Cave of Polyphemus

At the base of the rise of the Castle, on the western slope, is the Grotto of Polyphemus. Tradition has it that this was the home of the most famous of the Cyclopes, and therefore the beach in front of it is said to have been the landing place of Ulysses and his men. The historian Antonio Monitore also speaks of this legend linked to the giants; in his work "Della Sicilia ricercata nelle cose più memorabili (Palermo 1743, book six, Grotte e caverne memorabili di Sicilia)" he writes: "In Milazzo, many large caves are found, others, and deep; in particular, there is one of immense size under the castle, in which gigantic bones have been found. Domenico Bottone writes that there are many caves in Milazzo that help mitigate the heat in summer. And he adds, that Milazzo is not too subject to the damage of earthquakes, because of the benefit of these caves; since the underground fumes easily evaporate through them. In fact, it is said that in antiquity, large piles of bones attributed to the 'Cyclopes' were found inside.

The mythological reference is due to the fact that the remains found were of considerable size and pertaining to beings of great stature and robustness. This story has been corroborated by the discovery of a number of gigantic skulls elsewhere in Sicily, which had a hole believed to be the housing of the cyclopean eye. We now know that these were not human beings but dwarf elephants; the central aperture was not the eye of the cyclops, but the cavity of the elephant's trunk. On the other hand, these myths could find foundation in the discovery in past eras of the bones of men of very tall stature; the most recent was the one made in 1992 by the archaeological section of the Messina superintendence in the area of San Giovanni, where two skeletons measuring a good 2.10 metres came to light. The historian Francesco Perdichizzi also speaks of the Polyphemus Cave: 'Under the Castle on the western side there is a spacious and deep cave, capable of holding 100 men, where powder is made and saltpetre is produced; and from the human bones of immense size that have already been found, it is conjectured that it was the room of giants.

Perdichizzi, in addition to mentioning the cave for the myth of the 'giants', provides a historical note, writing that during the Spanish period, the cave was used as a powder magazine, i.e. a gunpowder factory. For this reason, it was protected by a defensive bastion in the shape of an arrowhead. As proof of this, Grotta Polifemo is referred to as 'Pouvriere' in the 'Plan de Melazo' print, a copper engraving made in Paris in 1719 by the Frenchman Nicolas de Fer (1640-1720). During the Napoleonic period, the British occupiers adapted it as a military prison. Piaggia asserts that the cave was located 'on the level of the beach', whereas today access is via an embanked ramp. This would confirm the opinion that the cave was "reduced to a tenth of its original size by the stone quarrymen who, from 1879 to 1885, by demolishing the largest part of the vault, in about 15 years of continuous work, filled the interior with topsoil, raising it from street level to the present day". Further lending credence to this thesis were excavations by the archaeologist Luigi Bernabò Brea, who found Roman pottery only beyond a depth of seven metres, under a thick layer of spoil. The cave underwent alterations during the Second World War: in 1943, the Genio Militare financed excavations to place artillery in it. It was later used as a refuge for evacuees. In 1955 it was used as a nightclub, until its final closure in the 1980s.

Carmelo Isgrò Guida alla natura di Capo Milazzo, Milazzo 2016