Euryalus Fortress, Syracuse, Italy

Castelle di Eurylus – Ingresso col ponte levatoio | Siracusa
(Castelle of Eurylus – Entrance with draw bridge)

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The Euryalus Fortress located in the frazione of Belvedere, was the key point in the fortifications of the ancient Greek city of Syracuse. It is located on the highest point of the hill of Epipolae (about 120 metres above sea level), around 7 km northwest of Syracuse.

During the Athenian invasion of Sicily (415-413 BC), the fortress did not yet exist, but the strategic importance of the area was clear; the Athenians initially captured the hill, but their failure to retain it prevented them from effectively besieging the city. The name Euryalus is mentioned by Thucydides in the course of the first Athenian attack on the city. Later in his account, after the reconquest of Epipolae from the Athenians by the Syracusans, a Syracusan garrison on the site is mentioned. In light of this experience, the fortress was first established by Dionysius I, tyrant of Syracuse. Construction took place between 402 and 397 BC, with the intention that the fortress would protect the city from siege and attack by the Carthaginians. Various renovations were subsequently undertaken in response to developments in siege weaponry, under Agathocles and Hiero II. After the Roman conquest of the city in 212 BC by Marcus Claudius Marcellus, the fortress continued to be modified until the Byzantine period when parts of it were torn apart in order to repair the rest in light of Muslim invasion.

A fortress was built, called Euryalos (“broad based”). It is the largest and most complete Greek fortress we know. Dionysius was not the only builder, though. He was responsible for the first building phase, which lasted from 402 to 397, but Agathocles changed part of it in 317, and during the Second Punic War, Hieronymus asked Archimedes to improve the fortifications even more. The Archimedian wall, however, remained unfinished because the Romans took the city in 212. The fortress was built on a hill that was about 170 m high, which was necessary to expand the reach of the machines that were put on the walls. Dionysius’ engineers had invented a primitive version of the catapult, a new weapon that was to change the nature of siege warfare. From now on, high positions were more useful than they had ever been, and to prevent the Euryalus of becoming a battery directed against Syracuse, Dionysius occupied this strategic point.

Reconstruction of the Eurialo Castle from “The Eurialo Castle in history and art”, 1928, by Luigi Mauceri. Added text by Elisa Bonacini From Wikimedia Commons

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