Naumachia of Taormina

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The Naumachia of Taormina is a long brick wall interrupted by niches. The name is actually a misnomer and is the result of a misinterpretation of this site by Jacques-Philippe D’Orville. According to the Dutch scholar, the wall was actually part of a structure used for naval battles. In reality, we know today that this is not the case.

The Naumachia of Taormina

The so-called Naumachia of Taormina is a large structure formed by a brick retaining wall, 122 meters long and 5 meters high. Along the entire wall, eighteen large apsidal niches alternate with as many small rectangular niches. Its construction dates from the 2nd century AD and was built against a pre-existing wall of square ashlars that was part of a stoa. This is a typical element of Greek architecture and refers to a porticoed part of a public building, usually rectangular in shape. The space between the Greek wall and the Roman wall was occupied by a large cistern that supplied the city with water and perhaps also the fountains that probably occupied the niches. The torso of a marble statue of Apollo was also found during some archaeological excavations carried out in this area.

The origin of the name Naumachia

The origin of the name Naumachia of Taormina is due to Jacques-Philippe D’Orville. In his work Sicula, published posthumously in 1764, the Dutch author interprets the cistern as a place where naval battles were celebrated. Naumachia is in fact a Latin term meaning “naval battle,” and in ancient Rome they took place in amphitheaters or in large specially dug tanks. Although we do not know for sure what this structure was used for, scholars today completely rule out any use related to naval battles. It is possible that the wall was the elevation of a nymphaeum or gymnasium, a place where young people engaged in physical exercise.

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