Segesta and the ancient ruins in Sicily are loaded with history & culture (2023)

I love ancient ruins and the Greco-Roman Ruins of Sicily and the temples in Segesta are remarkable and worth seeing.

Built about 410 B.C., the Greek Doric temple in Segesta located in northwestern Sicilyis believed to be unfinished and it is unknown to whom it was to be dedicated.

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Greek Doric temple in Segesta, northwestern Sicily.

Sicily is renowned for many qualities: its luscious fruits and vegetables, varied and bountiful seafood, and drool-inducing pasta; the mountainous terrain, includingMt. Etna, Europe’s largest and most violent volcano; even for being “that weird-shaped ball” at the toe of Italy’s “boot.” But most people aren’t aware that Sicily has a rich and varied history, which includes centuries of occupation from many of the Mediterranean cultures: Phoenician, Carthaginian, Greek, Roman and Arabic, to name a few.

Perhaps because the Greeks and Romans were the last of the major pre-Christian civilizations to inhabit Sicily, their relics are most visible of those remaining on the island. In our three week ramble through Sicily, we sampled some of Sicily’s Greco-Roman past which included Segesta, Siracusa and beyond.

Siracusa

We were fortunate to have Alessio Patane ofSicily Grand Tourto take us through Siracusa-Ortigia and Agrigento. With his expert knowledge of Sicilian history in general, and specifically of the Greco-Roman period, we could fully appreciate the influence of these cultures on Sicily and Italy as a whole, and thus on our own modern, Western culture.

Primarily because I’m an unabashed history geek, I knew that Siricusa, founded 2,700 years ago as a Corinthian Greek colony, grew in size and importance to successfully rival Athens, once the mightiest of the Greek city-states of the period.. But I hadn’t realized just how extensive the Greek influence was within and beyond Siricusa.

The Corinthians first established their colony on the small island of Ortigia, which is now part of modern Siricusa. The earliest remains are of the Temple of Appollo, and columns of a Doric temple to Athena, which were incorporated into the walls of the cathedral.

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The modern buildings of Ortigia ring the remains of the early 6th century BC temple to Appollo.

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Doric columns from a 5th c. BC temple to Athena were incorporated into both the interior and exterior walls of the cathedral orduomo of Siracusa.

The gems of the Greek and Roman remains lie a couple of miles north in the now protected Parco Archeologico.

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(Video) Segesta, Sicily - Ancient Temple & Theater in the Rolling Hills!

The Greek amphitheater at 138 meters across (151 yards) is the largest outside of Greece. First built in 5th century BC, it was rebuilt in the 3rd century BC.

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Near the amphitheater is the remains of a stone quarry where captives and slaves were forced to work the stone.

The shell-shaped interior cone of this formation enabled people at the top of the quarry to eavesdrop on what the captives below were saying. Supposedly the artist Caravaggio named it the Ear of Dionysus, after the Greek tyrant who ruled Siracusa in the 4th century BC and kept prisoners in the quarry.

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Roman amphitheater from 1st century AD.

Unlike the Greeks who built their amphitheaters in the proscenium style, the Romans built round or elliptically shaped forums with several entry points and no single stage.

This difference in style reflects the Roman penchant for multiple forms of arena entertainment from gladiators battling each other or wild animals, even flooding the arena to stage mock sea battles. The Greeks, on the other hand, preferred theater, which was best suited to the proscenium style of amphitheater.

Valley of the Temples, Agrigento

Alessio took us also to Agrigento, in southwest Sicily, to view the magnificent temple ruins that stand along a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean. (It’s thus a mystery as to why this site was named thevalley of the temples.)

Another interesting oddity is that the individual temples are still called by names given to them somewhat arbitrarily a century or more earlier, when more modern research clearly states most of the temples’ dedications were unknown. Nevertheless, the temples of Agrigento are spectacular.

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Although Greek in origin, in the Doric style, these remains are called the Temple of Juno (Greek name, Hera), from about 450 BC.

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Almond trees line theroadway along the mountain ridge known as the Valley of the Temples. The well-preserved Temple of Concordia is seen in the center, with the Mediterranean to the center left.

(Video) History of Segesta

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Temple of Concordia, built about 440 BC in the Doric style. It is the best preserved of the temples probably because it was used as a church for several centuries.

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The temple of Hercules, from about 6th century BC, is one of the oldest in Agrigento.

Taormina

One of the most impressive settings for theGreco-Roman Ruins and ancient sights we saw was the 3rd century BC Greek amphitheater in the hill town of Taormina. How can you beat the view of smoking Mt. Etna and the Mediterranean Sea as part of the backdrop to the stage?

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The remains of the stage area of the Greek amphitheater in Taormina, with Mt. Etna in the background. Later under Roman rule, this area of the amphitheater was incorporated into a wealthy family’s villa; even later, thousands of stones were hauled away for use in constructing other buildings. Centuries later, what could be recovered of the original theater is what is seen here today.

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The seating area of the proscenium amphitheater in Taormina.

Segesta

The fabulousDoric Greek temple in Segesta was one of the great surprises of our trip. We decided to check it out on our way to Erice, northwestern Sicily, and as often happens with the unexpected, we were astounded. The temple in Segesta was featured above as the lead photograph, from the top of another, higher hillside which featured a Greek amphitheater as well as the ruins of a medieval church and a mosque.

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Segesta

The magnificent temple, uncompleted, whose function and dedication has remained unknown. The stone columns have remained in remarkable shape.

(Video) The UNFINISHED Temple That Looks GREEK But Isn't!

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Segesta

Both the front and back facades have been well protected. Thetipaniat both ends of the temple are well preserved.

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Hilltop Greek amphitheater, possibly the 3rd or 2nd century BC – Segesta.

Mosaics of the Villa Romana del Casale

Not all the reminders of Greece and Rome are temple ruins. We visited a semi-recovered Roman villa in the mountains of central Sicily that had some of the most beautiful and well-preserved floor mosaics I’ve ever seen.

While archaeologists can date the construction to early 4th century AD, the exact identity of the owner of this 3,000 square meter dwelling is unclear, other than he must have been wealthy and in the upper Roman hierarchy of his time. What is clear is that the rooms of mosaics were preserved due to an enormous landslide in the 12th century which destroyed the second level of the villa but covered and thus protected the ground floor’s mosaics over the ensuing centuries.

Dusk was already falling when we entered the villa’s remains, where we walked along raised cat-walks and peered down through the gloom at the mosaic floors. Yet despite the centuries, the avalanche of mud, and poor lighting, the beauty and colors of the mosaics were readily visible.

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The majority of mosaics we saw were in ground level rooms off the four sides of the peristyle, the villa’s open courtyard surrounded by a columned portico.

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These mosaics are on the floor under the shaded portico. From the hall residents of the villa could enter private interior rooms, all with their own mosaic floors.

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Conflict through the ages…

(Video) Segesta, Sicily. Our Visit to the Ancient and Majestic Segesta Greek Temple and Amphitheater.

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Many of the mosaics (see above and below) featured elaborate hunting scenes — or were scenarios depicting the capture of exotic animal specimens to exhibit in Rome or to set loose on gladiators in the great Colosseum.

In addition to the rhinoceros and hippopotamus featured here, nearby mosaics showed lions, tigers, panthers,giraffes and leopards being rounded up and boarded onto ships for the long sea trip back to Rome.

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Lithe young women in bikinis never fail too attract!

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Some of the floor mosaics depicted incredible range of subject matter, style and detail. Such a variety suggests to archaeologists and scholars that many artists of different designs and backgrounds contributed to the mosaics.

By no means is Sicily’s Greco-Roman past limited to these few archaeological sites but Segesta is a real gem and should not be missed. If you’re a history lover, you’ll want to see them all. It’s probable that many relics remain, either destroyed as later civilizations built upon them, or simply buried by lava, landslides or earthquakes and are as yet waiting discovery.

Carol Rolnick

Carol Barbier Rolnick grew up in Japan and Southeast Asia, traveling extensively as a child through Asia, the Mideast and Europe on family vacations. Travel has continued as a priority through raising kids and continuing into retirement, extending adventures through the Americas, southern Africa, Asia, and repeat trips throughout Europe. Carol and her husband, Michael spent four summers based in Utrecht, The Netherlands, which has become like a second home. They are (still) aiming towards Australia-New Zealand and Antarctica to round off their continental travels.

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FAQs

Are there ancient ruins in Sicily? ›

On the southwest coast of Sicily, not far from Mazara del Vallo, lies the largest archaeological site in Europe. On a par with pretty much anything found in Greece itself, Selinunte has lain abandoned for nearly 2,500 years, its numerous temples, its acropolis and its agora in dignified ruins.

When was the temple of Segesta built? ›

The old structure is thought to have been built around 420 BC by an architect from Athens and is regularly deemed the best surviving example of Doric architecture in Europe. The Doric order was one of the three orders of Greek and Roman architecture (the other two are Ionic and the Corinthian).

Who built Segesta? ›

Some think it to have been built in the 420s BC by an Athenian architect, despite the city not having any Greek population. The prevailing view is that it was built by the indigenous Elymians.

What is Sicily famous for? ›

The island is famous for its cathedrals, vineyards, island beaches, and amazing architecture. The Palermo Opera House and UNESCO Baroque churches in Noto and Modica are world-renowned Sicilian architectural landmarks, along with The Greek Temples of the Valley of Temples located in Agrigento.

Why are Greek ruins in Sicily? ›

A region steeped in history, today there's a host of incredible Greek ruins to visit in Sicily – the Mediterranean's largest island. Sicily has been inhabited since 12,000 BC and around 750 BC was host to Phoenician and Greek colonies who left behind a wealth of archaeological treasures to explore.

Is Sicily Roman or Greek? ›

Sicily began to be colonised by Greeks in the 8th century BC. Initially, this was restricted to the eastern and southern parts of the island. The most important colony was established at Syracuse in 734 BC.

Is Sicily Greek or Italian? ›

Sicily (Italian: Sicilia [siˈtʃiːlja]; Sicilian: Sicilia [sɪˈʃiːlja]) is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea and one of the 20 regions of Italy. The Strait of Messina divides it from the region of Calabria in Southern Italy.

Were there Vikings in Sicily? ›

The hulking skeletons are believed to have been the descendants of Vikings who colonized northern France and, later, southern Italy and Sicily. Around 800 years ago, 10 people were laid to rest in a cemetery on the Italian island of Sicily. Three were women, two were children.

How old is Segesta? ›

About Segesta

Most famous for the incredible Temple of Segesta, Segesta is an archaeological site in north-western Sicily. This 5th century BC temple was started by the Elymian people between 426 BC and 416 BC but was never completed.

Who actually built the Temple in Jerusalem? ›

King Solomon, according to the Bible, built the First Temple of the Jews on this mountaintop circa 1000 B.C., only to have it torn down 400 years later by troops commanded by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar, who sent many Jews into exile.

Is there any ruins of Solomon's temple? ›

No remains from Solomon's Temple have ever been found. The presumption is that it was destroyed completely and buried during the huge project of building the Second Temple, in Herod's time.

When was Segesta founded? ›

The city of Segesta seems to have been founded thousands of years ago, perhaps as far back as 2,000 BCE. Greek historians would later claim that it was founded by colonists from the Greek city of Troy.

Where is the temple of Segesta? ›

The temple of Segesta is a Greek temple of the ancient city of Segesta, located in the archaeological area of Calatafimi Segesta, an Italian municipality in the province of Trapani in Sicily.

What part of Italy is Sicily? ›

Sicily, Italian Sicilia, island, southern Italy, the largest and one of the most densely populated islands in the Mediterranean Sea. Together with the Egadi, Lipari, Pelagie, and Panteleria islands, Sicily forms an autonomous region of Italy. It lies about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Tunisia (northern Africa).

What does the name Sicily mean? ›

According to the Latin grammarian Marco Terenzio Varrone, the name Sicily derives from the Italian word “sica”, which means “scythe”. By extension, therefore, Sicilia meant “land of mowers”, because according to the Romans that was the region richest in grain that was supposed to be supplied to the capital.

What language do Sicilian speak? ›

Sicilian dialects in use

Sicilian, or its dialectal offshoots, is still spoken by many people on a daily basis, though Italian is, of course, the official language common to all.

Why did the Romans want Sicily? ›

Sicily was vital to the Romans as a point of supply, as a centre for controlling the western Mediterranean, and for keeping a close watch on Carthage. Roman bureaucracy in Sicily increased as the island steadily became more important to the legions as a source of grain.

What is the purpose of ruins? ›

Ruins are of great importance to historians, archaeologists and anthropologists, whether they were once individual fortifications, places of worship, ancient universities, houses and utility buildings, or entire villages, towns, and cities.

What is Sicily in Greek mythology? ›

Sicily: home of gods and heroes

In the archaic Greek world, Sicily and the Aeolian Islands belonged in the realm of Myth. To the early Greeks, it was a place where gods and heroes lived, earthbound yet somehow otherworldly.

What is the DNA of a Sicilian? ›

MtDna and Y DNA studies

According to one study, Y-DNA haplogroups were found at the following frequencies in Sicily: R1 (36.76%), J (29.65%), E1b1b (18.21%), I (7.62%), G (5.93%), T (5.51%), Q (2.54%).

Was Sicily ever part of Africa? ›

Was Sicily ever attached to Africa or to mainland Italy? It almost certainly was, but even today Sicily is only 3 kilometers from Calabria at the narrows of the Strait of Messina, and just 160 kilometers from the African coast.

Who were the original Sicilians? ›

There were three indigenous groups on ancient Sicily: the Elymi in the western part of the island, the Sicani in the centre, and the Sicels in the east - the latter being the root of the island's name.

Are Sicilians ethnically Greek? ›

The genetic contribution of Greek chromosomes to the Sicilian gene pool is estimated to be about 37% whereas the contribution of North African populations is estimated to be around 6%.

What race is Sicily? ›

Sicilians are darker than Northern Italians, their ancestry reflecting a mixed heritage of peoples passing through the island. The Greeks, the Moors, the Normans and the Romans were among these peoples whose presence helped to create what we now think of as Sicilian culture.

What is a Sicilian last name? ›

The most common patronymics are Basile, Di Mauro, Di Salvo, Di Stefano, Giuffrida, Leonardi, Orlando, Vitale. Other surnames derive from medieval names, mostly augural, such as Bellomo, Bonaccorso, Bonanno, Bonfiglio, Bongiorno, Bonsignore.

Are Sicilians Arabic? ›

Siculo-Arabic (Arabic: اللهجة العربية الصقلية), also known as Sicilian Arabic, is the term used for varieties of Arabic that were spoken in the Emirate of Sicily (which included Malta) from the 9th century, persisting under the subsequent Norman rule until the 13th century.
...
Siculo-Arabic
GlottologNone
7 more rows

Is Sicilian older than Italian? ›

Sicilian (u sicilianu) is neither a dialect nor an accent. It is a not a variant of Italian, a local version of Italian, and it's not even derived from what became Italian. In fact, in truth, Sicilian preceded Italian as we know it.

What does a Sicilian look like? ›

You would find that there are many Sicilians with brown hair and dark eyes but a significant number having red or blondish hair and blue eyes - albeit rather few with extremely light blonde locks. Fashion is fickle and highly individualistic, even among young people.

Where did the Elymians come from? ›

The Elymians (Greek: Ἔλυμοι, Élymoi; Latin: Elymi) were an ancient tribal people who inhabited the western part of Sicily during the Bronze Age and Classical antiquity.

What was the Doric temple of Segesta used for? ›

Historical Overview. Segesta was an important trading centre in the Classical period and has one of the best-preserved Doric temples in the ancient Mediterranean.

How do I get to Palermo from Segesta? ›

The best way to get from Palermo to Segesta is to bus via Salemi Gibellina Bus Station which takes 1h 36m and costs €30 - €40. Alternatively, you can train, which costs €19 - €35 and takes 2h 34m. Can I drive from Palermo to Segesta? Yes, the driving distance between Palermo to Segesta is 72 km.

Where is the Ark of the Covenant today? ›

According to church leaders, the Ark of the Covenant has for centuries been closely guarded in Aksum at the Church of St. Mary of Zion.

Does the Temple of Solomon still exist? ›

According to Jewish tradition, the Temple of Solomon, also known as "the First Temple," was built by King Solomon (circa 990–931 BCE) long ago on the spot where God created Adam, the first man. But the building was destroyed four hundred years later.

What was the first city called in the Bible? ›

Land of Nod - Wikipedia.

What happened to all the gold in Solomon's Temple? ›

When King Solomon's Temple was captured and destroyed by the Babylonians in 597 and 586 B.C., the coveted artefact disappeared forever. Some of the treasures were hidden in Israel and Babylonia, while others were delivered into the hands of the angels Shamshiel, Michael and Gabriel.

Is the Second Temple still standing? ›

Both temples were destroyed, and the main remnant is the outer western wall of the Second Temple courtyard, where people flock from all over the world to pray (known as the Wailing Wall, the Kotel, or the Western Wall). According to Jewish traditions, both temples were destroyed on the 9th of Av on the Jewish calendar.

Where was the Ark in Solomon's Temple? ›

The Ark rested in the Holy of Holies inside the Tabernacle of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem and was seen only by the high priest of the Israelites on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

What is a Doric temple? ›

Doric temples were the first style of temples made from stone, not wood, and are identifiable by the columns and entablature. The columns are tapered with 20 flutes, and have a smooth top piece called a capital.

What do Doric columns look like? ›

Doric columns typically have a simple, rounded capital at the top; a heavy, fluted or smooth column shaft; and no base. Flutes are vertical, parallel channels that run the length of a column.

How do I get to Segesta? ›

How to reach Segesta
  1. By train. This is the most easy way. You just have to take the train Palermo-Trapani and get off at the stop “Segesta”. For further information, visit Trenitalia.com.
  2. By bus. There are a lot of buses that start from the center of Trapani. Buses start from the bus station in Ciaccio square.

Where is the temple of Mercury? ›

Temple of Mercury | building, Baiae, Italy | Britannica.

Why is Sicilian different from Italian? ›

Unlike Italian, which is almost entirely Latin based, Sicilian has elements of Greek, Arabic, French, Catalan, and Spanish. This can be seen in many Sicilian words, like azzizzari [to embellish, adorn] from the Arabic aziz [beautiful], or foddi [angry], which can be traced to the Norman French fol.

Is Sicilian also Italian? ›

Sicilian is considered a language because it is not a variation of Italian but an evolution of the Latin language, with massive influences of Ancient Greek, Arabic, Spanish, French, and Catalan.

Why is there no bridge from Italy to Sicily? ›

Other reasons for abandoning the plan were earthquake risk and fears that the bridge would enrich the networks of Italy's organised crime organisations such as Cosa Nostra and 'Ndrangheta.

Why are there so many unfinished buildings in Sicily? ›

Much of the reason is that there is a lack of money to keep up the buildings. Also, due to Italy's historic preservation laws it is next to impossible to tear down buildings that are not blocking some new development. Also, I think that some buildings are mired in legal battles due to complicated inheritance laws.

How old are the ruins in Baalbek? ›

Baalbek was first occupied around 10,000BC as one of many tells (the Arabic for mounds) in the Bekaa, which is full of prehistoric and Neolithic settlements.

What is the safest place in Sicily? ›

Ragusa is one of the safest places to stay in Sicily, with very low rates of all types of crime. Obviously, as always, common sense must be used, but in general the streets are safe to walk and there is even little of the opportunistic theft that plagues other parts of Italy, and even more crowded areas in Sicily.

Is Sicily a cheap place to live? ›

The cost of living in Sicily is very affordable. Sicily enjoys one of the lowest costs of living in the whole of Europe.

Is Sicily better than Amalfi? ›

The variety of restaurants and eateries in Sicily is much greater than the Amalfi Coast, including options more suitable for those travelling on a budget, and the island's size means that there are also a lot more local ingredients to sample during your trip.

How much money do you need to retire in Italy? ›

Conditions for expats retiring to Italy

In order to retire to Italy, a foreign citizen must comply with a few requirements. Among these, the foreign citizen must be retired and have a minimum annual income of EUR 31,000. For married couples seeking to retire in Italy, the minimum amount necessary is EUR 38,000.

Are squatters a problem in Italy? ›

Abstract. There is a chronical inability of the Italian Government to enforce a rapid and effective protection from infringements of property rights, as demonstrated by the problem of squatting. Despite the lack of official data, it appears that about 50,000 buildings all over the country are subjected to squatting.

Why are ancient ruins below ground? ›

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes burying excavated ancient art and architecture is the best way to keep it safe from environmental and human threats. This is the case for cultural heritage sites all over the globe—from the world's oldest preserved footprints to dazzling Roman floor mosaics.

Why is The Ruins historical? ›

Information about The Ruins

Don Mariano constructed the mansion as a testament of his love for his Portuguese wife, Cora Maria Osorio Rosa-Braga, after she passed away in 1911. Maria, who was pregnant with their eleventh child at the time, lost her and their baby's lives after figuring in an accident.

Is Baalbek mentioned in the Bible? ›

There are tales that associated Baalbek with the Biblical figure of Cain — the son of Adam — claiming that he built it as a refuge after his god Yahweh had cursed him. 'Tradition states that the fortress of Baalbek... is the most ancient building in the world.

Why is Baalbek so important? ›

The city of Baalbek reached its apogee during Roman times. Its colossal constructions built over a period of more than two centuries, make it one of the most famous sanctuaries of the Roman world and a model of Imperial Roman architecture.

Who built the original Baalbek? ›

Major construction in Baalbek first began under the Phoenicians, and it was the Phoenicians who erected an enormous temple to the Phoenician sky god, Baal. Baal was one of the most important gods in the Phoenician pantheon, making Baalbek a popular site for pilgrimages from across the region.

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