History of Termini Imerese


See Termini Imerese guide for highlights and historic monuments

Ancient Termini Imerese and Imera

According to tradition, an ancient town called Imera was destroyed by the Carthaginians in 409 BC, and then the same Carthaginians built the new town of “Thermai Himeraiai” on a nearby site. Therefore, as it is repeated again today:

"In 409 BC the city was conquered and destroyed by the Carthaginians of Hannibal (247-182 BC), who deported the survivors to the nearby hot springs. Where shortly after (in 407) they founded ‘Thermai Himeraiai’ " [5].

This is the situation of traditional studies, but in reality things seem to be different. A very thorough investigation about the city is that of Professor A. Cutroni Tusa, who, while studying the minting of coins of Imera, offered some very interesting historical notations made in the light of recent studies, which allow us to challenge and overcome the traditional history.

She considers that the archaeological investigations show that even before the destruction by the Carthaginians, Imera suffered a prior disaster because of an earthquake. However, the event which put an end to the growing "Himera" was the attack of the Carthaginians, as told by Diodorus Siculus, who said that Hannibal destroyed the city, sacked it, and razed the temples to the ground.

Some survivors made their way to Selinunte and others settled in the nearby “Therma”, “polin en te Sikelìa” ("city of Sicily"). Therefore "Therma" was not founded by fugitives from Imera. Indeed, Stephen of Byzantium (6th century AD) said this site already existed when the survivors of "Himera" came here, because it is mentioned from 480 BC.

Therefore, the exiles of Himera would have settled here, giving the city its name. It would be called, well, "Thermai Ymarai", "transformed from a ‘Korìon’ "[‘village’] in a politically organized state structure." More precisely, "Therma" was called "Therma Korìon Sikelia" ["Therma village in Sicily"]. Diodorus Siculus also explained the meaning of the term "Thermae", so named because it was located "pros tois autois thermois ydasi", or because "Korìon was close to the hot springs".

After its foundation, "Thermae" was incorporated into the Cathaginian "epikrateia" [or the "territory under the control of Carthage"], and it continued to mint bronze coins in large quantities and of considerable interest [6].

In 252 BC the city was conquered by the Romans, who called it "Thermae Himeraeae" or "Thermae Himerenses", and where they built an aqueduct, the so-called "Cornelius Aqueduct”, which is still studied for its unique technical solutions implemented by Roman engineers [1].

Termini Imerese in the Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages Termini Imerese was a Bishopric and under the Normans it enjoyed various privileges. It was particularly flourishing in the 14th century. Because of its strategic location it was the seat of a military garrison, equipped with prisons, a hospital and especially by some important trades, because of a strong mercantile middle class, among which numerous Jewish communities.

In this period the Franciscan monasteries also had a significant importance - these were founded here in the 13th century and then reinforced in the 15th century, when the town was economically very active.

At this time Termini Imerese also had an artistic life of some importance, as is evidenced by the paintings of the museum and by the presence of interesting local artists such as Gaspare Pesaro (1414-c.1460), the brothers Graffeo, active between 1476 and 1511, and the sculptor and marble worker Giorgio di Milano (15th century), in contact with the School of Antonello Gagini [1478-1536] [2].

Today Termini Imerese encompasses the Old Town located in the upper city, and also the lower city where the automobile industry developed during the twentieth century,.

Origins of the name Termini Imerese

According to G.B. Pellegrini Termini Imerese was known by several names, but very similar:

"[...] ‘Thermai ai Ymerai’ (Polybius [200-118 BA]), ‘Thermai Ymarai’ (Ptolemy [90-168 AD]), ‘Therma’ (Diodorus [1st century BC]) and as “Thermae” by some classical Latin authors such as Cicero (106-43 BC). As regard the term "Ymarai", it refers to the Latin name of the river "Himer," now called "Salso". Alessio derives the etymology of "Salso" (“salt water”) from the Greek "Almyros Potamòs", where "Almyros" means "salt water"  [...]" [3].

The same G.B. Pellegrini expalains that "Thermai" (Latin "Thermae") means "hot baths" and "building of public baths” [4]. Instead, the term "Ymerai" refers to the ancient town of “Hymera”, a Greek colony founded in 648 BC on the northern coast of Sicily, on a hill about 100 meters above sea level. The site later expanded towards the valley, from 480 BC.

See also the travel guide for Termini Imerese.

References

1. See, about the aqueduct, O. Belvedere,“L'Acquedotto Cornelio di Termini Imerese”,  Rome, 1986, vol. I

2. on these issues, see E. Di Cesare, "Franciscans and social life in Termini Imerese in the fifteenth century," in “Francescanesimo e Civiltà Siciliana nel '400”, Palermo, 1992: 99-105

3. See G.B. Pellegrini, "Italian toponymy" Hoepli, 1990: 80

4. See G.B. Pellegrini," Essays on Italian Language”, Boringhieri, 1975: 296

5. See A. Tullio, “Itinerari Archeologici in Sicilia”["Archaeological Tour in Sicily"], Flaccovio, 2002: 32

6. See A. Cutroni Tusa, “Himera tra realtà e immaginazione”, in “Archeologia del Mediterraneo Studi in onore di Ernesto De Miro”, Rome, 2003: 226, 230 and note 29