Selinunte (TP)

"The marks of its ancient consequence are visible in the venerable ruins found in the neighbourhood." Lemprière's Classical Dictionary  

Wild celery growing among the ruins of Temple GSelinus was founded (according to Thucydides) in 628 BC by colonists sent out from Megara Hyblaea. Its name came from the selinon (wild celery, not parsley) which still grows luxuriantly among the ruins. [Or did in1993. In 2007 I could not find any - it had presumably been weed-killered to extinction.] From the beginning it was planned as a megalopolis - the street plan fans out far beyond the circuit of the later defensive walls. By the 5th century BC it was wealthy enough to build at least 10 temples (more than Akragas, and far more than Athens). Several of these were among the first in the west to have sculptured decoration - metopes, like those on the Parthenon, but much earlier, are preserved in the Palermo museum.

Metope from Temple E - Heracles and an Amazon; Hera and ZeusBut Selinus' history was never going to be straightforward - being a Greek city well inside the Carthaginian sphere of influence - and also perilously close to Elymian territory to the north. Selinus and Segesta were always mortal enemies. Selinus had - sensibly as she thought - sided with Carthage in 480. But after the great Greek victory at Himera, she realigned herself with the Greeks. The quarrel with Segesta was partly responsible for the Athenian invasion in 415 BC - but the Carthaginians were all the time waiting for a moment to take revenge. In 409 BC, invited by Segesta (now that her Athenian allies had been defeated), 100,000 troops under the Carthaginian Hannibal took Selinus in just nine days. No time for help to come from Akragas or Syracuse. A massacre followed the capture - and terrible atrocities were perpetrated on the survivors (necklaces of Selinuntine fingers are mentioned).

The former Syracusan democratic leader, Hermocrates, now persona non grata at home, tried to re-establish Selinus, with himself as ruler in 408 BC - but was killed the next year attacking his native city. People drifted back, but Selinus never recovered her former splendour - she was to be part of the Carthaginian sector, until Carthage decided to abandon the site in 250 BC (the Romans were by now showing their ambitions in Sicily) - and the site has remained virtually deserted ever since.

Temple G with its one standing column - it takes 8 people linking arms to encircle it!Appropriately I first visited Selinunte alone on a bleak November day [in 1993]- with storm clouds constantly overhead. It is a sad place - all that remains of its temples (their affiliation is unknown - and they are just known by letters) - are piles of rubble. Earthquakes finished off what the Carthaginians began. Recent attempts at anastylosis have improved the look of the site (especially Temple E and Temple C), but not enough to mitigate the essential gloom of the place.


The North Gate - showing the split columns used in the defensive works.The defences are really impressive - although they all date to the period after the Carthaginian destruction in 409 BC. The stable door was constructed after the horse had bolted. Probably they were the work of Agathocles (307 - 306 BC); when building the North Gate, he was happy to slice temple columns lengthwise and use them for roofing. Column drums and triglyphs can be seen in the walls.

The 1993 rains had washed out numerous fragments of red-figure pottery - it would have been easy to build up a collection.

The temples are in two groups - the east group consists of Temples E, F and G. Temple E is the one that's been restored, and Temple G is the huge one to the north (second in size only to the Temple of Zeus in Agrigento) - large enough to envelop three Temple Fs. It was never finished - work was rudely interrupted by Hannibal in 409 BC - columns intended for it can still be seen half-hewn from the rock in the quarries of Cusa (Rocche di Cusa) 19 kilometres to the west.

Of the western temples, the most obvious is Temple C - on the highest point of the Acropolis. It probably dates from the 6th century BC - and it's the one many of the larger metopes in Palermo came from; the smaller ones are from the obviously-named "Temple of the Small Metopes".

The romantic reconstruction of Temple E Europa and the Bull - a 6th century metope from Selinus Temple C prominent on the Acropolis
The walls - most of the huge ancient city lay beyond the circuit The beach, and site of the harbour. Temple E in the background

The site was being "tastefully" developed when I was there in 1993 - grassy ramparts had been added to screen Temples E, F and G from the car-park, and the new hotels being built at Marinella. Gaps provided "viewpoints" of the temples - and would presumably eventually enable the powers to charge for entry. On a wet day in November, I was the only visitor: I simply climbed over the embankment. A sunken road links the two parts of the site (I had to pay £2000 to enter the Acropolis), passing a track to the beach (which would be attractive in summer) - and picnic places curiously protected with notices warning about "rettili". (What sort of reptiles? Reminds me of a notice I once came across in a Surrey wood warning that "Corylus avellana abounds here with ordinary British snakes" - as any Classicist will know corylus is the hazel-tree! Sicily, like Britain, has no alarming reptiles.)

Returning in 2007 I found the site totally fenced, and a single entry point established, where charges were indeed exacted.


Use the table below to find your way around Sicily:
Rocche di Cusa

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