FAMOUS PUPPETS FROM SICILY ......
FAMOUS PUPPETS FROM SICILY ... 'The opera dei pupi' is the traditional Sicilian marionette theatre. At the height of its popularity at the turn of the century, Sicily boasted 25 puppet theatres. The Success of the opera dei pupi was linked in the past with its natural audience, namely the population of the poorer quarters of the cities and villages, who followed the plot by installments every evening for months and months. The Theatres of the opera dei pupi were generally set up in warehouses or stables with roofs supported by arches or sometimes in wooden huts.
Catacombs for Christians and a crypt for a saint
Whilst the Empire was still pagan, Roman law did not allow Christian burials to take place within the city limits. This, and the practice of catacomb burial, saw Syracuse's Christians looking to the long disused Greek aqueducts in the area of Tyche as a place to bury their dead. Even after the fear of persecution that first drove them underground was over, the practice continued and, as the numbers of Christians increased, more and more tunnels were excavated. The result was a network of catacombs that is more extensive than those of Rome. These days, most of them are either inaccessible or closed to public view. The exception to this is the catacombs beneath the ruins of the Basilica of San Giovanni.
The city's first bishop, San Marciano, was flogged to death here. The crypt where they laid him lies 5 metres below the church that was later built over the site. It is said that St Paul preached from the altar that now stands in the crypt when he came to Sicily in 60AD. Frescoes on the wall are faded but quite clear and the capitals of the four pillars supporting the central dome are carved with the symbols of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The catacombs can only be visited on a guided tour which only takes you a very small way into the labrynth but it is quite fascinating and no where near as spooky an experience as a visit to the Roman catacombs. For a start, these tunnels are only just below the surface, you actually walk into them at street level and they slope very gently. The roof iof the main passage is quite high - remember, it was originally built by engineers with a vast army of slaves at their disposal. Thousands of grave niches of all sizes pockmark the main passages and the smaller alleys that branch off from them, the last resting place of ordinary men, women and children. In some places, the tunnels open out into chambers and rotundas that held as many as 20 burials, family groups of those rich enough to pay for a grander burial.
One such chamber is known as the Chamber of the Blessed Virgins - it contained the tombs of two women, identified as Filomena and Fotina who died aged 84 and 80 respectively - an incredible achievement in a time when you were doing really well if you lived past 30. The tag of virginity is ascribed to this pair as it's probable their survival was due to them never marrying and never bearing children.
More important is the one tomb that eluded the procession of grave robbers who stripped the catacombs bare over the centuries. It was the burial place of Adelfia, a woman of senatorial rank who was placed in a marble sarcophagus that was carved with an amazing double register of Biblical scenes from the New and the Old Testament along with a portrait of Adelfia and her husband.
At the end of one of the galleries there's a chapel decorated with faded frescoes depicting, amongst other Christian imagery, a woman being welcomed into Heaven by SS Peter and Paul. It dates fro the early part of the 5th century AD, an indication that the practice of catacomb burial continued here in Syracuse long after the persecution that had prompted the practice had ended.
No photography is permitted once you enter the catacombs. Photo 1 was taken looking through the entrance. Photo 3 is a montage made up from postcards and the brochure given to visitors.