Motya (TP)

Mozia looking north - Erice in backgroundThe former Phoenician/Carthaginian stronghold of Motya or Mothia - or now Mozia - on the island of S. Pantaleo, is one of the strangest places in Sicily. Unlike the Greeks, the Phoenicians did not look for sites they could colonise and make self-supporting through cultivation. All they required was an easily-defended base from where they could supervise their trading interests. An island was ideal - like Tyre in the eastern Mediterranean homeland. Motya was occupied from the 8th century BC until Dionysius I of Syracuse destroyed it in 397BC after a difficult siege. The island was surrounded by a wall over 2m thick - and Dionysius' fleet became grounded in the lagoon - average depth 1 metre. He had to drag his ships overland back to the open sea - from where he mounted his final successful assault.

The Cothon at MotyaThe Carthaginians transferred their base to Lilybaeum (Marsala), and little happened thereafter on Motya, until the island was acquired by the Marsala-producing Whitaker family for their son Pip, a quiet young man with a passion for archaeology, who was convinced that the island held important treasures. Pip Whitaker (died 1936) excavated the entire island, and founded the museum - in 1993 still delightfully old fashioned with exhibits in traditional glass cases. There is a bust of Pip (looking rather like Sir Edward Elgar) outside, and the finds are all labelled and annotated in what I took to be his own handwriting. Motya is now owned by the Whitaker family trust.

To visit the island you park your car opposite and hire a boat. The original, taciturn, boatman (who appears in all guide books over the last 20 years) is called Michele Pace, and in 1993 had two beautiful dogs to keep him company. My two fellow passengers were fungi-collectors (for the kitchen, not scientific research!) such as I found at most sites that autumn - equipped with large plastic bags and a sharp knife. The car park is expensive - the ferry-crossing barely more than the obol you'd pay to Charon. The custodian than was an old bow-legged and be-gaitered retainer straight out of The Leopard; the whole place has a charming run-down genteel atmosphere. There are impressive ruins to be found on a stroll round the island (it'll take about an hour) - including a house with pebble mosaics; the Cothon - a small rectangular harbour; the ruins of the Tophet where child- sacrifice originally took place, and a large palace-like structure on the western shore.

The Motya Youth - Giovane di MoziaIn the museum there is one world-class treasure - found on the island in 1979, not by Pip - which is alone worth the trip to Motya - and probably to Sicily. This is the Giovane di Mozia - the Motya Youth. As photography was not allowed, I made a detailed description:

"Male (1.9m), standing, long, clinging diaphanous robe to bottom of ankle (feet missing). Right arm missing beyond axilla; left arm ditto, but the fingers are on the left hip with thumb to the rear. The dress is sleeveless, but very full, ending in a line of selvage which falls straight over the inside of the right thigh. The dress is secured around the chest by a bandeau (with missing pin). It ruckles above the bandeau in front and at the back, folds over itself on the right. It also ruckles over the small of the back, and is stretched tightly over the buttocks, between the legs and over the calves. It ends just above the ankle. The bulge of his genitals is visible in front breaking the folds. The head has three rows of tight curls a lumachella, and is inclined slightly to the left. The weight is on the left leg; the right knee breaks the folds. Eyes are almond-shaped, and deep set in the squarish face. The nose and chin are damaged. The mouth with its very full lips looks strangely un-Greek. The top of the head is roughly finished; two bronze studs show that headgear of some kind was worn."

There's (some) agreement that he's Greek, from around 440 BC - but clothed males are rare: was he a charioteer like the one at Delphi? Or a Punic magistrate? Or a god - Heracles or Melkart?


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