The majestic ruins of Selinunte, the westernmost of the ancient Greek colonies, are found on the southern coast of western Sicily (south-east from Marsala) between the present-day counties of Campobello and Menfi.
Temples at Selinunte - an overview
The settlement at Selinunte arose on top of two hills between the rivers Hipsa and Selinus, while the eastern hill, home to temples E, F and G, is to the east of the Cottone River. The inhabitants of the ancient city used the experience gained at Megara Hyblaea to construct a number of religious buildings using limestone, an abundant material in the area.
The structure of the first temples was simple (rectangular), but with elegant stonework.
The reputation of the city as an important attraction is due to its eight Doric temples: five on the Acropolis given the names A, B, C, D, O (in the absence of the name of the deity to which they were dedicated) and three on the eastern hill, referred to as E, F and G.
We know the possible divinities for only two of the temples: the one called E was probably dedicated to Hera, and temple G dedicated to Apollo.
The largest and oldest temple of the Acropolis is C, which dates from the first half of the 6th century BC, but certainly the most impressive is the eastern G, with a huge foundation of 113 * 54 metres and with 46 columns. The destruction that the city suffered when defeated by the Carthaginians in 409 BC prevented this imposing temple from being completed.
History of Selinunte
The history of Selinunte is indistinguishable from that of Megara Hyblaea. Ancient sources including Thucydides say that the people of Megara, under the guidance of Pammilus in 651 BC, founded Selinunte and took the name of the city from the nearby Selinus River, which in turn was named from the wild parsley, Selinon, which grows abundantly nearby (as do palms, to the extent that Virgil called Selinunte the 'Palmosa Selinus', or 'Selinunte rich in palms').
Two symbols are engraved on the ancient coins of Selinus that relate to both the origin of the city and its veneration for the god Apollo: on one side of the coin is a river (the Selinos), and on the reverse you can see Apollo in a chariot, who, enraged, throws the arrows of the plague on the city. Next to him you can also see someone who tries to hold back the arm of Apollo.
According to tradition, the man who tries to restrain the wrath of Apollo is Empedocles [490-430 B.C.], but others include Hygeia, the goddess of health.
Fierce disagreements arose between Selinunte and nearby Segesta, probably linked to the control of strategic access to the sea, and Selinunte sided with Syracuse. Segesta asked for the support of the Carthaginians and Hannibal launched a great attack on Selinunte in which 15000 inhabitants were killed and thousands more sold as slaves.
After this defeat the place was completely abandoned, although according to recent studies the area was also occupied between the 9th and 11th centuries AD by Muslim populations.
Explore the Selinunte Temples
The large archaeological site of Selinunte is divided into three zones. On the eastern hill we find the temple E, probably dedicated to Hera (5th century BC).
Coming from the east, after the colonnade there are two columns of which some capitals remain. Inside the temple there was a room with the statue of the goddess. The temple F was very small and probably dedicated to Athena.
The biggest of all is the temple G, with columns with a diameter of nearly 3 metres and a half and a height of more than 16 metres. This temple was certainly dedicated to Apollo, although the temple remained unfinished.
The Acropolis was originally surrounded by defensive walls, probably dating back to the early 5th century BC and almost certainly those built by Hermocrates of Syracuse in 408 BC. The walls have no towers and are built with materials gathered from the destroyed city. Inside temple A there are two spiral staircases leading to the top of the building.
The temple C is very substantial with its eighteen columns and was almost certainly dedicated to Apollo (6th century BC). Note the pediment, with low-reliefs depicting a gorgon.
(Archaeological note: The excavations, begun in the 18th-19th centuries, brought to light precious archaeological finds, such as some metopes of Aeginetic style that are now at the Museum of Palermo. They record mythological subjects, such as Hercules, 'Perseus slayer of Medusa', and a chariot driven by a man with two women who watch. The subject of this metope is uncertain; perhaps representing Pelops with her two squires.
Another uncertain subject is the metope representing a man with a harp that follows a woman; perhaps the reference is to Apollo and Daphne; yet another represents Minerva fighting a giant, and one representing Actaeon who defends himself by his dogs; and, finally, others with Jupiter and Semele, Hercules and the Queen of the Amazons.)
Another building of great interest at Selinunte is the Shrine of the Goddess Malophoros built in the Temenos (the sacred enclosure) and dedicated to Demeter Malophoros (the Goddess of the Pomegranate and goddess protector of nature and country work). Some columns and an altar remain of this temple.
The cult of Malophoros was very popular in Selinunte, hence why the city owned one of the most famous of the Ancient World shrines dedicated to this female cult. This also meant that the inflow of Faithful to the temple was enormous (as evidenced by the many votive statuettes found) but also attracted the envy and hatred of the powerful Carthaginian and other Sicilian cities.
Selinunte cuisine...and beaches
Selinunte is not only an archaeological park but also a place full of delicious culinary traditions. While in the region you should try the 'Pasta with sardines', the bread 'cunsatu’, the ‘sfinci’ of Saint Joseph (sweet curd preparations for the feast of St. Joseph), the Christmas cakes with fig jam, 'the cassateddi' (pastries filled with ricotta) and the 'Cuccia' (cooked wheat and flavoured with cooked wine, prepared for St. Lucia). Try also the 'blue fish', always fresh, accompanied by local wines from Castelvetrano and Selinunte.
In summer in Selinunte you can also enjoy the beautiful sea, with its long beaches falling in a protected area where access is strictly by foot, to preserve the environment.
Selected places to visit near Selinunte, Italy
Menfi (at 14 kilometres)
Menfi has some good beaches and a pleasant town centre..
See Menfi guide.
Mazara-del-Vallo (at 22 kilometres)
With pretty streets and harbour Mazara del Vallo has plenty to explore..
Sciacca (at 25 kilometres)
A lovely coastal town with beaches. It is also the oldest spa resort on Scicily..
See Sciacca guide.
Caltabellotta (at 35 kilometres)
Situated on Mount Kratas and surrounded by mountain peaks the fortified town of Caltabellotta offers great scenery and historic monuments..
See Caltabellotta guide.
See the Sicily guide for more travel ideas...