I saw this rare object in the little museum in the archaeological site at Tindari.
It’s a Roman hob. All you have to do is pop some wood into the cavity under the pot, and light it. You can regulate the flame by raking some wood forward, or adding more fuel. You can also lower the temperature by altering the position of the pot so it is not so well centred over the fire.
It got me very excited, as it is the only one I have ever seen. (Trust me, I actively go looking for such things!)
Tindari is famous for its early medieval black madonna statue, but the archaeological site is fascinating too – if you know what you’re looking at. There are few signs explaining anything, and some of them are wrong (I’ve got a masters in Classical Antiquities so if anyone wants to argue with me, I’ll happily take you on).
Tindari was founded by Dionysius, the tyrannical Greek-speaking ruler of nearby Syracuse in 397 BC, mainly as a military fortress. Hannibal and his African troops conquered it in 264 BC but then the Romans took it from them ten years later.
I think a lot of people must visit Tindari and go away never realising they have just seen one of the best preserved Roman blocks of flats in Italy. (OK, there is a much more complete one in Rome, but you can’t go in there unless you’re Mary Beard making a TV show).
They may also be unaware that they have walked around one of the region’s best preserved early Byzantine basilicas, dating from about the 4th century AD. Basilicas started out in Ancient Greek times as a kind of shopping centre, with lots of lawyers’ offices, banks and scribes offering their service. They gradually evolved into a place of worship as well, and ended up as the model for all the cathedrals of Europe, which were built in the 12th and 13th centuries.
Some archaeologists claim this structure was actually a propileon, which means a fancy entrance gate to the city. Ancient Tindari was not important or rich enough to build a two-storey structure this swanky and then use it as nothing more than a gate.
The Roman baths at Tindari are well preserved and once had a lovely stone floor in the sauna.
There is a Greek theatre at Tindari, too. It was built by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC for their highly cultured religious operas, but then modified by the Romans to make space for their bloodthirsty bullfighting, inventive animal cruelty and gladiatorial shows.
When I told my little boy it was a theatre, he immediately recruited all the other children in the area and they prepared a play to perform to the parents. They spoke Italian, French and German but the lack of communication didn’t stop them putting on a good show. My son doubled up as the usher, and was quite bossy about taking everyone’s tickets before letting us sit down.
But the show was great, and they even gave us a free encore!