Silver Coin
c. 480-475 B.C
[Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne 119
ID: SNGuk_1301_0119]

The Greek city of Syracuse in Sicily produced distinctive coins from the end of the sixth century BC. This example represents a four-horse chariot with Nike, goddess of victory, flying above. On the other side, the head of Arethusa is surrounded by dolphins. Arethusa was the nymph of the freshwater spring visited by Monck in Syracuse; he compared it to the burn at Belsay.

Monck’s most original move at Belsay was to turn the stone quarries for his new Hall into a dramatic, ‘wild’ landscape, richly planted with native greenery.  These were, most likely, inspired by drawings of the famously scenic ‘Latomia’ quarries in Syracuse, Sicily, though Monck only visited Sicily in person long after the Belsay redesign.  When he visited the Syracusan Quarries in 1831, he warmly declared them “worth coming any distance to see”.  Monck also admired other Syracusan sculptured rockscapes, like the catacombs, the gigantic cave ‘Dionysius’ Ear’, and the theatre.  It seems to have been after this tour that Monck had the ‘Great Arch’ constructed at Belsay, further imitating the fantastical variety of rock formations at Syracuse.  Monck also, typically, admired Syracuse cathedral, converted from a Doric temple.

Click on the drawings of the artefacts to find out more



Campanian Black-Glaze Calene Cup
275-225 BC
[Shefton Collection 189]

This black-glaze, two-handled drinking cup, made in Southern Italy, incorporates a cast of a Syracusan coin in its centre. This represents the nymph Arethusa, who in Greek mythology crossed the sea from mainland Greece to Sicily to escape the unwanted attentions of the river god Alpheios.


Tarentine Terracotta Relief
400-375 BC
[Shefton Collection 230]

While Monck was sailing past Sicily on his return voyage in 1806 he saw a group of dolphins: “Sailing along the coast of Sicily […] today a herd of dolphins passed athwart our bows, rolling over as they went.” (Feb. 8th 1806). This fragment is part of a mould-made relief sculpture manufactured in the Greek colony of Tarentum in Southern Italy. It depicts a dolphin with the founding hero of Tarentum seated on its back.

“We went along […] to the theatre, the ranges of which are very perfect, and a mill is built in the middle, which is driven by water brought 24 miles from Acra. Over the Theatre is a curious arched Cave...”
“We went along […] to the theatre, the ranges of which are very perfect, and a mill is built in the middle, which is driven by water brought 24 miles from Acra. Over the Theatre is a curious arched Cave, and smaller one on the left of it. Part of the mill supply is brought to the head of the Cave, [...] and women are washing clothes at it. The face of the rock is full of incisions of various forms. We went thence to Dionysius’s ear. It is a very curious excavation. They fired a paterero [a short-barrelled cannon] and the reverberation was astonishing, but pleasant. My [guide] thinks this was made near the theatre as the place to reecho thunder from when the play of the Furies was acted. The Latronia are close by, in fact the ear is part. Men, women & children were spinning under the excavated part. It is a most pleasing sight, and I regret much that I was not able to make a drawing. As we mount to the Capucin convent we see the sea breaking strongly on the Undose Plemmyrium, though there is not near wind enough to make white water in the sea. Off the Sicilian shore an island lies, wave-washed Plemmyrium, called in olden days Ortygia; here Alpheus, river-god, from Elis flowed by secret sluice, they say, beneath the sea, and mingles at thy mouth, Arethusa! with Sicilian waves. [Virgil, Aeneid 3.692-6; trans. T.C. Williams, 1910] At this Capucin convent the Latronia are those of Acradina, and much the largest. The quarter of Acradina was the largest and they are large in proportion. They are a grand sight: the monks use [the quarries] as a garden, and a very grand one it is. An orange tree was in full flower and bees gathering from it. The rock here is soft and like chalk: pure white. [My guide] tells me it contains many sea shells. These Latronia are vast. The only thing I know of which bears any resemblance is the lime works in Brotherton in Yorkshire. From there we returned to Syracuse. At the cathedral are 11 columns of the ancient temple of Minerva: the wall [is] built up between them, and within you see their other sides & across the church 8 others, one of which you see much more of than of those without. One flute measures one foot at 4 feet from the ground. We went to the fountain of Arethusa. It is a brook of water about equal to Belsay burn. Women were washing in it. [My guide] says Charles 5th turned it to where it now is. It used to flow into the sea a few yards off, where he wanted to build a bastion. Modern Syracuse is a close built filthy town. But the air and adjacent Country are delightful. The Catacombs, Latronia, Dionysius’ ear, theatre, and rocks of Acradina are worth coming any distance to see. ”

Click below to listen to this diary entry
of the 14th of January, 1831