Arethusa Spring

The Fonte Aretusa (Arethusa’s Spring) is certainly one of the most mysterious and fascinating places in Syracuse. A freshwater spring, located just a few metres from the sea, that has sparked the imagination of poets and writers from time immemorial. What makes this place even more special are the papyruses that grow here in abundance, a rarity in Europe. The area where the Fonte Aretusa is located is also one of the best spots in Ortigia from which to enjoy the sunset.

The Fonte Aretusa in Syracuse

La statua di Alfeo e Aretusa statua a Siracusa dello scultore Biagio Poidomani
Alfeo and Aretusa – Biagio Poidomani

The Fonte Aretusa is a spring that surfaces in Ortigia a few metres from the sea. It is one of the many outlets of an aquifer that also feeds the Ciane River. Initially pure, the spring has become brackish, possibly due to various earthquakes after 1693. In the 18th century, the water from the spring was collected in underground tanks that fed the leather-tanning wash houses.

Interesting fact:  In 1798, Horatio Nelson stopped in Syracuse before facing Napoleon at Abukir. On the subject of the Fonte Aretusa, he wrote: “Thanks to your efforts, we have been supplied with food and water and, certainly, having drunk from the Arethusa Spring, we cannot fail to win”.

In 1540, the spring was incorporated into the new fortifications ordered by Charles V, while its present-day appearance dates back to 1843, when the basin that now surrounds it was created. Next to the spring is a bronze statue created by the artist Biagio Poidomani in 1992, depicting the young Alphaeus chasing Arethusa

The myth of Arethusa and Alphaeus

The Fonte Aretusa has sparked the imagination of poets and writers from time immemorial. An ancient Greek myth, also reported in the Metamorphoses of the Roman poet Ovid, tells of Arethusa and Alpheus. According to legend, Arethusa was one of the goddess Artemis’ favourite nymphs. One day, during a hunting trip to Olympus, the nymph decided to undress and bathe in a river to cool off. This pool, however, was actually the god Alpheus, son of Oceanus and Thetis. Once the nymph entered the water, the river began to bubble and swirl. The frightened nymph tried to escape but, at that point, Alpheus appeared in the guise of a handsome young man and began to chase her. Arethusa called upon Artemis to help her, who decided to turn her into a spring, established in Ortigia. Desperate, Alpheus asked his father Oceanus for help, who then opened the waters of the Ionian Sea to allow him to flow as far as Sicily and reach his beloved nymph.

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