Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the Greek ruins and archeological site of Selinunte are truly one of the most extraordinary places you will ever experience.
It’s difficult to express ones impressions into words – so many adjectives are overused and so many places are overrated but not Selinunte, once considered one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily and remains so to this day…
Selinunte is located in southwestern Sicily, in the province of Trapani. It is an archeological park covering approximately 40 hectares (approximately 99 acres) and thousands of years of ancient history. In fact, it’s glory and demise all occurred hundreds of years B.C.!
♦ Step Back…
It’s an age-old story of prosperity, envy, rivalry, and power. Founded in the 7th century B.C., Selinunte, whose name is derived from selinon (Greek for wild celery, which once grew wild here), thrived and became an important trade and artistic center. With its beautiful buildings and harbors, it was second in importance only to Siracusa. A rival to neighbors Segesta and Mozia, its progress did not go unnoticed by its adversaries, the Carthaginians.
Despite temporarily successful diplomatic efforts to avoid war, ongoing fighting and hostilities weakened many Greek armies and left them in disarray. Unfortunately, the allies of Selinunte, Agrigento and Syracuse, were among them. The ever ambitious Carthaginians seized upon this weakness and took advantage of the opportunity to attack and brutally besiege and ransack Selinunte. Of the approximate 25,000 residents, it is recorded that 16,000 were brutally massacred, 7,000 taken as slaves, and the remaining few thousand managed to escape to Agrigento.
Never fully returning to its former glory, the final blow was in 250 B.C., when fleeing the Romans during the first Punic War, the vengeful Carthaginians destroyed Selinunte to deny Rome the spoils of victory.
♦ Fast Forward…
Aerial photographs indicate that the temples collapsed and ”fell like dominoes” as a result of an earthquake believed to have occurred in the medieval ages. It’s hard to imagine the astoundingly thunderous rumble that surely must have been heard by the gods… And then, silence, as Selinunte remained abandoned and neglected for centuries.
Excavations, which began in the early 1900’s, have thus far revealed eight ancient temples. Between 1956 and 1959, one of the main temples, Temple E, was partially re-erected using original materials. Fortunately, excavations continue today…
The unremarkable tourist center/entrance to the Archaeological Park of Selinunte is open daily from 9:00am – 6:00pm. Ticket prices are only € 6.00.Upon entering you can either walk or take a small electric “train”/shuttle to the site.
From a distance, the temple almost looks like a movie set – in it’s natural setting it is only surrounded by Mother Nature – open fields with wild flowers and trees. At first, it’s difficult to totally grasp its size and proportions but…… as you proceed along the path you begin to see some very tiny moving objects – ah, they are people! Approaching, the closer you come, the more astounding the reality of Selinunte.
Visitors are free to roam, explore and even climb among the ruins. Unbelievably, you are not roped off or restricted from entering or wandering among of the ruins (except where your safety might be compromised). Climbing the 10 steep steps of the 68 columned Temple E, known to have been dedicated to Hera (Juno), you can walk among and touch the huge drums.
Standing alongside one of the towering columns and looking upward, one can only begin to imagine how truly dramatic and magnificent Selinunte once was – how glorious those glorious 200 years must have been…
The view from Selinunte is nothing short of stunning. And, surely, the view of this ancient city from the sea must have been equally striking. Majestic and monumental temples (including the largest in antiquity reaching up to 98 feet), the Acropolis, and the ancient city surrounded by towering 10 foot tall walls surely elicited a sense of pride by inhabitants and allies, and respect and envy from enemies.
There is something hauntingly majestic about Selinunte. All that remains may appear to be giant piles of stone, a hodgepodge of topsy-turvy tumbled rocks but, even in this disheveled, jumbled state, the ruins of Selinunte remain imposing and impressive, still evoking awe and admiration.
Looking out unto the horizon of the deep blue sea and up into the endless expanse of the blue sky, Selinunte remains. And because the site stands alone, there is a powerful and poignant silence. Vigilant, stoic, majestic and everlasting. Devoted to the gods – meant to be eternal and, indeed, it is.
Selinunte and its prestige as one of the most important Greek ruins serves as testimonial to its enduring and timeless legacy.
In case you missed them, here are links to posts from my amazing recent road trip in Sicily: