From east, Tindari appears backed up against a succession of hills emerging from the sea and rising to form a land mass resembling a great dragon slumbering peacefully; perched high upon its head stands the sanctuary, a landmark that is clearly visible from afar. Climbing up the dragon’s back, it is possible to enjoy fine views of the Patti Bay and the beaches up to Capo Milazzo.
The sanctuary, of recent construction, houses a Byzantine Black Virgin that draws thousands of pilgrims, notably in May around the Marian feasts of the Visitation, and the Nativity (on 8 September). At the foot of the rock face, nestle the Laghetti di Marinello (visible from the terrace before the church); these consist of small rock pools caught when the sea floods the sandy bay. According to legend, these pools came into existence to save a little girl who otherwise would have fallen to her death from the top of the headland because of her faithless mother (unable to believe in a Black Virgin); she was saved when the sea miraculously withdrew to leave a soft landing pad of sand that cushioned her fall. In 1982, one of the rock pools assumed the profile of a veiled woman identified by the local people as the Madonna of the Sanctuary. The rock pools are accessible on foot from the beaches of Oliveri.
THE GREEK CITY
Occupying a fine position high on its own headland, the Greek colony of Tyndaris was founded by the tyrant of Syracuse Dionysius the Elder in 396 BC, to accommodate refugees from Sparta at the end of the Peloponnese War (404 BC). Its name maybe related to the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), and to their father Tyndareus of Sparta, husband of Leda and father of Helen who, according to Homer’s Iliad, indirectly provoked the War of Troy. The link between the town and the heavenly twins is taken up on coins and mosaics.
Thanks to its stategic location, the town could easily control and defend the stretch of sea between the Aeolian Islands and Messina, as far as it fell to Carthaginians, when its defensive walls, sadly, were unable to protect it from the enemy ravage.
Under the Roman, the city entered a period of renewed prosperity marked by construction of new buildings, schools, baths, theatre, markets and restoration or modification of older ones. The theatre, built by Greeks, was modified so as to accommodate the demands of its new audience. Thereafter, it progressively declined notably following a landslide that destroyed part of the city and the Arab conquest in the 9th century AD.
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE
The walls – The path going up to the top of Capo Tindari passes alongside sections of the defensive walls build during the reign of Dionysius, later reinforced and replaced by a double barrier of square stone blocks. They protected the vulnerable parts of town which was laid out on a regular grid system with three wide decumani (main thoroughfares) interconnected by perpendicular cardini. The natural inclination of the site facilitated an efficient drainage system along the secondary streets.
Insula Romana – The area comprises the large block south of the Decumano Superiore (the main axis), complete with baths, taverns and houses including a large patrician house preserving fragments of mosaic.
Basilica – It consists of arcaded remains that give some suggestion of the scale and elegance of the original basilica. The ruin has been classified as a basilica or public meeting house; however its function is still uncertain: it may be possibly be a part of some monumental propylaeum (gateway) for the agorà or main square of the city. It is built of large square blocks of sandstone, and must have comprised five great arches. The central, and widest, archway provided access to a barrel-vaulted passage spanning the main road.
The theatre – Left off the Decumanus Superiore. The theatre stands just off the Decumanus Superiore which was probably the settlement’s main thoroughfare (although of the three parallel axes only two have been brought to light so far). The theatre was built by the Greeks in the late 4th century, in such a way as to take full advantage of the natural lie of the land, with the cavea (auditorium) facing the sea and the Aeolian Islands. It was adapted in Imperial times for staging gladiator fights.