Fonte Aretusa

Useful Information

Head of the Nymph Arethusa between dolphins, Syracuse coin from the 5th century BC. Public Domain.
Aretusa's spring in Syracuse, etching published in 1807, William Wilkins. Public Domain.
Location: Largo Aretusa, Siracusa.
(37.057298, 15.292928)
Open: All year Mon, Wed-Fri 10-13, Sat, Sun 18-21.
Fee: Adults EUR 5, Children (6-17) EUR 3, Children (0-5) free, Residents EUR 3.
Groups (10+): Adults EUR 3.
Classification: KarstKarst Spring
Light: n/a
Dimension: L=25m, W=18 m.
Guided tours: self guided. Audioguide Italiano - Italian English Français - French Español - Spanish Chinese
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Address: Fonte Aretusa, Largo Aretusa, 96100 Siracusa SR, Tel: +39-0931-65861, Tel: +39-344-0403414. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


735 BC colonists from Corinth found the city Syracuse.
530 BC visited by Ibykos, a Greek poet from Rhegion in Lower Italy.


Fonte Aretusa a Siracusa, aquatint from 1785, Jean Houel. Public Domain.
Siracusa, Fontana Aretusa, Carlo Brogi (*1850-✝1925). Public Domain.
Fontana Aretusa - Siracusa, Giovanni Crupi (*1849-✝1925). Public Domain.
Siracusa. Fontana Aretusa, Giorgio Sommer (*1834-✝1914). Public Domain.
Fonte Aretusa, Sicily, Italy. Public Domain.
Fonte Aretusa, Sicily, Italy. Public Domain.
Papyrus, Fonte Aretusa, Sicily, Italy. Public Domain.

Fonte Aretusa (Arethusa Spring, Fountain of Arethusa) is one of those weird karst spring which seem to defy common sense. The reason is simple: it is located on a narrow peninsula in the mediterranean sea, or better an island called Isola di Ortigia, which is protecting the harbour of Syracuse, which is also the estuary of the Fiume Ciane. The island is separated by a narrow canal from the main island Sicily, it is completely covered by the fortified city and its castle Castello Maniace, and even if it was not sealed by the houses, the surface would be far too small for being the catchment area of this spring. The explanation is simple, the whole area is karstified and there is an underground cave which is completely water filled, which brings the water from the hills in the west. The coastal plain around Syracuse is covered by impermeable sediments, so the water has no possibility to resurface, until it finally reaches the Mediterranean Sea. The sweet water rises in a grotto directly on the seashore. Its sheer luck, that the spring is on the island and not on the sea floor.

The spring is today a semicircular hole in the elevated floor of the city. The bottom is only a few meters higher than the sea, and separated from the sea by a narrow road and a wall, which makes sure no saltwater from the Mediterranean mixes with the sweet-water of the spring. The city is about 5 m higher, with a nice piazza surrounding the spring. It is quite popular and beneath a view down on the spring offers a Fonte Aretusa Bar, a Caffè Aretusa, and numerous other restaurants and cafés. This view is free and available 24/7. It's also possible to enter the spring and walk along the outside with an audioguide.

The freshwater spring was named after the water nymph Ἀρέθουσα (Aretusa, Arethusa). Known since antiquity, it was an important place for the Greek who colonized Sicily during the Bronze Age. In 735 BC emigrants from Corinth landed in a large bay on a small island which they called Ορτύγια (Ortygia) after the ancient name of the island of Delos, the birthplace of the twins Artemis and Apollo. The Greek erected a temple for Athena right above the spring. They founded a city on the neighbouring mainland, named Συρακούσες (Syracuse) after a nearby swamp, which the original inhabitants called Syrakka. Ibykos was a Greek poet from Rhegion in Lower Italy, who spent some time at the spring around 530 BC. We know this from the works of the important Roman poet Publius Virgilius Maro aka Virgil around 70 BC in his 10th Eclogue (l. 1). Under the tyrant Gelon during the 5th century BC, Syracuse attained a similar importance in the Mediterranean as Athens and later Rome. The city grew incredibly fast, in the 3rd century BC the number of inhabitants exceeded one million.

The nymph Arethusa was highly revered in Syracuse during the antiquity, because her spring made the foundation of Syracuse possible. It supplied the population with drinking water even during enemy sieges. The head of the nymph Arethusa adorned the silver decadrachm coins of Syracuse as a symbol of the city. This currency was among the most important currencies within Magna Graecia (Greater Greece) for several centuries.

Arethusa was a nymph in the entourage of Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, who lost her group one day during a hunting trip and found herself on the banks of the river Ἀλφειός (Alpheios) in the Peloponnese. The clear water and the sultry day prompted her to undress and immerse herself in its waters. At that moment the water began to stir and when Arethusa reached the shore she was greeted by Alpheios, the god of the river, who fell in love with her. After discovering his presence and intentions, and as she wished to remain a chaste attendant of Artemis, Arethusa began to run and Alpheios followed her. After a long chase, she prayed to Artemis for help. Artemis enveloped Arethusa in a dense mist, but this could not stop Alpheios, who was driven by his desire. Arethusa began to perspire profusely from fear, and soon transformed into a stream. Artemis broke the ground allowing Arethusa another attempt to flee underground and hidden under the Peloponnese and under the sea and reappeared again on the peninsula of Ortygia forming a spring. Alpheios, distraught at the loss of Arethusa, asked Jupiter to help him. The god responded by allowing him to flow through the sea without mixing with the seawater to Ortigia and reach his beloved Arethusa. With such proof of love, even the nymph was convinced of the sincerity of his feelings and surrendered to Alpheios's love, sealed by the eternal union of their waters.

Because of the myth Fonte Aretusa has become a symbol of good wishes for lovers. They must touch the water of the spring together. At the spring is today a beautiful contemporary bronze statue depicting Arethusa and Alpheios.

The fountain is mentioned in numerous works of literature. It starts with the Greek mythology, the spring is the place where the nymph Arethusa, the patron figure of ancient Syracuse, returned to earth's surface after escaping from Arcadia. Cicero defined it as "an incredibly large spring, teeming with fish and situated so that the waves of the sea would overwhelm it, if it were not protected by a massive stone wall". The Arethusa spring was mentioned by Ovid, Virgil, and Pindar. It is mentioned by John Milton in Lycidas (l. 85) and Arcades. Also in Alexander Pope’s satire The Dunciad (Bk 2, l. 342) and William Wordsworth's poem The Prelude (Bk X, l. 1033). Herman Melville writes in Moby-Dick, that waters from the fountain were said to come from the Holy Land. Others were Andrè Gide and Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Ἀρέθουσα: Arethousa, Arethusa: A spring on the island of Sicily, into which flows [the] Alpheus, a river of the Arcadian city [of that name], reaching open water through the Adriatic Sea and mingling in no way with the brine, as if [it were] the beloved of such a spring. (Tr: JENNIFER BENEDICT)
Suda or Souda (Stronghold), 10th century Byzantine Greek historical encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world. online

There are numerous versions of the legend, some with, others without happy end. And there are other legends where Arethusa plays a role.

During Demeter's search for her daughter Persephone, Arethusa pleaded with Demeter to stop punishing Sicily for her daughter's disappearance. She told the goddess that while traveling in her stream underground, she saw her daughter as the queen of Hades.

All those legends of streams travelling underground and even sweet water flowing through salt water without mixing, are actually observations of nature. Both Greece and Sicily have abundant karst regions and rivers which appear in spring, vanish underground in swallow holes, to reappear in other springs after long distances. Alpheios is such a river, it disappears several times into the limestone Arcadian mountains and reemerges after flowing some distance underground. Even the Roman writer Ovid believed in a subterranean communication of the Arethusa Spring with the river Alpheius in Peloponnesus. Several such legend were actually verified by modern hydrology with dye tracing experiments, a connection between Greece and Sicily is nevertheless geological nonsense.

The spring contains papyrus, which grows naturally here and in three rivers around Syracuse. This is the only place in Europe where papyrus grows.