On the path of ancient Greek presence in Sicily - from Syracuse and Taormina to Selinunte and the Valley of Temples in Agrigento...
Greeks started colonization of the Sicily some 750BC and kept their control over the major part of the island for more than five centuries.
Soon after arrival of first colonizers from Greece the cities like Naxos, Syracuse, Katane (Catania) and Zancle (Messina) were founded along the eastern coast. With time, Greeks spread over the island founding new cities like Taormina, Gela, Selinunte, Agrigento, Segesta…..
Native Sicilians tribes - Elymi, Sicans and Sicels gradually adopted the new culture slowly blending in with powerful invaders. As a result they practically disappeared from the “history books” as a “distinct” society without leaving noticeable traces….
Agrigento: Concordia Temple
Agrigento: Statue of Telamon
Fertile Sicilian lands brought also attention of Phoenician (Carthaginian), however they were able to conquer and control only small westernmost part of the island. The relatively “peaceful coexistence” of these two remarkable powers (if we exclude the battle obliterating Selinunte) came to end with the start of Punic wars at around 250BC. With a “little help” of Romans, Phoenicians were crushed, however the wars brought also the end to the Greek domination on the island. During the next few decennia Sicily swiftly changed hands becoming the first Roman Province outside of the Italian Peninsula.
Syracuse: Nympharium near the Greek amphitheater
Syracuse - Dionysus Eye
Taormina: Ruins of Greek's amphitheater
The city of Syracuse was the most important political, commercial and cultural ancient Greek’s center on the island. It is also the most recognized icon of Greek’s resistance against Romans, certainly due to the ingenuity of Archimedes and his legendary, terrifying “war machines”. Despite the remoteness of time – Syracuse’ events and heroes still resonate in our collective memory.
Today we can still witness numerous traces of Greeks’ presence on the island. Imposing amphitheaters and temples dedicated to Greek gods are all over the island. Partially reconstructed from ruins, they bear evidence of greatness of Greek civilization.
The best example of Greeks’ presence in Sicily you will find in Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) in Agrigento (just to let you know - it should be called “The Hill of Temples”). Most temples are in so-so state, but the one - Temple of Concord clearly stands out. It is one of the best preserved ancient Greek temples in the whole Hellenic world!
Selinunte: Temple of Hera
Selinunte: Ruins of ancient Greek's temple
Segesta: Doric Temple
Equally impressive is Selinunte (vast Acropolis with Temples) and Segesta (with its strangely solitary temple and amphitheater). Similarly “must-to-see” are Taormina (huge amphitheater with magnificent view on the stage and on Mt. Etna), Syracuse (amphitheater with an “ocean-front-view” and ruins of the Temple of Apollo)…
You may also stop at Morgantina – an archeological site holding the ruins of a monumental Agora and once luxurious residential area.
Skip Naxos (unless you are professional historian). Yes, it was the first Greek’s settlement in Sicily so it deserves our respect, however it was also one of the first to be leveled to rubbles by Greeks’ inter-fighting and pretty much it stays in rubbles since that time.
Agrigento: Archaeological Museum
Archaeological Museum in Agrigento: fragment of exposition
Do not forget to visit Sicilian archeological museums – they display large collections of sculptures, pottery, coins and fine decorative features “digged-out” from the earth and dust of history…. The most important one – the Museum of “Paolo Orsi” in Syracuse is home to most comprehensive collection of archeological discoveries in Sicily covering the time from prehistory until the end of the Hellenistic period. Must to see is also the Regional Archeological Museum in Agrigento with its large collection covering the Valley of Temples but also the area of Caltanissetta and Gela.
Go to: --> Sicily across Millenia
If you enjoyed this visit, then please share your experience with friends :-)