LABYRINTH OF THE MEMORY
Through its large galleries you will feel and experience a climate full of sacredness, and you will discover the secret of life beyond death, surrounded by the peacefulness of a millennial-sleep.
Just outside the ancient walls of Syracuse, near the Archaeological Park Neapolis and the impressive Madonna delle Lacrime’s Sanctuary, stands the amazing Basilica named to San Giovanni Evangelista. It is a stunning open air church with subterranean treasures: the painted San Marciano’s Crypt and the San Giovanni’s Catacombs.
Catacombs’ underground tunnels are so secretive and fascinating, are carved exactly into the limestone rocks and create a sacred labyrinth ruled by silence. It is an essential place to visit and to enjoy an intriguing and exciting experience back in the past of Syracuse.
STRUCTURE LAYOUT AND GRAVES
San Giovanni’s Catacombs have an easy architecture: there is the main tunnel called Decumanus Maximus, from which branch out ten perpendicular minor tunnels called Cardines. All these tunnels end into round chambers called Rotonde, that originally were cisterns of the ancient and disused Greek aqueduct and then converted into funeral chapels for prestigious families. In this underground cemetery are clear different burial types: loculo (rectangular niche covered by tiles, slab of marble or other stone, with writing on it), arcosolio (better and elaborate niche surrounded by an arch carved into the limestone rock) and forma (space excavated on the floor of the tunnels, due to no enough space or money).
Largo San Marciano, 3 , Siracusa, SR, 96100
FROM MONDAY TO SUNDAY
MEETING POINT: catacomb entrance
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 PIAC Students / Students
tel. +39 0931 64 694
Inside one of the minor tunnels there is a particular grave, of course a carved niche covered by a slab stone with three holes on it. An ancient pagan ritual is in the air: “Refrigerium” literally means “refreshment”, which was a funeral feast for departed person, that aimed to feed its soul and ensure the transition to eternal life. Indeed during the ceremony the living poured some wine, milk and honey through the opened holes to honour their dead.
SARCOPHAGUS AND INSCRIPTIONS
It was a warm July day of 1872 when the archaeologist Saverio Cavallari, who was director of the Antichità di Sicilia, found in a Rotonda the Sarcophagus of Adelfia, one of the most important and ancient evidence of antique Christendom. It is named to a lady, the wife of Count Valerio a high imperial official. She is represented in a marble bas-relief with her husband, but the dominating element is a rich decoration with biblical scenes, in particular the Nativity considered “the oldest Manger scene in the world”.
On the walls of the Catacombs tunnels were found several inscriptions which provide important iconographic, historical and social information: for example the inscription of Euskia, discovered in 1894 by the archaeologist Paolo Orsi, is the oldest evidence of devotion and worship to Santa Lucia in Syracuse.
SAN GIOVANNI’S BASILICA AND SAN MARCIANO’S CRYPT
The Basilica named to San Giovanni Evanglista is a real “architectural narration”, with an incredible white limestone rose-window and an elegant porch, with various decorations dated to different ages which create a special and harmonic mixture of styles.
According to tradition it was built in the 6th century by Byzantines; the church had a large rectory and three wide naves, but today remain just parts of the original columns. On the contrary are still clear the perimeter walls, because restored by Normans in the 12th century, together with frontal facade, after the earthquake of 1169. In the following centuries the Basilica was even more damaged by earthquakes, such as the significant one of 1908 that destroyed permanently the rooftop.
A stone stairway on the north side of the Basilica is used to entry into the basement Crypt, located at 5 meters underground. According to Christian tradition this subterranean church was built where San Marciano was buried; he was the first bishop of Siracusa, sent by San Pietro in 39 a.D. to institute in the city the first Christian community of the Western world.
The man-made cave used as his grave quickly became a place of worship. Are still clear remains of the apse and parts of the floor, in addition to several columns and Ionic capitals. Moreover the Normans decorated the Crypt by adding four marble capitals depicting the Evangelists, and by painting stone walls with ornaments still brilliant.
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