Saturday, December 16, 2006

Nature and Necropoli

A few years ago, after seeing Roman mosaics and then Greek temples, some visitors of mine kept kidding me with the question, "When are you going to show us something really old?" If they come back to Sicily, I can do that!

Imagine cliffside burial caves that date back as far as 1300 B.C.--that's over 3,300 years old!

Then imagine over 5,000 of them located in one huge gorge here in Sicily!

Now we're talking OLD, really old.

Welcome to Pantalica, one of the best-kept secrets in Sicily. It's not only a fabulously old archaeological site, but it's also a protected nature area that is spectacularly beautiful!

It's a little off the beaten path, but we didn't have too much trouble finding one of the two entrances into the gorge near the town of Sortino, just off the highway to Siracusa. Brown signs indicating a historical site mark the way pretty well, even through the maze of Sortino itself. You then wind through some of the most beautiful countryside anywhere in Sicily, all white cliffs, grassy meadows, wildflowers, and occasional stone buildings. Gorges, cliffs, and valleys surround the winding road that suddenly just stops. Then you know you are there, and you leave your car to begin a pretty rugged hike down into the gorge. This is the Valle del Calcinara end.

I was glad I'd worn hiking boots but sorry I hadn't brought my hiking poles, as the path was very rocky, sometimes steep and treacherous. You also have to bring your own food and water, as there is nothing out there but nature and necropoli, as they call burial places like this. It would probably only take about 45 minutes to hike to the bottom, but we kept stopping to marvel, to wonder, to take photos, and to stand in awe of the place. The deeper we got into the gorge, the more caves/tombs we saw. Some were found along the very path we were on; we could go right into them! The doors were cut squarely and precisely into the rock, and clearly there were places for a door of sorts, perhaps another stone, and indentations for something to hold it shut. Nowadays, the caves are all without doors, which makes the cliffside look like a honeycomb. How they got the bodies up, or down, to the tombs, I do not know, but most of them are far from either top or bottom.

Upon reaching the bottom, we found a crystal clear stream running noisily over the rocks. It wasn't deep, which was lucky, since I promptly slipped and fell knee-deep in it. Luckily also, it was not cold that day, and I just had to put up with a wet foot the rest of the afternoon. We crossed and went a little way up the path on the opposite side of the gorge and found a large cave to stand in while a little shower passed through. Down below, rock climbers were doing what they do on the walls of a concave cave opening. We met two sets of British tourists and that was all the human contact we encountered that day.

Birds and wildflowers abound, as do the famous Sicilian cacti with their red fruit. Wild gladioli are seen everywhere. Even in December, this is a colorful place.

Afterwards, we drove around the entire gorge to the other end near the town of Ferla. There is another valley to explore here, the Valle dell' Anapo, but it will have to wait for another day, another well-kept secret to discover.

To see more photos, go to my Flickr page.


At December 17, 2006 2:41 AM, Anonymous Susan said...

A very well-written account of this trip. I know, because I was happily with her for the experience hike! Susan

At December 18, 2006 10:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wish I was there! Leslie Deal

At December 24, 2006 7:49 PM, Blogger Colleen in CA said...

The caves look and sound fascinating! Thanks for a great post, and another idea for my return visit to Sicily.
Happy Holidays, Maryellen!

At March 31, 2007 5:17 AM, Anonymous Scott Pinkston said...

Brings back memories - I was stationed there in 1993 - 1995 (NCTS SATCOM). Wish I could go back in time, sort of took it for granted while I was there.


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