Syracuse, Catacombs

Saman­tha Stout is cur­rently a Ph.D. stu­dent at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego. She is under­taking part of her PhD research in Sicily, and I’m helping out so she may have access to various Sicilian Cultural Heritage sites. I like to volunteer a bit of my time to have scholars come to Sicily and do scientific research for art conservation and technical art history on Sicilian Art, Archaeology and Architecture.

Being in Morgantina last week we gained a bit of insight into classical age painting materials and technique in a part of what the Romans called Magna Graecia, the Greek colonized south part of Italy and the island of Sicily, of course.

Syracuse catacombs

Syracuse boasts a continuous history of overlapping civilizations and was our 2nd site for field analysis after Morgantina.


And below a quick 3D model of the mural painting examined.

Catacomb Syracuse
on Sketchfab

This week we wanted to travel forward in time, leaving the Hellenistic age, and advancing to the final centuries of the Roman Empire.  We drove to the coastal city of Syracuse, for a visit to the catacombs. The catacombs in Syracuse are the largest after those in Rome, and they preserve mural paintings dating from the 4th – 5th century AC until early medieval XIII century AC.

santa lucia catacombs

Santa Lucia catacombs. Samantha Stout performing XRF examination.


The honorary president of the Pontificia Commissione di Archeologia Sacra, and current Regional Superintendent for Cultural Heritage, Mariarita Sgarlata, welcomed our research proposal. She is researcher and teaches Christian Archaeology in Catania. She granted me and Samantha access to both of the two catacombs in Syracuse; those of San Giovanni and those of San Lucia.  Elisa Bonacini, an archaeologist with a keen interest in new technologies for digital communication in museums, was proactive to arrange the visit and set an appointment with Carmelo Scandurra. He’s collaborator for the Pontificial Department of the Catacombs of East Sicily from 2009. who is also an established reference for the Syracuse catacombs. The examination was made with our little mobile laboratory; a portable energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, which Samantha contributed, (courtesy of her affiliation as a student at NSF supported CISA3); and my multispectral imaging equipment.

samantha stout

Catacombs of Santa Lucia. Syracuse, Sicily. The examination of the mural paintings in the Syracuse catacombs (center, Samantha Stout) was made possible thanks to Elisa Bonacini (left) who provided the authorizations and Carmelo Scandurra (right) who took care of the logistics.

antonino cosentino

Catacombs of San Giovanni, Syracuse, Sicily. Setting up the camera for multispectral imaging.


Samantha Stout

Catacombs of San Giovanni. Syracuse, Sicily. Visitors were so interested to the examination Samantha Stout was performing. Having international scholars focus on Sicilian art has the relevant side effect of increasing people’s awareness of the importance of their cultural heritage.

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  1. gary bartoloni August 26, 2013 at 4:06 pm - Reply

    fascinating ! Here in America, thanks to our media and hollywood, we Sicilians, and Sicily itself is only known for the Mafia, a thicker style of pizza, and a bad accent ! Sicily, due to its domination through the millennia by the various cultures of and their trading through the mediterranean area.

    • antonino August 26, 2013 at 10:57 pm - Reply

      Thanks Gary, this is the spirit which is motivating me.

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