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Ancient

Aretusa

A mythical story of passion, deeply rooted in the greek tradition of Syracuse.
Ptolemy
23 August, 2022
Alpheus and Arethusa, painting by John Martin (1789 - 1854)
Alpheus and Arethusa, painting by John Martin (1789 - 1854)

On the warm shores of Sicily lies the charming Syracuse, originally a Greek colony called Syrakusai. It is said that the Greek colonists first landed on a small island near the coastline, and it is precisely on this rocky ground (today called Ortigia) that one of the most emblematic and tangible figures of Greek mythology still stands today: the spring Arethusa.

The legend

According to the myth, Arethusa was a young nymph who, during a hot summer day, bathed in the river Alpheus - located in the Peloponnese, in Greece - thus making the divine figure of its waters falling in love with her.

However, Arethusa rejected Alpheus' love, but because of the latter persistence, she asked the help of the goddess Artemis, who wrapped the nymph in a thick cloud. After carrying her far away, she transformed her through the rain into a spring on the shore of Ortigia.

(Antonie Waterloo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)
(Antonie Waterloo, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

However, the sadness of Alpheus moved the Olympus, and Zeus, out of pity for this despair, allowed him to deviate its course by passing under the waters of the Ionian Sea, and reaching the distant island of Ortigia, where he could meet his beautiful beloved. Only after transforming into water was she able to understand and return his love.

Today the avenue that runs alongside the Arethusa Fountain is called "Lungomare Alfeo". The spring creates shining waters, with fishes, birds, and the unique presence of wild Papyrus plants, possibly the only ones in Europe.