This is the building where punishment was conceived as redemption. It was defined “panoptic” because of the cells placed along its perimeter, through which keepers could constantly supervise the area. Nowadays, even if it is close to the street market of the city, its conditions don’t reflect its beauty and history
An enormous and abandoned building appears within a stone’s throw of the street market in Ortigia: we are talking about the Bourbon prison of Syracuse, condemned after the earthquake of Saint Lucia occurred in 1990.
INSIDE AND OUTSIDE. The two-story prison was designed by the engineer Luigi Spagna, is 82 feet high and its rectangular diagram has sides of 131×147 feet. The external structure differs from the courtyard, which has a polygonal shape (an uneven hexagon, to be more correct) with a watchtower in the middle. Thanks to this peculiar and almost circular structure, keepers could always supervise the prisoners without being noticed.
A PANOPTIC PRISON. The building, built starting from the inside, recalls the Panopticon model conceived in 1787 by the English philosopher and jurist Jeremy Bentham. Its name comes from the monster of Greek mythology Argo Panoptes (“all-eyes”Argo), the famous giant having a hundred eyes. The architectonical structure consists of cells placed along the inner perimeter in a circular position and opened on central watchtower. This peculiar polygonal structure allowed keepers supervise the area constantly, preventing prisoners from communicating with each other. Moreover, thanks to its traditional rectangular shape, none of this was visible from the outside – not by chance on the front of the building they carved an eye within a pyramid, known as “the eye of Providence” or “the all-seeing eye”.
PUNISHMENT AS REDEMPTION. The prison, built between 1849 and 1854, was one of the most modern and advanced in Europe, showing how much the Bourbon Syracuse was at the forefront. The prisoners inside were not inactive: they worked for external commissions, so that their punishment had a useful and redemptory value, according to new ideologies like those declared in Beccaria’s On Crimes and Punishments. Moreover, the prisoners had to be reeducated and treated, if it was necessary – it is no coincidence that at the 1st floor they received treatment for syphilis and were considered in the same way as all others.
A PLACE TO BE REEVALUATED. Nowadays, “The one-eyed House”, as the prison was defined by Syracusans, is in a dreadful state and not many people know it. Its construction required the demolition of many houses and it was really expensive, which is why its reevaluation would be desirable. The building is located at the center of the town, where many tourists spend their time fascinated by smells, colors and tastes of the close street market.
Translated by Daniela Marsala