Culture

Selinunte

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This article may be present in an imaginary column called “Sicily is not only Mafia”. It’s important to note that I didn’t write: in Sicily there is no Mafia, I wrote that there is, but fortunately there’s something else. For example there are wonderful places, such as Selinunte, perhaps one of the best summary of what Sicily is: splendour and neglect.
Let’s start from the splendour. Selinunte is one of the largest archaeological sites in Europe (when I was a child, teachers told me that it is the biggest, but they probably were impartial). It was founded by Doric Greek colonists fromthe city of Megara Hyblea between 650 and 630 BCin the south-western corner of Sicily,between the valleys of the Belice and Modione rivers.

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The name is supposed to have beenderived from the wild celery (ancient Greek: σέλινον: selinon) that grew on the spot. Certainlyfor a whileSelinunte was one of the most eminent cities in Magna Graecia, second in importance only to Syracuse, especially thanks to the commerce and the resulting wealth that permitted the inhabitants to erect the splendid temples and buildings. However, like all beautiful things, Selinunte could not last forever. After seven decades of peace and prosperity, the end came when the Carthaginians assaulted the city. They used the pretext of some minor border skirmishes between Selinunte and the Elymian-Greeks of Segesta as an excuse to march upon Selinunte to aid their old allies. They sent an army estimated at 100,000 men, breached the walls of Selinunte and easily overwhelmed the defenders.

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What followed was an orgy of destruction, torture, rape, murder and looting that was considered abhorrent even by the standards of those days.This brutal massacre marked the end of Selinunte’s glory. During the first Punic War with Rome in 250 BC, the Carthaginian forces, fleeing the Roman advance towards Panormus (Palermo), deprived the Romans of a prize by destroying Selinunte. The site of the city remained an abandoned ruin for centuries. Nowadays it lies within the territory of Castelvetrano, a small town in the province of Trapani.

The spot is still gorgeous, sitting in a wilderness areaon a high plain and overlooking the sea, flanked on either side by golden beaches.There are two entrances to the archaeological site, one to the east from Marinella di Selinunte and one to the west from Triscina.The site’s temples are identified by letters. Temple G is the last and largest. It is thought to have been built around 530 BC, but was never completed. This large temple was the fourth largest Greek temple ever built, not only in Sicily but in all the Greek world. Unfortunately, only one large column is still standing.

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The rest of Temple G is a great pile of large stones.Even if completely destroyed, Selinunte still has its fascination. The archaeological park, partially reconstructed in 1927, could represent an important resource for the city, it could attract many tourists. Sadly, the splendour of the past was followed by the neglect of the present. The whole area is left to itself, full of rubbish, unlit, lacking of info-points for the tourists.Despite this, or maybe thanks to this, Selinunte is a magical place, where you can breathe the historyand remember how high humanity can get, and how far down.

By Igor Giammanco

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