If you are planning to visit Selinunte during the day but you feel disoriented because you have seen how big the archaeological park is, well, this is the article for you.
Those who love ancient history know many Greek cities very well because they read about them in history books. Selinunte, on the other hand, is less famous, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t deserve a tour. On the contrary, I will tell you that you are about to visit one of the most amazing archaeological sites in the world for size and beauty. To do it well, I thought it was essential for travelers to know some aspects of history but also to organize a day tour of the largest archaeological site in Europe. So I prepared this short guide full of tips to enjoy a perfect tour of the ruins and temples.
Selinunte Archaeological Park
Where is Selinunte
The archaeological park of Selinunte is located on the southern coast of Sicily, 14 km from Castelvetrano (TP). From there it can be reached by car in about 20 min. From Trapani and Marsala you can reach it in about 1 hour, while from Palermo or Agrigento you can reach it in about 1h and 30 minutes. The car park is large and the ticket office and infopoint are easily accessible even for wheelchair users.
In general I advise you to bring already from the first days of spring:
- sun cream
- snacks or sandwiches
- a map of Selinunte
The sun is very hot and hot here. In the hot months it could be a problem to be in the middle of the park without being able to protect yourself. Inside the info point you can ask for a guide. For safety, I invite you to bring one with you complete with updated map. In fact, archaeological excavations in recent years have allowed you to discover new areas of the city.
To start visiting the site, you can choose to start from the area directly accessible from the ticket office, or move to the opposite hill, even by car, where there are other ruins. I, for convenience, always start from the entrance of the ticket office that leads to the eastern hill with temples E, F and G. Only after completing the visit of this area, I move to the opposite hill.
Once you have reached the park, you will have the possibility to move along an avenue. In the area you can download an app complete with audio guide to the archaeological area for a few euros. Personally I do not recommend it because I found it poorly edited graphically and the content is poor. Rather take along a good paper guide or look for news on the net.
In fact, in-depth news you could click here. This is a good start to have an idea about the history of the ancient Greek city. Another good alternative is the audio guides of Izitravel (italian version). Here, you can find the audioguides related to the myths told in the sculpted reliefs of the temples of Selinunte. Finally, those who want to learn more about the history of the Greek colony can also find information in this guide of the Sicily Region (italian version). At the entrance you will also have the opportunity to take advantage of a convenient shuttle bus service. The service is subject to a fee, but on particularly hot days it can become a useful solution. The same goes for those who do not have too much time at their disposal.
Temples of Selinunte
The eastern hill
We come to the first ruins of the temples of Selinunte that appear before your eyes. However, I will not dwell on all the characteristics of the temples that you can find in the Wikipedia page that I have recommended above. In fact, I would like to share some curiosities that you can then observe with your own eyes while walking in the archaeological site.
In general, you should know that temples in the Greek world were not thought like the present churches. In fact, this means that citizens could not enter and pray as Christians do today. In short, among the ancient Greeks, only the priest entered the building.
The citizens, instead, remained outside and followed the part of the rite that was performed in the altars. These, very often, are in front of the temples and can also be large in size. In practice, all the inhabitants could gather around these altars and make their sacrifices guided by the priest. In addition, the temples also functioned as real city banks. In fact, we know that the riches of the cities were preserved and guarded within their mighty walls.
But let us come to these first temples you will meet. First of all, you will be amazed to find yourself in front of a temple still standing. The first one you will encounter is Temple E and it was built around 460-450 BC. The style of the temple is Doric, with powerful fluted columns and round cushion-shaped capitals.
The temple E is standing, but only because in the 60s it was rebuilt from the remains through anastylosis. In practice, it is a type of restoration that allows you to reconstruct an ancient building from the remains found on the site. Did you notice something weird? In Selinunte, unlike other Greek cities, temples are distinguished by simple letters. Why is that? In a nutshell, we have no information from written sources and we found few finds near the temples that make us understand which deity they were dedicated to.
Also, the sculpted reliefs found at the top of this and other temples are very interesting. Today, these very beautiful finds are kept inside the archaeological museum Salinas of Palermo. I invite you to visit it because you will have a clearer idea of what these places must have looked like in the past.
F e G temples
Next to temple E you will find the ruins of two other temples: Temple F and G. Temple F is much older than the other two. Just think that it was built about 100 years before, around 550 BC and it is very peculiar. In fact, unlike the other temples in the city, this one also had a wall between the columns. It’s almost as if they wanted to protect more of what was kept inside. You can catch these details by walking among the remains on the ground and observing carefully the various pieces.
Afterwards, stop and admire the temple G. Its remains are impressive. Look at the capitals and fragments of columns on the ground. Then think about the ones you have seen before. You will immediately understand the differences in size between this temple and the others. Also, if you try to count the length of the monument with your steps, you will immediately understand that it was much larger than the others. If you are really careful, you will notice a detail that tells the story of the monument. The columns have no grooves. This is because it was never finished.
In practice, this construction was erected thanks to the many Punic slaves taken prisoner after the victory of 480 BC. The project was so ambitious that it had not yet been completed in 406 B.C., when the city was finally conquered and destroyed by the Carthaginians. This was to be one of the largest temples in the Greek world. A monument to celebrate the victory of the Greek world over the barbarians. This temple most likely held the city’s treasure and an inscription tells us that it was probably dedicated to Apollo.
The Acropolis of Selinunte
Well, now it’s time to move on and see the other side of the archaeological site. For the more daring, I recommend a nice walk in the warmer months. This allows you to go down to the bottom of the valley where the Cottone, one of the two rivers of the ancient city, passes. Pay attention to the direction you follow because the directions are not very clear. Always try to keep the direction of the temples you will see at a distance. Those who prefer to travel by car will find a convenient solution as they can park near the second part of the site that can be visited.
The first thing you will find in front of you is a big wall. Many do not pay much attention to it, but it is a colossal work. The inhabitants, in fact, had built this wall because they had decided to enlarge the area of the temples above.
In the acropolis you will find temples A, B, C, D and O. These buildings were built around 490 BC. But here, the most curious thing I invite you to look for among the ruins is another. On the floor of Temple A there is a strange mosaic symbol. Well, this symbol has nothing to do with Greek religion. In fact, it is the sign of the Punic goddess Tanit. This means, that once conquered, the city was administered by new citizens of Carthaginian origin. Although, it never returned to its ancient splendor and part of the houses were completely abandoned.
Houses and streets
Continuing beyond the temple area you will find yourself on a wide ancient road that was one of the main roads in this area of the ruins. Next to the street you will see buildings. What is particularly interesting is that these were built with large, well squared stones. The same goes for the houses that are located near the hill of Manuzza. In fact, you will hardly find such rich houses in Greek cities in such an ancient age. This gives us a precise idea of the enormous wealth of the city that was due to its commercial traffic. A wealth that grew in a short time and suddenly collapsed.
A further effort will lead you to take a short walk to the Hellenistic fortifications. They are monumental and full of narrow passages clearly visible. Remember that they were built in a late period of the city, when it was no longer controlled by the Greeks.
Other things to see in Selinunte
If you want to deepen your visit I invite you to visit or deepen other less known but very important areas. Not all of them can be visited but it is good to get to know them in order to get a more complete idea of the organization of the city. Maybe I will talk about them later in another post:
- The necropolis
- The sanctuary of Malophoros
- The ceramic district (not visitable)
Brief History of Selinunte and curiosity
If you are lucky enough to see a Selinunte coin you will immediately notice that it is decorated with a plant leaf. The plant was selinon, a wild herb similar to celery. From this originates the name of the city itself and it was supposed to be spread in the wetlands of the river Modione. It is no coincidence that it is also called Selinon.
But let’s get down to history. What do we know about this town? As you may have gathered from the strange names of the temples, we don’t know very much. But some episodes in the history of the centre were so important that they were remembered by ancient historians.
First of all, Selinunte is part of those Greek cities of Sicily founded later. In fact, the first inhabitants arrived around 650 BC, almost one hundred years later than Syracuse. The founders came from Megara Hyblea, another Greek city near Syracuse. The inhabitants of this city soon realized that the expansion of Syracuse was threatening trade and wealth. So, they decided to found a new city along the coast on the border with the Punics.
The new settlers were led by Pammilo, one of those legendary figures of city founders. This decision, of course, gave Selinunte the advantage of growing rapidly thanks to trade with the Carthaginians. But, at the same time, it made it the Greek city most exposed to the risk of war against the Punic. And indeed that was what happened. The city became very rich and the monumental houses, temples and the large district of ceramists recently found testify to this. However, despite the wealth, the city showed its weakness at the end of the 5th century BC. In fact, following the clash with Segesta, the siege of 409 BC led to the destruction of the city.
Subsequently, life resumed under the Carthaginians, but the city had lost forever the prestige of the past. As you can see, Selinunte’s history lasted only 250 years as an independent city. And in those two and a half centuries, the inhabitants managed to build an enormous amount of buildings and monuments, a sign of unparalleled wealth.
The cave di Cusa Quarries
Have you been fascinated by the splendour of Selinunte but want to know more? Then, if you still have time, you could move to the quarry in Cusa. This archaeological area is about 30 minutes by car. The stone from here was used to build all the temples in Selinunte came from these quarries. These stones were quarried and transported for miles with rudimentary tools pulled by animals, until they reached the city.
Beaches of Castelvetrano and food
Once you have finished visiting the archaeological area of Selinunte, you can decide to stay in the area. Needless to say, the beaches of Marinella di Selinunte absolutely deserve a bath. You will have understood it well, and you are probably already thinking about it.
Good food in Sicily is a common thing, by now you will have understood it. Here too you will find excellent restaurants and typical fish dishes and the bread of Castelvetrano, to try and taste. Moreover, this is an area where excellent wines are produced. Take advantage of it and enjoy your holiday.
If you liked this short guide, please write a comment. I will be so glad. If you need more information or a private guide for your tour in Sicily, you can contact me and I will answer in a short time.
Guida turistica - Archeologo