20 stunning images of Pantalica Necropolis

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Pantalica Necropolis, rupestrian funerary architecture


Pantalica, Syracuse, Sicily, is located on a limestone promontory and is best known for its rock-cut tombs (13th to 7th centuries BC.).

The rock-cut necropolis of Pantalica, is a captivating natural and archaeological site located in the province of Siracusa, Sicily. The name “Pantalica” has its origins in either the Greek word “πάνταλίθος,” meaning “place full of stones,” or the Arabic “Buntarigah,” which translates to “place full of caves.” This nomenclature is fitting due to the presence of numerous natural and artificial caves within the area.

Situated on a plateau, Pantalica is surrounded by canyons that have formed over millennia, carved by the Anapo and Calcinara rivers. These canyons define the distinctive landscape of the area. Both the plateau and the surrounding valleys, known as the “Valle dell’Anapo,” are crucial natural areas. The Giarranauti region boasts a forest, and various trails allow visitors to explore the site. Access to the Valle dell’Anapo is available from two points, one from Sortino and the other from Ferla. It is also an important nature reserve (Riserva Naturale Orientata Pantalica): bat caves, flora, and fauna.


Pantalica Necropolis
Pantalica falls within the “Riserva naturale orientata Pantalica, Valle dell’Anapo e Torrente Cava Grande,” a protected natural reserve

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.

Within Pantalica, there are also larger rock-cut houses whose exact dating remains uncertain. While some have suggested a Byzantine origin, it’s possible that they date back to an earlier period. The anaktoron, often referred to as the princely palace, is perched near the summit of the hill, and its origins have sparked debates among archaeologists. Initially thought by some to be a construction from the Late Bronze Age, influenced by the palatial architecture of the Greek (Mycenaean) Bronze Age, it is more securely associated with the Byzantine era.

The excavation of Pantalica primarily occurred during the period spanning 1895 to 1910, under the diligent guidance of the renowned Italian archaeologist, Paolo Orsi. However, it’s worth noting that many of the tombs had already been plundered or emptied long before Orsi’s endeavors began.

Pantalica graves
Pantalica graves, source

The artifacts unearthed by Orsi during his excavations find their home in the Archaeological Museum located in Syracuse. Among these discoveries are distinctive red-burnished pottery vessels and an array of metal objects, including weaponry such as small knives and daggers. Additionally, items of attire, such as bronze fibulae (brooches) and rings, were interred alongside the deceased within the tombs.

Most of the tombs discovered within Pantalica contained the remains of between 1 and 7 individuals, spanning all age groups and both genders. Interestingly, it is evident that many of these tombs were periodically reopened, allowing for additional burials to take place.

During the era when these tombs were in use, the average human lifespan was likely around 30 years. Estimating the size of the prehistoric population from the available data remains challenging, but it is plausible that it could have exceeded 1000 individuals or more.

The necropolises seen at night
The necropolises seen at night, source

The archaeological area of Pantalica is dominated by the “anaktoron,” its highest point. The plateau is encircled by steep valleys, rendering the territory semi-inaccessible, except for the easily accessible route via the Sella di Filiporto, which is now traversed by State Road 11 originating from Ferla. Here, a fortified entrance with a protective moat was constructed.

While early archaeological research by Paolo Orsi identified Pantalica as ancient Erbesso, more recent studies by Bernabò Brea suggest that it may be the historic Hybla. This was a kingdom inhabited by King Hyblon, who allowed the Megarians, led by Lamis, to settle in a part of his territory and establish Megara Hyblaea in 728 BC.

The tombs of the necropolis
The tombs of the necropolis, source

In the early 13th century BC, coastal settlements in Sicily abruptly disappeared due to the arrival of the Siculi and other Italic populations, or for reasons still unknown. The indigenous population abandoned the coastal regions, seeking refuge in rugged and remote mountainous areas for defensive purposes, forming large settlements. These peoples shared cultural ties with Thapsos, the most significant center on the coastal zone, evident from the artifacts’ style and interactions with Mycenaean traders.

Around 1050 BC, Pantalica temporarily lost its importance as its population moved to the Necropolis of Cassibile and the surrounding areas, where the Pantalica II facies flourished. However, this shift was only temporary, as Pantalica regained its significance in the first half of the 9th century BC. During this intermediate phase, proximity to the coast led to Phoenician influences in style and subsequently in trade.

Around 850 BC, for unclear reasons (as the Greeks had not yet established Sicilian colonies), the Siculi populations of Pantalica relocated from the coast to the hinterlands, reclaiming the more remote areas. Sites like Pantalica multiplied in the southeastern Sicilian region, remaining in internal areas until the arrival of the Greeks, marking a series of contacts and future conflicts for territorial control.

The subsequent rise and expansion of Syracuse led to the destruction of the new city granted by King Hyblon to the Megarians. Most likely, the Syracusans also destroyed the kingdom of Pantalica. The influence of the polis extended to the hinterland with the foundation of Akrai in 664 BC. Vestiges of this culture include the remains of the Prince’s Palace or Anaktoron, as well as a vast necropolis with over 5000 rock-cut tombs.

Church of San Micidiario
Church of San Micidiario, source

The necropolis area was not fully inhabited during the Greek period. It wasn’t until the early Middle Ages, around the 6th century AD, that the region saw habitation due to incursions by barbarians, pirates, and later Arabs in the 9th century. These hardships compelled the population to seek refuge in these inaccessible places, leaving behind evidence of Byzantine-era dwellings. Even today, remnants of rock-cut houses from the Byzantine period and small rock-cut oratories such as the Grotta del Crocifisso, San Nicolicchio, and San Micidiario are visible.


Wikipedia 1 , Wikipedia 2




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