THE TUNNELS OF HISTORY
An underground journey will lead you to the discovery of the largest catacombs in Syracuse, an extraordinary place of worship for beauty and history. Through its large galleries, you will travel to the womb of the earth and breathe a climate full of sacredness; You will discover, in the peace of a millennial sleep, the secret of life beyond death.
The San Giovanni complex encompasses the Catacombs of San Giovanni, the Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista and the Crypt of San Marciano. The ancient name of the catacombs remains a mystery and its given name comes from that of the basilica above it. It was built in the IV century over an old Classic age aqueduct. It has a very regular layout reminiscent of the Roman castrum.
THE STRUCTURE AND THE BURIAL NICHES
The main gallery is called Decumanus Maximus and the ten secondary tunnels, known as Cardines, branch off from it. Five go north from the main axis and five south, and they lead to as many chapels carved out of ancient water cisterns. The types of graves are standard ones: loculi, rectangular niches topped with tiles, marble slabs or stones bearing inscriptions; arcosolii, a more elegant type of burial niche featuring an arch carved into the rock and the resting place closed horizontally with a slab of stone known as a mensa above which there was an arched niche. A forma, or grave dug into the ground of the tunnel, was used if space in the catacombs was lacking, or the Christian family was especially poor.
Largo San Marciano, 3 , Siracusa, SR, 96100
from Monday to Saturday
9.30-12.30 / 14.30-16.30
From 26 December to 6 January
9.30-12.30 / 14.30-17.00
From 7 January to 7 February closed
9.30-12.30 / 14.30-17.30
July and August
10.00-13.00 / 14.30-18.00
Full Ticket: € 8,00
Reduced ticket: € 5,00
(Groups / under 16 / over 65 / military and law enforcement)
Reduced ticket: € 3,00
(School groups / groups of pilgrims)
Teachers / Priests / Disabled and their accompanying / PIAC Students
tel. +39 0931 64 694
One of the secondary tunnels houses an unusual grave. The lid has three holes and are proof of an ancient ritual known as the refrigerium, meaning ‘refreshment.’ The aim of the Christian ceremony of the funeral banquet was to benefit the soul of the deceased on the anniversary of his death, the dies natalis of the soul to eternal life. On this day, the mourning family would console themselves by pouring wine, milk and honey through the holes in the lid.
THE SARCOPHAGUS AND THE EPIGRAPHS
In 1872 archaeologist Saverio Cavallari discovered one of the rare marble sarcophagi from the early Christian era. The Latin inscription found on it named the rounded area where this noble woman and wife of a high functionary of the Imperial court was buried: di Adelfia. The sarcophagus is decorated with portrayals of scenes from the Old and New Testament, and one of the conches is graced with portraits of the deceased couple.
The many epigraphs found in the cemetery have provided important information on the history and society of the era. The inscription of the word Euskia, for example, bears witness to the antiquity of the cult of worship surrounding St. Lucia in Syracuse.
THE BASILICA OF SAN GIOVANNI AND THE CRYPT OF SAN MARCIANO
The Basilica of San Giovanni Evangelista was built by the Byzantines in the VI century. It has three naves with Doric columns recovered from older, pagan buildings. In the XII century, the Normans reconstructed the walls and embellished the western façade with a rosette and an entrance with pointed arch. Over the centuries the basilica was damaged and modified several times, the last blow to it was the earthquake of 1908.
Tradition has it that in 39 CE, St. Peter sent Bishop Marciano to Syracuse to preach the gospels. He has always been considered the first bishop of Syracuse and the grotto in which his body was laid to rest immediately became a place of worship and Christian burial. This is where the Byzantine crypt was built, five metres below street level, a Greek cross layout with three apses and Ionic columns and capitals. You can still see the remains of the ancient opus sectile floor and frescoes depicting St. Lucia, St. Marciano, St. John the Baptist, St. Peter and St. Paul. When the Normans modified the architectural layout they set four capitals – each one embellished with a symbol of one of the four evangelists – along the walls of the central nave, and the entrance to the crypt was adorned with a pointed cross-vaulted ceiling with an eagle, the symbol of King Frederick II of Swabia, at the top.
St. John's Church at the catacombs
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