By Catherine Tsounis
“Sicily and Southern Italy were called Magna Graecia, because they were greater than the Motherland, Greece,” said Diana Mazza, our guide for the 2008 Arba Sicula (Sicilian Dawn) Society tour. “The columns of the former Temple of Athena were preserved because of its conversion into a Christian church.”
Seeing the former Temple of Athena in the Cathedral (Duomo) of Syracuse was a unique experience. The columns have withstood earthquakes. Gelo and his brother Hiero I, whose family was from Corinth, Greece, built the religious sanctuary. They dedicated the Temple to Athena in commemoration of their victory over the Carthaginians at Himera in 480 B.C. Diana added “the victory at Himera changed the course of history. Carthaginians were from North Africa and believed in human sacrifice. The Syracusan leaders demanded that this practice be stopped and incorporated as part of the peace treaty.”
The Temple of Athena was Doric style following the formula laid down in Greece itself. It was built on the highest point in the island of Ortigia that was part of ancient Syracuse. “Temples situated in elevated positions, were useful as a form of physical and spiritual elevation,” said scholar Salvatore Furnari. “One felt a closeness to the divinities.” Ten Doric columns are embedded in the walls of the left nave of the Duomo.
It was originally constructed of limestone and richly embellished. Marble was imported from the Cycladic Islands for the moldings and roof ledges. The doors were covered with gold and carved ivory. Portraits of the twenty seven rulers of Syracuse were displayed in an interior gallery. During the seventh century, the Byzantines converted the Temple into a Cathedral dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The front facade shows the incredibly beautiful columns of the original temple.
For more information, visit the following links:
http://proftsounis.shutterfly.com/action/pictures?a=67b0de21b344e5c6e4ef β?“ photos of Duomo (former Temple of Athena)
http://www.planetware.com/syracuse/cathedral-i-si-syct.htm- history of Temple of Athena
http://www.sitesandphotos.com/catalog/parent-226747.html- photos of Temple of Athena/Duomo