Tindari is a town of Greek origin on the northern coast of Sicily, west of Messina and east of Patti and best known for the substantial church known as the Tindari Sanctuary. Tindari has wonderful views of the Aeolian Islands.
The ancient town of Tindari sits on the top of a cliff overlooking the sea. Below is a long sandbank which reaches 1.5km into the sea and looks fabulous from the vantage point of Tindari. The sandbank is known as the "linguetta di sabia" or " tounge of sand". In the summer it is a popular spot with sun-bathers and umbrellas all along its length.
Various lakes sit on the large sand bank and provide unusual conditions for the flora and fauna of the area and it also shelters the sea on its landward side. All in all the unusual conditions have led to this area being made a nature reserve and is excellent for swimming, walking and sunbathing.
Throughout its history Tindari has been Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine and Arab. From these times various monuments remain.
The main sight in Tindari is the Tindari Sanctuary which can be seen balancing on the edge of the cliff as you drive along the Palermo-Messina motorway. The Sanctuary of the Black Madonna is a site of pilgrimage.
Inside the sanctuary is the statue of the "Black Madonna" a wooden sculpture perhaps from Syria or Egypt, where it was carved around the 12th century. It has various legends relating to its arrival in Tindari but it now sits behind the altar along with the inscription "black am I but beautiful".
The sanctuary is situated at the eastern end of the promontory, overlooking the sea at the ancient acropolis, where a small church was built on the ruins of the abandoned town. The church was destroyed in 1544 by Algerian pirates, thern rebuilt between 1552 and 1598. The sanctuary was more recently rebuilt again.
Among the most significant monuments of the ancient "Tyndaris" are the Basilica, the city walls and the ancient theatre. The Basilica is thought to have been built in the early Roman Empire at the end of the first century BC.
Originally it was the "gymnasium" (the place where gymnastic exercises took place) after which it is thought that it might have been a market or a place of worship.
It is built with blocks of sandstone, squared and stuck on one another through slots and grooves and divided into three levels, of which the first and the second have survived.
The façade is decorated with three orders. The lower floor has six pairs of semi-columns with Doric capitals, which support a frame and the upper floor is characterized by semi-columns with Ionic capitals, topped by a frieze and a third frame.
In Roman times, as described by Cicero, it was surrounded by porticos and adorned with statues.
The city walls were originally three kilometers long, a metre wide and just over seven meters high, with two towers and into which three gates opened. The walls were formed by large and multi-faceted blocks of rectangular and square stone.
The first wall, going back to the founding of the town in the 4th century BC, was built with a rather poor technique, with dry stone masonry plaster, reinforced with pillars of stone. Later, in the first half of the third century when the new town was built, the walls were made more sturdy undergoing renovations in the Roman and Byzantine periods.
The walls survived the destruction of Tyndaris. Today the southern section, which is outside the archaeological park, remains in good condition. In the first section there are the remains of the first walls of the 4th century BC. The Greek walls, for the most part collapsed or buried, overlap those built in the late Roman Empire (4th-5th century AD) with blocks taken from the ruined monuments of the ancient town.
Near the two towers, there are the remains of a Roman necropolis that extended outside the city.
Another major monument in Tindari is the theatre, built in Greek times between the end of the 4th and 3rd centuries BC, which could hold about 3,000 people.
Originally the arena was surrounded by a high podium, which may have reached 2.5 meters in order to protect the public from the dangers of the gladiatorial ludi (“games”).
At the edge of the theatre there is a stage of Hellenistic origin, with a diameter of about 18 meters. The façade, 12 meters high, was decorated with three rows of statues and Doric columns, as shown by the model presented in the Museum.
To get an understanding of the local history visit the Tindari Museum, which preserves local finds from prehistoric, Greek and Roman times and is divided into several sections:
- The first section has some important information for visitors about the history and monuments of Tyndaris, archaeological excavations and restorations. There is a large model that reconstructs the scene of the Hellenistic theatre, and Greek and Latin inscriptions.
- In the second section are the marble head of Augustus, found in the area of the Basilica, and two marble statues of winged "Nikai", a tragic theatrical mask in marble, representing Priam, king of Troy.
- In the third section there are some household objects such as mugs, cups and bowls, pots for storing food, Greek and Roman pottery, red and black painted figures.
- in the fourth section you can see the tombs of the Hellenistic and Roman necropolis, urns in lead and glass jars in terracotta, lamps, terracotta votive medallions with figures in relief, and some "lekythos" (vases for oils and ointments) with black figures.
See also Tindari history and etymology.
Places to visit nearby
The quiet seaside resort of Oliveri is very close to the sandbank below Tindari.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.