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A Boat Trip on the River Ciane outside Syracuse

By Jeremy Dummett
(from his book on the city's history and monuments,
Syracuse, City of Legends: A Glory of Sicily).

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The River Ciane, famous since the days of the ancient Greeks, lies on the far side of the Great Harbour of Syracuse. Just outside the city, on the road to Avola and Noto, there is a bridge over the Ciane and Anapo rivers. On the left, just over the bridge, is a track leading to the river and from here a boat service is run taking you on a short journey up the Ciane river to its source in a large pool, the Fonte Ciane.

The boat travels slowly up the river to the pool through clear, fast flowing water, the sunlight shaded by trees. It is a protected area, calm and peaceful, the home of kingfishers and dragonflies. The unusual feature of the river is the papyrus, the tufted green reed known locally as parrucca (wig) for the shape of its head, that grows here in thick clumps, apparently the largest colony of Cyperus papyrus in Europe.


Boat on River Ciane - Siracusa

Boat on River Ciane - Siracusa

According to the Istituto del Papiro, the papyrus was brought here from Egypt in 250 BC, a present from King Ptolemy to Hiero II, ruler of Syracuse, to thank him for their good commercial relationship. Hiero had established regular contacts with Alexandria, where a sizeable Syracusan community built up, employed in trade and in the arts and sciences. Archimedes studied mathematics in Alexandria in this period before returning to Syracuse to produce his major work.

Finally you arrive at the Fonte Ciane, a large pool of clear water surrounded by groves of papyrus. In ancient times this was a sacred place, for according to legend, it was here that the goddess of Spring, Persephone, was carried down into the underworld by Hades (Pluto to the Romans). The nymph Ciane, Persephone's childhood friend, was so overcome that she died of grief and her tears were turned into the spring on the spot where Persephone disappeared. An annual festival in Ciane's name was held here by Syracusans in ancient times.

More information can be obtained from the Istituto del Papiro or by visiting the Museo del Papiro, in via Teocrito, next to the Archaeological Museum.

 

Papyrus on River Ciane - Syracuse

Papyrus on River Ciane - Siracuse