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Posts Tagged ‘Roman ruins’

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It is hard to believe that under this depressing mound of litter lies an important historical site.

There, buried under the grime and grot, is nothing less than the late-Roman tomb of a wealthy Christian family, dating from around 400 AD, containing two sarcophagi and decorated with frescoes of roses, wreaths, swags and peacocks.

The frescoes are similar to those in the catacombs of San Giovanni, where 4th century Christians took refuge from persecutors.

The mausoleum is in Viale Teocrito in Syracuse, only a few steps from the famous Paolo Orsi archaeological museum, but no visitors would know it was there because it has sunk virtually without trace, surrounded by grim corporation railings.

Over the years, the roads have been gradually raised around it, leaving it a good two metres below street level, as if it is some eyesore public toilet block.

Now, the traffic roars and blasts its way past above roof height, while buses that stop almost beside it carry passengers who afford it not a glance. It is opposite one of the entrances to the modern sanctuary, the Madonna delle Lacrime, yet I doubt that more than a handful of worshippers would be aware of its existence.

Those who do know about it are anxious for its value and historical significance to come to wider notice and to be accorded more TLC.

The mausoleum is named after Vincenzo Politi, the painter, antiquarian and archaeologist who discovered it in 1826. If he knew what a grim state his lovely discovery was in, he might be spinning in his own grave.

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Walking along a busy, dirty, going-nowhere sort of road called Via Elorina in Siracusa, lined with derelict buildings and some scruffy stores, an open space was revealed on my right, behind a length of paint-peeled railings.

A gate was propped open so I went in, my feet brushing through the long grass.

To my amazement, I found myself standing in the Ginnasio Romano, an ancient site that was discovered 150 years ago and is estimated to date from between 200BC and 200AD.

Theories about its origins vary, but a distinctly 21st century information board (I use the word ‘information’ very loosely) advised me that it could either have been a Roman curia, a kind of district office for the Pope, or a sanctuary of votive offerings to Oriental deities.

What an extraordinary place to have stumbled across. I walked around the small site, about the size of a football pitch, and was saddened to see it in an apparent state of abandonment.

A trimmed hedge of oleander down one side was the only sign that anyone had tended or even visited this extraordinary place recently. Yet of course it does draw visitors, of a determined mindset presumably, a fact which I discovered later on looking it up online.

How anyone reaches the Ginnasio Romano I cannot imagine, since my walk took me well away from the centre of the town and, this being Italy, there were of course no direction signs.

Little wonder that on Trip Advisor it is rated as 75th out of 95 things to see and do in and around Siracusa, yet it is beautiful in its way, unsung, unloved and so brimming with ancient history that it deserves far greater attention.

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