Arabic Domination in Sicily: The Jewel of “Mezzagnone”
For years this establishment, which is located in Santa Croce Camerina (a little town close to Ragusa) in c.da “Mezzagnone”, has been considered as an ancient Byzantine church.
This was established, at the end of the 800, by one of the most important Italian archaeologists: Paolo Orsi.
However, in 2008, a group of scholars who were carrying out an excavation work at the site, came across an important discovery: the structure was actually a “hammam”, that is an Arabic Thermal Bath, which was built after the year 852. It’s the second example in Sicily of this kind of structure, which demonstrates the Arab domination in the province of Ragusa.
Moreover, another research has also shown that the structure was built and set inside a monument much older: originally it was, in fact, a mausoleum (dating to shortly after 553 AD) which belonged to an influential family during the Gothic period.
Later, the Arabs adapted it to spas, digging the floor of the two main areas in which the water arrived at different temperatures in order to create a perfect “tepidarium” and an equally functional “caldarium”, both preceded by a dressing room with side access.
Likely, what that deceived Paolo Orsi was the Latin cross of the property. Even though, as pointed out by the archaeologist Giovanni Distefano (coordinator of the work in 2008), the presence of a single door entrance, not in line with the building, would have to make clear that it could not be compatible with a church, together with the total absence of religious objects.
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the thermal bath of Mezzagnone is the only mistake in the long career of the archaeologist Paolo Orsi.