Favignana caves and their inscriptions

Favignana caves

The inscriptions in the caves at Favignana are very interesting and have been the subject of a great deal of research. This article looks at some of the outcome of the research...

Scholars who have distinguished themselves for the discovery and interpretation of various Punic inscriptions here were Anna Maria Bisi [1] and Benedetto Rocco [2].

Bisi's discoveries were of great importance, and concerned an inscription:

“ […] in archaic Phoenician characters engraved on the south, halfway up the well. The text is composed of two lines of equal length and in clearly neo-Punic graphic signs, except the last letter on the left of the first line […]” [3].

The conclusions of Professor Bisi are very interesting:

“It seems likely that in the first line some ‘ votive offerings’ are mentioned. The first term means 'wood'. One could therefore think of a noun used as an adjective or as an attribute of quality of the votive, it should mean 'wooden votive' or 'wood as votive' (...)

In the second line, from left to right, always starting with a 'Samek', followed by an 'alef', a 'taw' and a neo-Punic 'bet' , and ending with a 'sade' ". The second line, however, was difficult to interpret. However, a solution was attempted  (...) and would emerge a "SHT son of EL'" [4].

Also interesting are the findings of A.M. Bisi, in the "Grotta Regina", presumably dedicated to the cults of Isis, Serapis and Osiris. The interpretations of Professor Bisi have been very well complemented by Benedetto Rocco, according to whom in the "Grotta del Pozzo" (4th-1st century BC) the Phoenician inscriptions would be of votive character, such as requests for blessings to Isis, the protector of the sea.

The meaning would have a clear relationship with the navigation:

"The last part of the second line contains the name of Isis, “'s”, an adaptation of the Egyptian Semitic “ ‘sl”, from which derives the Greek name 'Isis'. Already recognized at Memphis (Egypt) in an inscription that could be contemporary (…) The name appears in  three theophories names, one Egyptian and two Phoenician: a "PTS" ("gift of Isis", Greek ‘Isìdoros’) (...)  in the ancient world the navigation in the Mediterranean ports was officially opened and the Priests of Isis consecrated to the goddess a ‘ship still inexperienced of the waves’ and they offered the ‘first fruits of the crop’" [5]

With regard to the inscriptions of the "Grotta Regina", they are invocations of blessing:

"The inscriptions of the 'Grotta Regina' invoke the blessings in their simplest form. 'She Bless', followed by the subject and object, or “blessed be He” (...) It is also attested the elementary formula 'Vow of', 'son of'. Quite different are the funerary inscriptions, mostly very short, such as the 'Grave of ', followed by the name of the deceased" [6].

A very detailed analysis of the inscriptions of the "Grotta Regina" is that of G. Sfamanti Gasparro, who writes:

"[...] We must address the problem of the so-called 'Queen Cave', situated on the slopes of Monte Gallo (...) The systematic exploration of this cave has demonstrated its character as a Punic 'sanctuary'  (...) Here we are interested in the V inscription,  with neo-Punic characters, situated above the representation of a boat (...) B. Rocco suggested reading “QDM TKL' s'”, that is 'Isis go ahead', establishing a relationship between the inscription and the image, meaning a ship that is doing the 'Navigium' [navigation] ...

... On the contrary, Professor Guzzo Amadasi has considerable doubts about this interpretation; he believes the words illegible and therefore difficult to interpret them. According to him, it is likely only reading "'s" as the Phoenician name of Isis (...) Because Isis is associated with a boat, it is likely that the meaning is the ‘Navigium’. However, it is impossible to interpret the other signs, because they are too indistinct [...]" [7].

See also our main travel guide for the Favignana caves


1. See A.M. Bisi, “Favignana. Nuove scoperte archeologiche”, in “Sicilia Archeologica”["Favignana. New Archaeological Discoveries", in "Archaeological Sicily"], III, 1970:  13 seq.

2. B. Rocco, “La grotta del Pozzo a Favignana”, in “Sicilia Archeologica”[ "The Cave of the Well in Favignana," in "Archaeological Sicily"], 1972, No. 17: 9-20

3. See Anna Maria Bisi, “Iscrizione Neo-Punica inedita da Favignana” "in "Annali", 1969, Vol. 19: 555-556

4. See "Archaeological Sicily", 1972: 12

5. See Rocco Benedetto, "Notes and Discussions", in "Annali", 1969: 548-550

6. See" Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei”, 1979: 48

7. See G. Sfamenti Gasparro, I culti orientali in Sicilia” , Brill, 1973: 99-100