Access: free. Opening hours: April-September 7-19, October March 8-17. Equipment needed: hiking or gym shoes , water and an hat in summer. Mobile network: no. Total area: 3,712 hectares. Municipalities: Ferla, Cassaro, Buscemi, Palazzolo Acreide
Points of interest: Bat Cave, Nordic necropolis, Byzantine village Cavetta, Anaktoron, northwest necropolis, Filliporto necropolis, small museum, Anapo River, Calcinara River, Cavagrande River
The Reserve, founded in July 1997, is located in the area of the “Ibleo plateau”, which characterizes much of southeastern Sicily. The territory of the reserve constitutes a remarkable complex of great interest in terms of geomorphology, nature, landscape, history, archaeology and ethnoanthropology.
The pantalica site in southeastern Sicily is best known for its vast cemeteries of chambered tombs carved into the rock dating back to the 13th and 7th centuries BC. An estimated 5000 graves are distributed around the flanks of a large headland located at the junction of the Anapo River with its tributary, the Calcinara.
In addition to its archaeological interest is an important nature reserve (Pantalic Oriented Nature Reserve) with a variety of local flora and fauna and natural caves (especially the Cave of the Bats).
Various routes facilitate visitor access, including a disused railway line (dismantled in 1956) along the Anapo valley floor. You can access the headland directly with a car from Ferla, or by walking along the old mule track from the parking lot on the road from Sortino and crossing the Calcinara stream.
In the 13th century BC some coastal settlements were abandoned probably due to the arrival of the Siculi on the island and the beginning of more unstable conditions, Pantalica offered a natural defense.
Pantalica evidently flourished for about 600 years, from about 1250 to 650 BC. The current name of the site probably dates back to the early Middle Ages or the Arab period. The ancient name of the site is uncertain, but it is associated by some archaeologists with Hybla, after a siculo king named Hyblon,which is mentioned by Thucydides in connection with the foundation of the Greek colony of Megara Hyblaea in 728 BC.
For many centuries before the Greek colonization Pantalica was undoubtedly one of the main sites of eastern Sicily dominating the surrounding territory including subsidiary settlements. Around 650 BC, however, it seems to have been a victim of the expansion of the city of Syracuse, which at that time formed an outpost at Akrai (Palazzolo Acreide).
However, it was still occupied during classical antiquity, since artifacts from the IV-III bc (Hellenistic period) are attested, as well as during the late ancient or Byzantine periods. After the 12th century it was probably largely deserted and obscured by Sortino.
The remains visible today consist mainly of numerous prehistoric burial chambers carved into the limestone rock, sometimes equipped with a porch or a short entrance hallway in front of the burial chamber, originally sealed with stones or a slabs. There are also some large houses carved into the rock with uncertain dates (often called Byzantine, but perhaps of earlier origins).
The so-called Anaktoron or princely palace, located near the top of the hill, is also controversial. The thought of some archaeologists was originally a late Bronze Age building inspired by bronze (Mycenaean) buildings, it was more certainly occupied in the Byzantine period.
The remains of a large defensive moat cut into limestone are clearly visible at Filiporto (on the western side of the headland, closer to Ferla). This probably dates back to the 4th century BC. and represents a defensive work of Greek military design, probably in line with the policy of Dionysius of Syracuse, designed to protect allied sites inland.
There are also three small medieval chapels carved into the rock popularly called The Cave of the Crucifix (near the Northern Cemetery), The Cave of St. Nicolicchio (on the south side) and St. Micidario’s Cave (in Filiporto), which retain very faint traces of frescoes and attest the presence of small monastic communities.
The site was mainly excavated between 1895 and 1910 by the distinguished Italian archaeologist Paolo Orsi, although most of the tombs had already been reddened or emptied long before his time. The finds excavated by Orsi are on display in the Archaeological Museum of Syracuse. They include the characteristic burnian terracotta pots and metal objects, including weapons (small knives and daggers) and clothing items, such as bronze fibula (pins) and rings, which were placed with the deceased in the graves. Most of the graves contained between 1 and 7 individuals of all ages and sexes. Many graves have evidently been reopened periodically to admit other burials.
The average lifespan of human life at that time was probably around 30 years. The size of the prehistoric population is difficult to estimate from the available data, but it could easily have been 1000 or more people.
Pantalica has five cemeteries spread over a large area:
The necropolis of Filiporto consists of almost 1000 tombs, located on the southwestern side of the headland (accessible from Ferla road side). In the same area are the remains of the defensive rock ditch of later era (probably 4th century BC) that crosses the headland at the narrowest point.
The northwestern necropolis is one of the oldest (12th -11th century BC) and is crossed by the paved road from Ferla.
The cavetta necropolis has tombs and houses carved into the rock of prehistory and later periods and can be seen from the street and designated observation platforms.
The north necropolis is a spectacular cemetery of about 1000 graves that cover the very steep slopes overlooking the Calcinara River best seen from the track coming from Sortino and the observation platforms near the trail. Remains of large mansions carved into the rock lie on the gentler slopes to the east.
The southern necropolis stretches along the Anapo River for over 1 kilometre and is easily visible from the roadway at the bottom of the valley (a path takes you down from the Anaktoron).
The old railway station, restored, has information about the local fauna and flora.
The so-called Anaktoron (a princely miceneo palace) at the top of the hill is a multi-room building of large blocks with various rectangular rooms excavated in the 19th century by Paolo Orsi. Its origins are obscure (see above) but were certainly used in the Byzantine period as evidenced by tiles and pottery.
How to get there by car:
From Syracuse and Catania (A18 motorway) take the Sortino exit.
From Ragusa SS194 drive to Giarratana – Buccheri – Sortino (Main Access) or continue towards Giarratana Palazzolo, Cassaro Ferla (Secondary Access)
Walking route Pantalica Total (round trip) 9 km divided into different routes.
Route on foot Anapo Valley 13 km road trip – 13 km Return. Difficulty: easy.
Next to Pantalica flows the Anapo River – which is the main among the many perennial waterways in the Iblei and one of the longest in Sicily – starts from Mount Lauro and, flowing east, flows into the great port of Syracuse. Due to its geo-morphological characteristics and general orientation, the Anapo valley is usually divided into three sections. The first, between Mount Lauro and Palazzolo Acreide, extends with a vast plateau; in the second begins to take on the characteristic shape of the canyon (ravine), becoming narrow and with very steep winding walls with large meanders lush in vegetation; In the third stretch to the southeast from the slopes of Mount Climiti to the sea, the valley becomes large and arched.