An ancient city in the
Province of Siracusa to the W of the modern center of
Palazzuolo Acreide. It is on the summit of a hill, almost
level but with steep and precipitous flanks except on the
B side. It is between the Anapo and the Tellaro, near the
mouths of which are respectively Syracuse and Eloro.
The hill has been frequented since the Paleolithic period,
as is shown by finds during repair under the cliff of S.
Akrai, founded by Syracuse in 664 B.C. (Thuc. 5.5.3
represents the first of the city's three colonies. The other
two were Kasmenai and Kamarina, which were founded,
according to the chronology of Thucydides, respectively
in 644 and 599 B.C. Akrai was founded to protect one
of the key points of access to Syracuse in the triangle of
SE Sicily. Conspicuous strategic use of the site, however,
preceded the foundation of the colony. The sources give
little information about the initial period of the subcolony's life, but it may be supposed that it was subordinate to the mother city. Plutarch records Akrai as
a stopping place of Dion during the expedition he led
against Dionysios II. It is known (Diod. Sic. 23.4.1
that in the peace treaty between Rome and Syracuse in
263 Akrai was one of the cities, along with Leontinoi,
Megara, Heloros/Neton/Tauromemion, to be assigned
to Hieron II. Other notice of interest is that given by
Pliny that counts Akrai among the civitates stipendiariae,
the cities, that is, that owed a fixed tribute to Rome because their territory was considered property of the
Roman people. Written mention of the city is scarce
during the Roman period, even though recently acquired
archaeological evidence shows continuity of life there
until the Late Imperial era. In the 4th and 5th c. Akrai
was the seat of an important Christian community. It is
probable that the city was destroyed in 827 during the
first large invasion of Arabs into Sicily.
Temples in honor of Artemis, Aphrodite, and Kore
(IGS 217) were built here, and there is evidence also
of the cults of Zeus Akrios and of the nymphs.
The fortification system of the city developed along
the margins of the terrace that is occupied by the urban
center. Traces of the structures relating to the city walls
are evident along the NW, S, and E margins of the city.
The position of the two principal gates has also been identified. The Siracusana gate is to the E, and the Selinuntina
to the W. The latter, cited also in the inscriptions, linked
Akrai with nearby Kasmenai.
Inside the city, traces are clearly visible of the artery
that crossed the urban area in an E-W direction, almost
in the middle of the plateau. This area, which constituted
the urban center, was itself situated at the midpoint of
the level summit. Its N sector, slightly sloping toward
the N, contained no archaeological remains. Apparently,
although included in the circuit of the fortifications for
defensive reasons, it did not make up part of the true
urban center. The actual inhabited area in the central
part of the level area shows well-regulated development.
This is in part because the city was founded at a precise
historical moment as a result of the expansionist politics
of Syracuse, rather than growing gradually from a primitive nuclear settlement. The principal artery of the city
has recently been brought to light for ca. 200 m, and it
leads precisely between the two gates of the city mentioned above. The well-preserved tract of road is paved
in volcanic rock. Excavation has also brought to light the
intersections between this central road and several others,
five on its N side and two on the S. The intersections are
not at right angles, but rather slightly inclined, thus creating a singular urban plan not previously documented
The archaeological documentation recovered in several
stratified cuts made in the central area of the city dates
from archaic times to the Roman Imperial period.
Among the monumental urban remains is the base of
a Doric peripteral temple at the highest point of the city,
on the sacred acropolis, probably dedicated to Aphrodite.
Included in a complex discovered in the 19th c. is a
small theater with a maximum diameter of 37.5 m. It
dates from the 3d c. B.C. and is made up of a cavea
supported by a slope and composed of nine cunei and
12 steps, largely rebuilt. Of the original logeion only the
stylobate is preserved. The pavement of the orchestra and
the remnants of the stage are rebuildings from the Roman
era. To the W of the theater are the remains of a small
bouleuterion with three cunei that must have opened on
the agora. At the rear of the theater are the two Latomie
called the Intagliata and the Intagliatella, which bear
traces of defunct cults for hero worship. In the Christian-Byzantine period they were transformed into habitations and sepulchers.
The so-called Templi Ferali are found to the E of the
city. They consist of niches dug into the vertical wall of
a Latomia, and were evidently related to a cult of the
dead. Also to be mentioned are the so-called Santoni,
which are rude sculptures relating to the cult of the
Great Mother, dating to the 3d c. B.C.
To the SE of the city are the necropoleis of Torre
Iudica from the archaic era, and of Colle Orbo from the
Hellenistic-Roman period. The Sikel necropolis, composed of burials in artificial grottos, probably dates to
the Late Bronze age. It is in the section called “Pinita”
in the scenic rocky cliffs that outline the S flank of the
hill of Akrai.
The material coming from the excavations at Akrai
and from its necropoleis is in the small antiquarium near
the monumental complex, in the Museo Archeologico at
Syracuse, and in the ludica collection, which Italy is in
the process of acquiring.
G. Iudica, Le Antichità di Acre scoperte
descritte e illustrate
(1819); L. Bernabò Brea, Akrai
(1956); P. Pelagatti, BdA
(1966) 92; G. Voza, Un quinquennio di attività nella Provincia di Siracusa