WHEN STONES SPEAK
The latom of the cappuccinos is the oldest among those of Syracuse, in addition to the traces of human activity it also presents the signs of the force of nature that give this place an exotic, almost magical appearance that leaves free vent to fantasy.
The Latomia dei Cappuccini, or Quarry of the Capuchins, has a surface area of some 23,000 square metres, making it the largest and one of the oldest of any other in the Syracuse area. The word Latomia comes from the Latin Latomĭas, and the Greek latomía, composed of lâs or ‘stone’ and témnein meaning ‘to cut’.
Latomias were large stone quarries from which stone for building was extracted. Probably because of their extreme depth (some went as deep as 40 m) and inaccessibility, they were also used as wartime prisons. Pages of text written by Tucidyte tell a horrifying account of 7,000 Athenian slaves kept prisoner in these quarries, forced to survive in unspeakably ghastly conditions after their defeat in 412 BCE.
Over the centuries, the quarries became a place of worship, as well as a pagan and Christian necropolis, as proven by the numerous underground burial chambers, which can today be visited at various points, that were found.
In the early XIX century, the historian and archaeologist Giuseppe Maria Capodieci wrote about when the University of Syracuse donated the Latomia to the Capuchin monks (1582), who built a fortified monastery on top of it while, inside, a huge vegetable garden became home to thriving trees and plants. This garden was important not necessarily because of the rarity of the species, but for the height some of the trees reached – sometimes 20 to 30 metres – as they sought out the sun, which shone down there only a few hours a day.
Some centenarian poplar trees survive to this day, immortalised by the drawings and etchings of foreign travellers, many of them on their Grand Tour, artists like Jean-Pierre Houel, who did not hesitate to express his admiration for this historic garden saying “nothing is more fascinating in Syracuse than the Latomias…”
In 1866, when a law banning Ecclesiastic ownership was passed, the latomias became public property and now belong to the City of Syracuse.
Piazza Cappuccini , Siracusa, SR 96100
November 2015 – March 2016:
April – October
Full Ticket: € 5,00 (attività didattica)
Reduced Ticket: € 3,00
(Under 18 / over 65 / Families / Schools / Teachers / Journalists / Military and Law Enforcement)
Cumulative Ticket: € 10,00
(School groups / groups of pilgrims)
The Latomia, or Quarry, of the Capuchins is at the extreme north-eastern edge of ancient Syracuse. Its distance from Ortygia makes it inadvisable (but not impossible) to walk here, especially if you have a limited amount of time to tour the city. To get here by car, take the Riviera Dionisio il Grande, which skirts the coastline, directly to Piazzale Cappuccini. There is also a bus for those without a car.
The structure of the area, which has been excavated for tens of meters below the surface, features stairs and sloped areas that, unfortunately, represent architectural barriers and do not facilitate the visit of persons with mobility problems.
tel. +39 0931 64 694
As you walk over the paths, you’ll be struck by the sheer beauty of the place. Huge stone pilasters reach up to support massive blocks of stone, mysterious grottoes with an arcane allure have been turned into perfect natural theatres. Some of them still bear the traces of the ancient wells from which the Capuchin fathers drew the water to irrigate their gardens. The walls of the quarry still bear the signs of the techniques used to extract the white stone of Syracuse. And, finally, at the centre of this immense natural park, are two pillars of rock, one of which looks like the head of a crocodile with its jaws wide open.
THE NATURAL THEATRE
Up until the 1970s, the Latomia of the Capuchins was one of the city’s main attractions, a place where you could spend an evening enjoying all manner of entertainment in a beautiful space called Teatro della Verdura, or the Theatre of Greens. It was a custom of sorts that actors playing in the Classical performances at the Greek Theatre would also appear on stage at the Latomia theatre, such fine actors as Vittorio Gasmann, Elena Zareschi, Annibale Ninchi and so many others.
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