SIRACUSA

  Catacombs of San Giovanni 

Catacombs of  San Giovanni are the largest by extension after the Catacombs of Rome and witness the importance of the local religious community in the early years of Christianity.

Three are the most important catacombs: Santa Lucia, Vigna Cassa and San Giovanni.

The latter are a funerary complex located not far from the Neapolis area and adjacent to the church of the same name.

The catacombs were abandoned towards the end of the 6th century A.D. and only recovered at the end of the 20th century by the local archaeologist Paolo Orsi.

The area includes a community cemetery and five private hypogea, dating from the 3rd to the 5th century AD.

The structure

Based on the Roman topographic model, the catacomb can be divided into three areas: Santa Maria di Gesù, Maggiore and Marcia.

The original structure was built from the 4th century A.D., and extended an old Greek aqueduct.

The plan takes up the structure of the Roman camp, formed by a central gallery and several secondary galleries oriented north and south.

The galleries lead to some roundabouts, comparable to cisterns.

The roundabouts

These include the rotunda of Antioch, Adelphia, the sarcophagi and the marine rotunda.

The burial niches for the dead were located in the walls of the galleries and, next to the burials, you can still see the wall paintings that tell the symbology of the early Christians.

The first cistern to the south is the Marina rotunda, named after the buried noblewoman.

Next to it, a gallery leads to the tomb of Bishop Siracosio.

Here, on the outside, you can clearly see an engraving depicting a clypeus, i.e. a Roman shield, with a Christogram engraved on the inside together with the apocalyptic letters alpha and omega.

Further down you can also see the representation of two boats in the shape of fish, typical early Christian symbology.

The largest rotunda is that of Adelphia.

The excavations of 1872, conducted by Francesco Saverio Cavallari, have brought to light a marble sarcophagus carved with the representation of 62 biblical characters from the Old and New Testament.

The find, now preserved at the Orsi Museum in Syracuse, is of considerable importance because it depicts one of the first images of the crib.

In the centre of the shell, another Christian symbol, are the busts of Adelphia and her husband the proconsul Valerius.

Next is the Rotunda of the Virgins, whose sarcophagi were dug directly into the rock and which belonged to one of the first local monastic communities.

Opposite, the highly scenic cubicle of Eusebio. Here it is said that the body of Pope Eusebius was preserved before being moved to the Roman catacomb of San Callisto.

Not to be missed is a visit to the burial place of Adeodata, probably a virgin and martyr from Syracuse.

From the analysis of the plasters that cover the tomb, it is clear that the loculus was used twice.

The outer layer depicts an image of Christ with Saints Peter and Paul crowning a virgin, while the original layer depicts a blue peacock.

This was the symbol of eternal life in the 4th century.

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