Necropolis of Pantalica

Sortino, Italy

The Necropolis of Pantalica is a collection of cemeteries with rock-cut chamber tombs in southeast Sicily. Dating from the 13th to the 7th centuries BC., there was thought to be over 5,000 tombs, although the most recent estimate suggests a figure of just under 4,000. Together with the city of Syracuse, Pantalica was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

In the 13th century BC, some Sicilian coastal settlements were abandoned, possibly due to the arrival of the Sicels on the island and the onset of more unsettled conditions. New large sites, like Pantalica, appeared in the hilly coastal hinterlands.

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 archeologists 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 (near Palazzolo Acreide) at this time. Nevertheless, it was still occupied during classical antiquity, since finds of the 4th and 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 archeologists 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 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 known respectively as the Grotta del Crocifisso (near the North cemetery), the Grotta di San Nicolicchio (on the southern side), and the Grotta di San Micidario (at Filiporto), which preserve very faint traces of frescoes, and attest the presence of small monastic communities.

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Via Pantalica, Sortino, Italy
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Founded: 13th century BCE
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