.
The site was mainly excavated between 1895 and 1910 by the distinguished Italian archaeologist, Paolo Orsi, although most of the tombs had already been rifled or emptied long before his time. The finds excavated by Orsi are on display in the Archaeological Museum in Syracuse. They include characteristic red-burnished pottery vessels and metal objects, including weaponry (small knives and daggers) and items of dress, such as bronze fibulae (brooches) and rings, which were placed with the deceased in the tombs. Most of the tombs contained between 1 and 7 individuals of all ages and both sexes. Many tombs were evidently re-opened periodically in order to admit more burials. The average human life span at this time was probably around 30 years of age. The size of the prehistoric population is hard to estimate from the available data, but might easily have been 1000 people or more. [Wikipedia]
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