We were pleased to find that the marina hiking group had reformed again for the winter. Last year there were restrictions in place to prevent you travelling outside of the municipality, but now that these have been relaxed we are free to travel around the island. To make the most of this freedom we joined the group on a walk around the Pantalica Necropolises in the Province of Siracusa.
Pantalica is situated in a canyon created by two rivers which meet to create the river Anapo. It is estimated that the cliff faces overlooking the rivers contain 5000 tombs with 2000 in the Pantalica Necropolises which date back to 1270-1000BC. The tombs have been carved into the rock and were used to bury family groups of up to seven generations.
We set off with a group of 18 people in several hire cars for the almost 2 hours drive inland to the site.
At the entrance to our intended trail we were greeted by two park wardens who advised us that the river at the bottom of the valley was too high and dangerous to cross due to previous heavy rain. They allowed us to descend the gorge to see the tombs but advised that if we go further we could be fined 500 Euro!
Being a nature reserve there are several different trails and the wardens gave us details of a more appropriate route so we followed their instructions and it became a walk of two halves!
After admiring the impressive views from the top, we set off down the trail to the river and can confirm that it was definitely not possible to cross! We had a good view of the tombs in the cliff face, it would have been an immense task to cut into the limestone rock particularly at high levels on the vertical rock faces.
We came across this cave where apparently statues of the dead would be placed in the small holes as a reminder of loved ones buried in the tombs below.
What goes down must come up, so we tackled the steep climb back up to the cars and then drove a short distance around the corner to the recommended trail. We set off down into the valley again along narrow tracks with spectacular views, passing more caves and tombs cut into the rocks.
The prehistoric settlement of Pantalica was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2005. Findings from the tombs included painted ceramics made with potters wheels, violin bows, safety pins, razors, knives and daggers made of bronze. Some caves showed signs of habitation with various rooms, beds and fireplaces cut into the stone and blackened ceilings, where primitive man would have found shelter.
Eventually we arrived at the bottom of the valley and tried to make our way along a river path. We could see from the flattened trees and bushes that the river had previously been much higher. Recent storms had caused a massive rockfall making it impossible to follow the trail, so we had to turn back and walk through the old railway tunnels which run alongside the river.
Along the River Anapo there are several old railway tunnels which were once part of a minor railway. It was operational for 40 years when a small steam train ran on the narrow tracks. The train route was only 125km long starting from Siracusa running inland via Pantalica to Giarratana where the track split, part of the train went to Vizzini while the other went to Ragusa. Construction started in 1912 and was completed in 1923 (having been interrupted by the First World War). It was obviously not a fast train, sometimes passengers had to get off to push it up slopes, there were also times when passengers were able to get off to pick fruit along the way and jump back on.
As we passed the station it was difficult to imagine that many passengers would have visited as it was very isolated. The railway was later used to transport asphalt from Siracusa to Ragusa.
Apparently it’s moment of glory was when it was elaborately decorated to transport King Vittorio Emanuel III to visit Pantalica in 1933. During the Second World War it was used to transport soldiers and weapons but the railway declined after the war and was finally closed in 1956.
From here we headed back up the steep trail towards the cars, we were almost at the top but it became apparent that we could not get through and had to track across the side of the valley using the ancient footpaths that crisscross the area and then eventually back up a different trail to the cars.
The whole area is kept very clean and free of litter which could be a result of this interesting sign.
Although the walk was only 12km the majority was up and down steep tracks, so after another long car journey back to the marina our tired legs definitely needed some rest and relaxation.