Selinunte, Sicily

A Day in Selinunte

Zegrahm Guest, Leigh S.|June 18, 2012|Blog Post

Stately Greek temples. Intricate Roman mosaics. Hot sulfurous lava. Cold Italian ices. A verdant green countryside dotted with yellow blossoms bursting from acacia trees. Spring in Sicily is the perfect time to sail its coastline and savor everything about it that delights the senses. Our Zegrahm voyage in 2011 gave us ten perfect days to explore this historic island.

On one of those spectacular, clear, blue-sky days, with cool breezes over the water and warm temperatures on land, we ventured out to Selinunte – the westernmost of the ancient Greek cities in Sicily. The Greeks arrived in Sicily more than two millennia ago, establishing Selinunte after crossing the Adriatic to the mainland of what is now southern Italy, and from there across Italy and the Strait of Messina to Sicily. The Greeks dominated the eastern part of Sicily but had only two major presences in the western portion – at Selinunte and at Agrigento.

The city of Selinunte occupied a stunning site on the coastal high ground with a commanding view of the sea. Originally, seven or eight Greek temples dominated the skyline. One temple has been partially restored from the remnants found there and it now stands in full height on a hill as it did in antiquity, with its resplendent Doric columns. Other temples have been left as they were found a few centuries ago, in large piles of fallen columns and stones, appearing as huge 3-dimensional puzzles awaiting the hand of a giant to reassemble them.

As we walked through the ruins of Selinunte we could see the layout of the main streets of the city, with perimeters of the houses laid out in stone. In the corner of one house rested a near-perfect terracotta bathtub; in another house, a simple mosaic of Phoenician origin still decorated the floor. There were shards of terracotta pottery everywhere under foot – remnants of pots and roof tiles. Selinunte is not as heavily visited by tourists as is Agrigento, and so it is less manicured. With enough money, time and expertise, the site could be studied and reconstructed from what remains. Surely it’s an archeologist's dream.

After scrambling among the ruins all morning, we were delighted to see a vendor at the base of the hill selling granita – Sicilian lemon ice – from his bicycle cart. It’s no surprise that granita originated in Sicily – lemon and citrus trees grow everywhere on the island. It was the most delicious lemon ice I've tasted in more than half a century – a refreshing treat in a fluted, white paper cup exactly like the lemon ice that my Uncle Sonny used to make and sell at his lemon ice stand in Jersey City – cold, tart and with the consistency of smooth, dense snow.

Other days brought us to equally fascinating sites – the quaint seaside village of Cefalù; the Hellenic temple at Segesta (with its unusual smooth columns); the temple complex at Agrigento; the Piazza Armerina with its fabulous Roman mosaic floors; the Stromboli and Etna volcanoes. My husband Irwin found Sicily to be one of the most interesting and varied places he’s photographed. And every day of our voyage not only brought new sights for him to capture with his camera but also revealed to us new insights into the history and culture – past and present – of this lovely island.

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