The Lost Cities of Ancient Sicily

You can’t move very far in Sicily without coming across the remains of the cities left by Greek, Roman and other occupants of Ancient Sicily. It would take months to fully explore the sites, and so even if you have a couple of weeks you’re going to be selective. Here are three that you shouldn’t miss.

Agrigento – Valley of the Temples

The Valley of the Temples, about 3 kilometers south of Agrigento, is a Greek temple complex dating mostly from the 4th-6th centuries BC that was built around the city of Akragas, one of the major cities of the ancient Greek world. The very well-preserved Temple of Concordia was built in 430 BC and has managed to stand since then as one of the finest examples of Greek temples, withstanding Sicily’s many earthquakes, in part owing to a layer of clay beneath it. It’s certainly worth half a day to walk the 1,300-hectare site.

The 6th century AD Christian basilica was added within the structure.

View east towards the Temple of Hera.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus was destroyed in an earthquake and contains two toppled Telamons – figures of a man with raised arms that would have acted as supports.

Telamon, Temple of Zeus

The Temple of Hercules is one of the oldest temples from the 6th century BC,  with eight standing columns.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux was destroyed by Carthaginian invasion and then restored by the Greeks. It’s four remaining columns were rebuilt in the 19th century.

I drove from Catania to Agrigento and afterwards went west to stay in the fishing port town of Sciacca, which is great choice for a low-key stopover in the southwest of Sicily. In Sciacca, I stayed at the Garibaldi Relais in the center and the Trattoria La Buona Forchetta on Via Pietro Gerardi 16 is excellent for dinner:

Seafood Stew, Sciacca, Sicily.

Villa Romane del Casale

The Villa Romane del Casale is a 2nd/3rd Century AD Roman villa complex located about 4 km south of Piazza Armerina. Much of the structures are recognizable, but more compelling are the extensive and incredibly well-preserved floor mosaics throughout much of the building. The villa is believed to have belonged to Rome’s co-Emperor and would have been an impressive regional palace. The building was covered over by a landslide in the Dark Ages and was only excavated in the 19th Century. Hence the preservation of the building (which otherwise would have been demolished and it’s stones re-used) and it’s stunning floor mosaics. The building is now covered with a lightweight wooden structure that protects the site and gives some useful context as to it’s original size.

Villa Romane del Casale

The reception areas must have glowed when first built.

Remains of wall frescoes still stand along this long hall.

The center of the building consisted of a large covered courtyard with hunting scenes. The Roman aristocracy were clearly obsessed with hunting and capturing large African mammals.

Seafaring and fishing scenes including the inevitable large mammal capture scene.

 

The animal motif floor mosaics are cartoon-like and reveal a sense of humor in some of the aesthetics.

The Room of the 10 Maidens (Sala delle Dieci Ragazze sounds a lot better though) features bikini-clad athletes in a Roman-era equivalent of BayWatch.

The throne room, or Basilica, is quite impressive, and the wooden ceiling conveys the size of the place. You would have to ascend into the room and presumably the aristocrat in it would be on a raised dais of sorts at the far end.

The tepidarium (warm room) contained the hot baths heated from below.

I drove to the Roman villa from the Madonie mountains area http://wp.me/p7Jh3P-fh which is reasonably close by.

Selinunte

Selinunte was once a major port city and fortress constructed by the Greeks from about 630 BC.  Once one of the largest and most powerful cities in the known world, it was ransacked by the Carthaginians in about 400 BC. Abandoned as a city in the Roman era, it was only excavated in the 19th century.

You enter the site through the Eastern temples which originate from the 5th Century BC and were reconstructed in the 1950s. Temple E is the most complete and gives off a golden glow.

 

Further north, the other two temples are massive ruined expanses of handcut stone.

From the temples, the walled acropolis overlooking the sea is visible and a decent walk.

Selinunte must have looked impressive overlooking the sea when it was up and running – one of Europe’s major cities around 600 BC.

The acropolis is anchored by a series of temples on its south seaward side, of which Temple C is the only one standing. The temple area is littered with stone wreckage that makes it interesting to traverse.

The street plan of the acropolis still stands out amongst ruined stone buildings and temples.

You can still leave by the north gate of the city.

The fortifications are clearly laid out, although ultimately didn’t help against the Carthaginians.

Selinunte is a must-see for a western Sicily itinerary and is less than two hours from Palermo, which you shouldn’t miss: http://www.aerotrekka.com/urban-adventures-in-sicily-palermo/

If the above still doesn’t get you into the 2,000-year old mood then don’t forget Siracusa: http://www.aerotrekka.com/urban-adventures-in-sicily-siracusa/ 

 

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