“Dear Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for having made this choice for your today’s travel. I can assure you that no matter you are on vacation in Sicily, you will have a very pleasant, educative and interesting trip back to the Classical Antiquity. In the very beginning I would like to warn you that you might not have an Internet connection to post your photos on social networks simply because you are going to get teleported to Magna Graecia where hi-techs were not known. At the same time, feel free to take as many pics as you can of the temples of Sesgesta and the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Also don’t forget to make the best selfies ever with the Hellenic Gods and Goddesses. Say cheeeseeeee. Buon viaggio …. 😀 )
S E G E S T A
Magna Graecia (or also known as Megalē Hellas) was a territory colonized by various ancient Hellenic city-states. It was inhabited by the ancient Greeks who brought their Hellenic civilization in the period from the eighth to the fifth century Before Christ. The original area extended from the Euboean colony of Cumae to the Spartan colony of Tarentum, Heraclea being the last colony esatblished in 433 BC. Principally, Magna Grecia (in Italian) encompassed the southern coasts of Italy on the Tarentine Gulf. As far as the name is concerned, it was given by Latin-speaking peoples, not by the Greeks.
If you travel somewhere along the highway between Palermo and Trapani, believe me, there will be a “wow effect” when your girlfriend exclaims saying: “Oooo, Jesus. I have just seen an ancient Greek Temple in the distance. Let’s have a stop and dive into the Ancient Greek World, amore mio.” This request of hers is too irresistible so you will have no other chance but take the way to Segesta.
Egesta (Ἔγεστα in Ancient Greek) or Siggésta (in Sicilian) is an ancient settlement built by the Elymians. They were one of the three indigenous peoples of the island and they also constructed Eryx (i.e. Erice) and Entella. It was strategically positioned on the slopes of Mt Barbaro as well as close to the port of Castellamare, thus turning into the trading port of greatest importance to the Elymians. Its importance as an essential trade centre continued even in the Hellenistic and Roman periods of time.
Being on the topic of the establishment of Segesta, I will recount you three very nice legends about the ancient town. Here they are. According to the Greek mythology, river god Crimisus was always described as a dog and this dog was one the symbols of the town (it could be seen also on the coins from the 4th centuries). The God fell in love with the local nymph called Egesta and their son Egesto is thought to have been the founder of the town.
As to the Ancient Roman mythology, the myth’s related to Aeneas – an ancestor of Romulus and Remus, according Virgil. Aeneas made a stop on the Island of Sicily on his way from Troy to his final destination, namely Rome where he founded Caput Mundi and being on the island, he found this marvellous town which was called Acesta. The third legend tells the story of Aegesto (or Aceste) who was a son of a Trojan woman. He was born in Sicily and as an adult he participated in the Trojan War. After having returned to the island from the war, he and a group of other men settled down in Erice first and later they founded a new town named Segesta.
Nowadays Segesta is a marvellous and well preserved archeological site which presents the glory of the ancient town. There are three noteworthy findings which leave tourists speechless. The Doric Temple dates back to the 5th century and it’s situated in a very wild and deserted region but extremely beautiful at the same time. The Ancient Greeks had a very good eye for where to build and settle down, didn’t they? The Ancient Greeks contributed greatly to the building of the temple. Its construction lasted between 430 and 420 BC. Actually, the temple lacks a ceiling as well as a cell where the rituals were held. It is 61 metres in lenght and 26 metres in width. The Doric columns are 36 in total and each of them is 9.33 high. The material used for the construction of the temple is the travertine from Alcamo.
The 400-metre high Monte Barbaro houses the ancient semicircular amphitheatre built almost at the same time (4th – 3rd century BC and its today’s outlook dates back to the 2nd century). The theatre could accommodate around 4000 spectators in 29 rows who indulged in the natural and spectacular view of Castellamare. The ancient theatre has still been used for spectacles and ancient Greek drama plays in summer. The hill was also equipped with fortifications. The 11 square towers as well as up to five gates also date back to the 5th century.
Let us stop here because another Ancient Greek archaeological site awaits us and it is …..
T H E V A L L E Y O F T H E T E M P L E S
La Valle dei Templi (in Italian) or Vaddi di li Tempri (in Sicilian) in Agrigento is supposed to be the largest archeological site in the world which houses seven well preserved Doric style temples on a territory of 1300 hectares. When you start your trip there, you will also notice that there are also some modern statues that go hand in hand with the ancient ones. And which are the temples in question?
The Temple of Juno Lacinia was built in the 5th century BC but unfortunately, it was burnt by the Carthaginians in 406. It was used as a wedding temple and there was an altar in front of it which served for sacrifices (an Ancient Greek tradition was a newly married couple to sacrifice a lamb).
The Temple of Concordia was also built at the same time. Its name came from the nearby Latin inscriptions and originally it was dedicated to the twins – Castor and Pollux. It was turned into a church in the 6th century AD and nowadays it’s the most preserved temple in the valley. The entrance faced the east direction from where the sun rises and the sun was a symbol of life in Ancient Greece.
The Temple of Heracles is the oldest one in the valley and is dedicated to one of the most worshipped demigods, i.e. Heracles or Hercules. Unfortunately, the temple was demolished in an earthquake and today we can enjoy the splendor of the eight remained columns.
The Temple of Zeus is thought to have been one of the most splendid buildings of the ancient world. It was constructed in honour of the city-state’s victory against the Carthaginians and its construction started in 480 BC. The workers who worked on it were the prisoners from the Himera battle. The columns were originally 17 metres in height and with a diamtre of 4.20 metres. The entablature had to be strengthened and that’s why a colossal caryatids (called Telamons) was designed. Unfortunately, only a cast of it could be seen in the cell. Otherwise the original one is in the Archeological Museum.
The Temple of Dioscuri is a 5th-century-BC temple dedicated to the twins of Sparta and Jupiter – Castor and Pollux. Nowadays the temple has only four columns left because it has undergone too many collapses, i.e. it was destroyed by the Carthaginians, then restored in the Hellenistic period and later it was demolished in an earthquake.
The last two temples are the Temple of Vulcan from the 5th century BC (it is thought to have been one of the most imposing constructions in the valley together with the Temple of Zeus) and the Temple of Asclepius (the farthest temple; pilgrims came here seeking cures for illnesses).