Himera (PA)

The Temple of Nike at Himera, with the Madonie mountains in the background.

Himera was the first Greek settlement on the north coast, founded from Zankle (later Messana, now Messina) c. 649 BC, on a site guarding an important river crossing, and undoubtedly marked an attempt to limit Carthaginian influence. It was the birthplace (c. 630 BC) of the poet Stesichorus (most famous as the originator of the alternative myth of Helen - she never went to Troy, but was spirited away to Egypt and a phantom substituted for Paris to take home. This forms the basis of the plot of Euripides' Helen.).

By the early 5th century BC, the strategic importance of the site attracted Theron of Akragas - he expelled the home-grown tyrant Terillus, who immediately appealed to Carthage. Under Hamilcar, the Carthaginians launched a massive expedition - against Himera, which was however decisively defeated by Theron with help from Gelon of Syracuse. Legend had it that this was on the same day that the Persians under Xerxes were defeated at Salamis (and possibly the two attacks were coordinated), back in the old country. Hamilcar committed suicide - throwing himself on to the the pyre where his soldiers' corpses were being cremated, according to Carthaginian tradition.

Theron's victory led to nearly a century of Greek supremacy in Sicily. However, punishment could not be put of for ever. In 409, the Carthaginians, under Hamilacar's nephew Hannibal, fresh from their destruction of Selinus, returned and obliterated the town. The site has been desolate ever since - the citizens who survived (300 leading men were crucified ) were resettled by the Carthaginians at Thermai Himeraiai - now Termini (note loss of the baths!) Imerese. It was the birthplace (c. 361 BC) of Agathocles, 'King of Sicily', whose attempts to drive out the Carthaginians completely ended tamely in a treaty recognising respective spheres of influence.

Between the railway and the autostrada can be found what Hannibal left of the great Doric Temple of Victory (Nike) - set up in honour of the victory in 480 BC. Carthaginian prisoners supplied the labour for its construction. Despite the setting - and there's a huge industrial complex nearby - the ruin is still evocative, and well worth a visit.

There's a museum the other side of the railway track, but in three visits to Himera, I have never found it open. Good luck! At the top of the hill is the site of the ancient city - now extensively excavated. There's a sanctuary where the remains of 4 temples have been found: this would once have been a city on only a slightly lesser scale Akragas or Selinus. There are excellent views from here, even if you have no interest in archaeology!


Use the table below to find your way around Sicily:
Petralia Soprana

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