Necropolis of Pantalica - History and Facts | History Hit

Necropolis of Pantalica

Sortino, Sicily, Italy

The Necropolis of Pantalica in Sicily contains over five thousand ancient rock carved tombs dated to between the 13th and 7th centuries BC.

Peta Stamper

07 Apr 2021
Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Necropolis of Pantalica

The Necropolis of Pantalica in southeast Sicily contains around 4,000 ancient rock chamber tombs dated to between the 13th and 7th centuries BC. Visitors to the Necropolis of Pantalica can also see the remaining foundations of the Anaktoron or “Prince’s Palace”, dating back to the megalithic era. Together with the Syracuse Archaeological Site, the Necropolis of Pantalica is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Necropolis of Pantalica history

During the Iron Age, people from Italy came to settle on the island of Sicily, predominantly in the hilly coastal area which was easily defendable. Pantalica flourished for around 600 years lasting between 1250 to 650 BC, and was one of the main sites of eastern Sicily until Greek colonisation from 768 BC.

However, by 650, Pantalica declined with the expansion of the city of Syracuse. Nevertheless, the area was still inhabited during the Hellenistic period of the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, during which time the site was part of Ancient Syracuse, founded by Greeks from Corinth.

At the time, Syracuse was described as the “greatest Greek city” by Roman historian Cicero. It was under the Byzantines that some of the tombs were re-purposed as dwellings, and the then-magnificent Anaktoron ‘Princes Palace’ was built on top of the hill, thought to be inspired by the Greek palaces and their defensive designs.

The site of the Necropolis of Pantalica was excavated between 1895 and 1910 by Italian archaeologist Paolo Orsi, although many of the tombs had been looted by this point. Orsi’s finds were sent to the Archaeological Museum in Syracuse, and included re-burnished pottery vessels and metal objects, including weaponry such as small knives and daggers, and bronze brooches and rings.

Most of the tombs contained between 1 and 7 people of all ages and sexes, and were opened for more burials. From the tombs, the population of the prehistoric settlement was thought to be around 1000 people.

Necropolis of Pantalica today

Today, hiking in the beautiful Anapo River Valley, you come across steep rocky cliff sides dotted with thousands of tombs cut into the rocks. Without charge, you can visit this remote area, feeling the immense age of the necropolis by entering the tombs, before taking a dip in some of the pools or the clear cool stream. A short walk from the necropolis, you can view artefacts found in the tombs at the Museum in Syracusa.

Getting to the Necropolis of Pantalica

If driving, beware the windy and rocky roads and note you must also walk to the site from the nearby road. It takes 12 minutes to drive from nearby town Sortino. From Syracuse, the necropolis is a 45 minute drive via the SS114.