Pantalica and the Anapo river, engraved in time
Pantalica is an ancient rupestrian necropolis in the province of Syracuse. It is one of the many sites in Italy that have been inscribed in UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
The highlands where it rises are surrounded by canyons dug by the Anapo river over millennia.
Sicilian journalist Roberto Giardina has written, “The Anapo climbs towards Pantalica, so in the span of fifty kilometers you go from mouth to spring, and from our Syracuse, where you can pray the Holy Virgin in what used to be Athena’s temple, to prehistoric Sicily, all the way back to a time before Homer.”
“Local people were driven back here in the backcountry by the Greek settlers who invaded their land; they withdrew around the Anapo, in Pantalica, which had always been the land of the dead. It was the mythical kingdom of Hyblione, whose most recent remains date back to the 13th century BC, the age of Troy. It’s a rocky valley with thousands of black holes: the tombs of an immense necropolis. They were dug in the limestone with great effort, using bronze and stone axes – before the Iron Age began. People from all over Sicily brought their dead here.”
“The name ‘Pantalica’ comes from the Arab ‘Buntarigah’, meaning ‘cave’. This is where the first people of the Mediterranean settled when they came from Africa, fifty – or maybe seventy – thousand years before our time” (translated from “L’Europa e le vie del Mediterraneo”, Bompiani, Milan 2006).
“Pantalica is not a town,” Cesare Brandi states, “but a remote location for a necropolis; it might have also been the nucleus of a Sicilian kingdom during Mycenae’s time, and later a small Byzantine hamlet. After this whole sequence of events, Pantalica is like a skull: large, empty orbits and rough-hewed, heavy stones, lined up like the remains of a castle. The empty orbits are prehistoric tombs where perhaps people lived, later, like the Sassi in Matera but without any built elements, without any additions […].”
“Pantalica’s outstanding feature is its structure, with large and deep canyons created in the hardest of rocks by two torrents, Rio Bottigliera and the “almost river” Anapo, which in Syracuse is flanked by papyri along the banks […]. These wonderful gorges, which you can see from above, twist and wind as if they had a sandy bed instead of being engraved in stone, with green tufts here and there. On the bottom, they have a river – it is a river of greenery: the water is hidden by those plants (translated from “Viaggi e scritti letterari”, Bompiani, Milan 2009).