Antica città di SELINUNTE
Selinus is derived from the Greek name for the sweet-smelling herb they called Selinon: wild celery (heleioselinon – Apium graveolens) as well as mountain parsley (Oreoselinon – Petroselinum from which the English term is corrupted). Funnily enough, this herb that the ancients held in such high esteem was dedicated to Persephone, it was widely used to crown victors at the Isthmian games and to make wreaths for adorning the tombs of the dead. It grew in profusion in this part of Sicily and appears on the first coins minted by the town. The colony was founded by settlers from Megara Hyblaea during the 7C BC.
Thereafter, Selinus enjoyed a short but intensive period of prosperity (almost two centuries of splendour), perhaps thanks to prudent government practised by the continuous line of successive tyrants. Evidence of the town’s flowering is to be found in the extensive area allocated to sacred ritual and public use, concentrated in three distinctive districts.
For a long time, Selinunte allied itself to Carthage, in the hope of securing support in the fight with its rival, Segesta. Although, in the end, it was destroyed in 409 BC by the Carthaginian Hannibal who used ferociously cruel methods in winning supremacy: this resulted in the death of 16,000 Selinuntini and the capture of a further 5000 as prisoners (according to the account given by Diodorus Siculus). When the survivors begged him for their freedom and for the temples of the city to be spared in return for a substantial payment, Hannibal consented; once he had the cash in hand, he sacked the temples and pulled down the walls. Selinus invested every last effort in repairing the damage and, against the odds to struggle to survive until the Second Punic War, when it was razed to the ground.
RUINS (LE ROVINE)
The ruins are scattered over an almost deserted area having been completely abandoned since its downfall: the ruined temples continue to point their impressive great columns to the sky, while other buildings, reduced to heaps of rubble, probably by an earthquake, inspire a tragic air of utter desolation. The fine metopes which once adorned several of the temple friezes are displayed in the archeological museum in Palermo.
There are three main areas: the first, spread across the hill on the eastern side, contains three large temples; one having been re-erected in 1957. The second, on the hill to the west and surrounded by walls, comprises the acropolis, south of the actual town. The third, lying west of the acropolis, beyond the River Modione, also consisted of a sacred precinct complete with temples and sanctuaries. In the absence of any sure knowledge as to which gods the temples were dedicated,
scholars have identified them with letters of the alphabet.
To complete the picture, it is well worth visiting the quarries from where the stone was brought (see Cave di CUSA).
Templi orientali – The first of the eastern temples to come into view is Temple E, which, re-erected in 1957, was dedicated to Hera. It dates from the 5C BC and has a complex ground plan. The entrance to the pronaos was from the east-facing side, up several steps and through the colonnade. Only the capitals remain, lying on the ground, from the two free standing columns that marked the doorway. Beyond lay the cella off which opened a small secret chamber (the adytum) where the statue of the deity was kept. Behind this, opened the opisthodomus which was identical to the pronaos.
On the right, lie the ruins of Temple F, on a smaller scale than Temple E and probably dedicated to Athena.
Lastly, Temple G – the second largest Greek temple in Sicily, after the Temple of Olympian Zeus at Agrigento – would have been the most impressive. Conceived on simply gigantic proportions: 17 columns long and 8 wide, each with a diameter of almost 3.5m and a height of more than 16m. It was probably dedicated to Apollo. Today, it is reduced to a mass of fragments scattered over the ground. The cylindrical blocks with which the columns were built, each weighing several tons, retain distinctive grooves that suggest to scholars that the temple was never completed.
Acropoli – Drive from the eastern temples car park to the next one. The acropolis stretched across a hill on the far side of the dip called Gorgo di Cottone, through which the River Cottone flowed down to the sea where the towns harbour (now overgrown) was situated. The site was enclosed within defensive walls built in the 6C-5C BC. The streets were laid out according to the Classical town plan proposed by Hippadamus of Miletus, with three main arteries bisected at right angles by a grid of smaller streets. This area contained the town’s public and religious buildings, together with a few houses for the highest ranking members of society. The path skirts a section of the powerful graduated walls surrounding the eastern side of the acropolis.
Temples – The first to be made out as the track climbs uphill is the ruin of Temple A. Within the wall with the doorway into the naos are two spiral staircases, the most ancient examples known to date. This precinct, however, is dominated by 14 of the 17 columns of Temple C, which were re-erected in 1925. This, the earliest surviving temple at Selinus (initiated early 6C BC), was probably dedicated to Apollo or Heracles. It is hard to imagine the full impact of the pediment (ornamented with a clay Gorgon’s head in shallow relief) as it lies broken on the ground. It is from this temple that the finest metopes, now in the archeological museum in Palermo come; there is also a re-construction of the pediment there. It is interesting to follow the evolution in building techniques implemented during the temples construction: the columns on the south side are monolithic, whereas the others are composed of cylindrical segments, being far easier to transport. Traces of three further temples have been configured in the acropolis.
Fortifications – At the far end of the decumanus maximus, rises the curtain wall which once surrounded the acropolis. What may now be seen consists in fact of the fortifications built after the site was destroyed in 409 BC using recycled building stone (the columns split lengthways come from an unidentified temple from an unknown site). Beyond the north gate, the Porta Nord, stands an impressive three-storey structure comprising two superimposed galleries surmounted by a series of arches which allowed for soldiers and equipment to move quickly through them. The residential part of the town was situated on the hill of Manuzza: from the 4C BC, this area was gradually abandoned and used for burials as a necropolis.
Santuario della Malophoros – The sanctuary may be reached by following the track that extends from the first cardo to the left of the decumanus maximus (from the acropolis): allow 20min there and back. The sanctuary is in honour of Demeter Malophoros (she who bears the pomegranate), the goddess of plants and thereby the protector of farmers and growers. It was built inside a sacred precinct (temenos) on the opposite side of the River Modione, where a harbour and towns trading emporium were located. Beyond the propylaeum (identifiable by the remains of columns) stands a large sacrificial altar. A channel bearing water from the Gaggera mountain spring separates it from the temple. The latter, without columns or foundations, comprised a pronaos, a cella and an adytum containing a statue of the deity.