Ortygia and fire. Archimedes and the invention of the burning mirrors

The fire element is linked to a historical event involving Syracuse and the most famous inventor and scientist of antiquity: Archimedes. He was born in Syracuse in 287 BC and dedicated his whole life to the research and creation of his inventions.
Archimedes’ life was influenced by his hometown, and Syracuse, in turn, was influenced by the great mathematician’s genius. In fact, many stories and legends of the city are linked to Archimedes.
It is said that in 216 BC, when Archimedes was already over seventy years old, Syracuse allied itself with the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War . For this reason it was besieged by the Roman army, commanded by Consul Marcus Claudius Marcellus.
Archimedes was already old and eager to continue his studies quietly, but his fellow citizens asked him to help them defend the city. He accepted and the Romans soon realised what the Syracusan genius was capable of.
Archimedes was attracted to the world in nature and all its elements. He was also so interested in the behaviour of light and fire that, according to legend, he created the famous burning mirrors, which the scientist used to set fire to the wood of the Roman ships.
The burning mirrors would have been hexagonal in shape and formed of a larger mirror with many small mirrors around it. The instrument was operated by ropes that pointed the middle part towards the sun. The system was so heavy and complex that at least four or six people were needed to operate it! The sun’s rays, concentrated by the mirrors into a single point, would have burned the wood of the Roman ships.

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The interior of the Cathedral of Syracuse


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The fountain of Diana in Piazza Archimede

Ortygia and fire. Archimedes and the invention of the burning mirrors