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The Necropolis and Acropolis of Pantalica

Anatkoron by night

Pantalica, or rather the rocky necropolis of Pantalica, are a naturalistic-archaeological site in the province of Syracuse. 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.

It is one of the most important proto-historic places in Sicily, useful for understanding the moment of transition from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age on the island. It comes poetically, but not scientifically, identified with the ancient Hybla, a Sicilian kingdom that from the 13th to the 8th century BC it extended from the Anapo valley to Syracuse.

Where is the necropolis of Pantalica

The site is located on a plateau, surrounded by canyons formed over the millennia by two rivers, the Anapo and the Calcinara, which determined the canyon-like topography of the area. The plateau as well as the valleys below (defined Valle dell’Anapo) are important naturalistic areas. In the area of ​​Giarranauti there is a forest. Various paths allow you to visit the site. The Anapo Valley is accessible from two gates connected to each other, from the side of Sortino and from the side of Ferla.

canyon in Pantalica
Typical canion next to the Necropolis of Pantalica

The area in which archaeological interests fall has its highest point as the anktoron. The plateau is surrounded by steep valleys that make the area semi-inaccessible except for the easy access (now covered by the Regional Road 11 from Ferla) of the Filiporto Sella. Here a fortified entrance was built with a moat for protection.Pantalica falls within the Pantalica Oriented Nature Reserve, Valle dell’Anapo and Torrente Cava Grande

Greek settlements in Pantalica

In the first half of the 13th century BC, all the coastal settlements disappeared almost suddenly due to the arrival in Sicily of the Sicilians and other Italic populations or for other causes unknown to us; the indigenous population therefore abandoned the coastal strip and sought refuge in inaccessible and uncomfortable mountainous areas, chosen because they responded to defense needs, gathering in large agglomerations. These people were culturally linked to Thapsos the most important center of the coastal area (evidenced by the style of the artefacts), which also had contacts with merchants from Mycenae.

Settlements after the Greek Age

The subsequent birth and expansion of Syracuse caused the destruction of the new city that Hyblon granted to the megaresi and probably the Syracusans also destroyed the kingdom of Pantalica, having dominated the polis expanded up to the hinterland, with the foundation of Akrai in 664 BC. The vestiges of the Prince’s palace or Anaktoron remain of this culture, as well as a vast necropolis of 5,000 tombs with artificial caves, carved into the rock.

external view of Pantalica Necropolis
External view of Necropolis of Pantalica

The area of ​​the necropolis will never be completely inhabited in Greek times; we will have to wait for the first centuries of the Middle Ages, that is to say in the 6th century AD, when the incursions of the barbarians, pirates and then the Arabs then in the IX century, will force the populations to look for safe shelters in these inaccessible places; thus we have the testimonies of the Byzantine era. Still today the remains of the dwellings dug in the rock in the Byzantine era and the remains of the small rocky oratories of the cave of the Crocifisso, of San Nicolicchio and of San Micidiario are still visible.

Places of Interest in Pantalica

  • The south-west or Filiporto necropolis is made up of a thousand tombs that extend over the slopes and into the Anapo basin, belonging to the last phase of the city (IX-VIII century BC)
  • The North-West necropolis, one of the oldest in the area (XII-XI century BC)
  • The necropolis of the Cavetta from the IX-VIII century BC with the presence of Byzantine dwellings
  • The northern necropolis is the largest and most dense and dates back to the 12th-11th century BC
  • The southern necropolis of the IX-VIII century BC
  • The necropolis of San Martino, is among the most interesting. It is composed of tholos tombs from the prehistoric period and the Byzantine catacombs: the Hypogeum of Dionysus and the Grotto of Sant’Anna. The first dates back to the 4th – 5th century AD and at the entrance there is an inscription that reads: “Dionysius who served as a priest in the Erghitan Church for 34 years sleeps eternal sleep here.” While in the second it probably dates back to the 11th-13th century, it has frescoes in some walls where partially recognize the figures of saints: St. Mary and St. Peter and St. Anastasia. In both necropolises there are canopy tombs.
Pantalica Necropolis during the night
The night over Pantalica Necropolis

The Acropolis of Pantalica

In one of the highest points of the area, in a position dominating the view of the valleys, is the so-called acropolis of Pantalica. From this point the possible arrival of enemies was easily controlled, here the “palace of the prince” or Anaktoron, the only stone building in the area, was built. The building of the Anaktoron dates back to the 12th-11th century BC and seems to attest to an influence of Mycenaean builders, a detail that is of particular interest for the anthropic geography of the time.

San Micidiario

S. Micidiario, near the entrance of Filiporto where a moat from the IX-VIII century BC can still be seen with traces of fortifications from the Byzantine era, there is a village of about 150 dwellings with the church of S. Micidiario on the edge of an abyss. Inside there are still faint traces of frescoes and wall inscriptions in poor readability conditions. However, we can recognize the figure of the Pantocrator flanked by two angels and another figure, perhaps a San Mercurio due to an inscription in Greek Ο ΑΓΙΟΧ [ΟΥΡΙΟΧ]. The interior fresco layers look like two, the lower reddish one and the upper blue one. The ceiling has an interesting double sloping shape. The oratory leads to the right to a second room with floor graves, while the second room may have been used as a religious residence or as a prison and they keep animals in because there are stone rings where something could be tied. The lower hole that looks to the cliff could be an ancient toilet.

San Nicolicchio

S. Nicolicchio, at the foot of the Anaktoron there is a small village whose center is the oratory of S. Nicolicchio, also decorated with traces of very ruined fresco. However, St. Helena and St. Stephen are recognized. The dating seems to be from the 7th century.

Grotta del Crocifisso

Grotta del Crocifisso, used as a church, shows a rectangular apse with the remains of a crucifixion as well as the representation of Saint Nicholas and an anonymous Saint whose representation has been detached and kept at Paolo Orsi.

The Village of Cavetta

The village of Cavetta, with groups of troglodyte dwellings.

Cave of Bats

Cave of bats, it is one of the many natural cavities present in one of the valleys, next to the Calcinara river. The peculiarity of this large cavity lies in the fact that immediately after the entrance, after passing a 12 m corridor, an inner room full of bats opens up.

Grotta della Stella

Grotta della Stella is located near the Cassaro side entrance, on the walls along the Anapo river. In 2012, a team of scholars carried out measurements also identifying anthropic traces that suggest a use as a prehistoric rock temple.


Giarranauti is a large wood in the upper part of the Pantalica plateau. This area as well as being suggestive for the presence of a forest is also rich in testimonies of the past, especially of the Byzantine era. Following the paths inside the park there are the remains of a Byzantine village (we are talking about the 6th-8th century AD), the tanneries and the millstones dug into the rock.

night view of Anaktoron
The Necropolis of Pantalica extends over some 1,200 m from north to south and 500 m from east to west in the region of Sortino. In the hilly terrain (caverns and precipices) and a natural environment of great beauty, about 5,000 tombs are visible, most of which have been hewn out of the rock face. Archaeological research has brought to light, in this zone, vestigial remains of dwellings from the period of Greek colonization. Materials of Mycenean origin and monumental structures were recognised, enabling the identification of the Anaktoron
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