Most of the souvenir and snack shops on the side of the road winding up to Tindari are closed. In Sicily, late April is still off-season. If you own a shop at the place that will be visited both for the ruins of the ancient city of Tyndaris and for the pilgrims’ church, you will have enough business in summer (and on 8 September for the Nativity of Mary) that you don’t need to work at this early time of the year.
Sicily abounds in historical sites, some of which have survived as cities until today, like Syracuse and Taormina. In Tindari however, the current village cannot live up to the size and the importance of ancient Tyndaris by far. Founded in 396 BC by Dionysus I, the city was first Greek and became Roman in 254 BC. The exhibits in the small museum, ranging from busts of Emperor Augustus to locally minted coins, underline the sophistication of the city’s erstwhile civilization.
Although parts of the city disappeared into the sea after a landslide in the 1st century, its original extent can still be recognized today, as can its perfectly rectangular layout. This was no randomly conglomerated settlement. Here, some city planner from antiquity fulfilled his dream, possibly inspired by a chessboard. Little alleys branch off at right angles to the long roads. All building blocks thus encompassed have the same size. One of the two larger streets leads from the theater on one end to the basilica on the other end.
Almost nobody is to be seen on the large excavation site. There are more staff members – probably art historians who would otherwise be unemployed – than visitors. Unlabeled remains of columns and capitals adorn the flower beds in front of the museum, as if there are too many of them anyway.
Some of the tiers of the semicircular theater are grown over by yellow flowers. The view extends across the sea to the Aeolian Islands, above which thunderstorm clouds are building up threateningly, like the backdrop to a Greek drama. The silence however is not ruptured by Prometheus or Antigone, but by the Gangnam Style ringtone of an attendant’s mobile phone.
The former city is an overgrown park now. Comfrey, fennel, cacti, pine and eucalyptus trees grow out of the former living and storage quarters. The Roman road, no longer quite a level plane, wanders off into the nothing.
But the detailed mosaics of the thermal baths have been uncovered. The ruins of the basilica, whose original purpose is not certain, are still imposing.
Behind it, the pilgrims’ church which was only opened in 1979, was built dangerously close to the cliff despite the history of landslides and earthquakes in the region. Somebody must have had a lot of trust in God, the architect or in concrete.