Aidone & Morgantina (EN)


Morgantina - theatre Morgantina - the pnyx

There can be few bleaker and lonelier places than Morgantina on a cold and misty December day. Which is unfair: Morgantina has a good claim to be Sicily's Pompeii - although its demise was due to man's desertion of the site rather than wild nature. On the day of my visit it was deserted, apart from a few dogs, and some men collecting escarole.

It was only identified as Morgantina in 1957, and still little more than a fifth has been excavated by the archaeological team from Princeton. It had ceased to exist as a city 2000 years previously - it was already just a name by Strabo's day (1st century BC), although it's now known that Morgantina's history stretched back nearly a millennium before that.

Ancient road at MorgantinaIt was originally a Sikel town, where, from the 6th century BC,Sikels and Greeks lived in harmony - for a while. It fell under the influence of Syracuse - with a brief spell of independence under the Sikel leader Ducetius in the mid 5th century. It prospered especially under Hiero II - from which period most of the visible remains are to be dated - but after his death in 215 BC, Morgantina unwisely alllied with Carthage, leading to its capture by Marcellus after a siege only a few years later. Marcellus settled some of his Spanish mercenaries there, but the city was soon in terminal decline.

The site is a piece of flat ground between two hills - given a 7km circuit of walls by Timoleon. There's a spacious agora with stoas on three sides, a tiny theatre, a fountain, a granary, a "pnyx" (ecclesiasterion - probably) and a prytaneion. There are houses from the Hellenistic period, many with mosaics.

Finds from Morgantina are on show in a little museum in the rather grim town of Aidone, about 5 km away; it was completely deserted on the day I visited in late December 1993; there was no sign of life apart from an eerie knocking sound from the roof area. It's tucked away at the top of the town, in an old church.

It's a delightful drive between Aidone and Piazza Armerina, through pine and eucalyptus forest.

Postscript 2012

The goddess: not AphroditeWatching one of those intellectual comfort-food programmes on BBC4, where an art historian and a chef travelled around Sicily "liking things" (as the Guardian reviewer put it), we were unexpectedly taken to Aidone, to this small museum - and I was introduced to a remarkable story (which also demonstrated how out-of-touch I've become!). In 1988, the J Paul Getty Museum in California bought (for $18 million)a statue which became known as "The Getty Venus". The provenance was always seen as dubious, and investigation by the Getty eventually traced it to an illegal excavation in Morgantina in the 1970s. Inevitably the Mafia had been involved. Last spring (2011) the goddess was returned with full Sicilian ceremony to Aidone. She's no longer thought to be Aphrodite, though (the identification was probably assigned by the Getty for marketing purposes). There was a thriving local cult of Demeter and Kore at Morgantina (who was born at nearby Pergusa, of course), and so she is most probably Demeter or Persephone.

Whoever she is (and possibly only the local shepherds who found her could give us the clues) she's an extremely fine example of 5th century BC classical Greek sculpture - whith wind-blown drapery suggesting the influenceof Pheidias himself. But do the head and body belong together?

But the Aidone's era of obscurity is over, that much is certain!


Use the table below to find your way around Sicily:
Piazza Armerina and the mosaics at Casale

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