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Segesta is the site of an important temple and other ancient monuments, to the north-west of Sicily. The most significant monuments in Segesta are the temple itself, and also the theatre and the sanctuary, in the “Contrada Mango".
It is interesting to understand how the Greeks arrived at the structure of the temple and other monuments, a knowledge of which greatly enhances a visit, hence we have included quite extensive information about these important monuments.
From the mid-fifth century BC onwards the whole range of Greek architecture was established at Segesta, and the Doric temple of Segesta is an example of the so-called 'international style' of architecture, in the sense that the Doric forms were quite simple and widely found.
The temple is hexastyle-peripteral form (i.e. has a colonnade that runs around its perimeter), with six columns in front and a peristyle of columns behind, which is a typical form of Greek architecture found in almost all their temples. The temple is a parallelogram in shape with a length of 70 meters and a width of about 21 meters, the lower sides of which, according to a typical technique of religious buildings, look out toward the east and west, so that the temple showed its 'face' to those who came from the city.
The Segesta temple is located on a high base, divided into four steps, the lower of which is of a lesser height, while the upper level, left unfinished on three sides, forms a kind of dado under each column that gives the appearance of a pedestal.
The diameter of the columns is less than 2 meters at the bottom, while the top diameter is 1.5 meters, and the height of the columns is about 10 meters.
The thirty-six columns form the peristyle and are placed on a single stylobate (base) measuring about six by 27 meters. The intercolumnia, slightly surpassing the diameter of the columns, are closer to the corners, a technique used in Greek art to increase the soundness of the building, and to ensure an ideal distribution of the triglyphs of the frieze, which always correspond to the axis of the columns and the mid intercolumnia.
The cornice, consisting of an architrave ornamented at the top with a row of rings below each triglyph, and a strip across its width, is surmounted by a frieze composed of triglyphs alternating with smooth metopes. This structure is then crowned by a cornice and a pediment, which increase the effect of this majestic temple and give an impression of solidity and intensity.
A remarkable peculiarity of the temple of Segesta, although it is not unique in Greek architecture, is that the columns are not perfectly fluted, as is typical of the Doric order. From this observation we can infer that the temple of Segesta was never completed, because usually the work of the grooves on the columns was carried out when they were already placed to better ensure the effect of the engraving.
Scholars have debated a great deal about the deity to whom the temple was dedicated. Some attribute it to Ceres, while for others it is a temple dedicated to Diana and still others believe that it was dedicated to Venus. It is certain, however, according to Cicero ("In Verrem”, IV), that there existed a temple of Diana in Segesta, and inside there was the statue of the goddess.
The theatre in Segesta dates back probably to the 4th-3rd century BC, and was located in one of the best areas of the town. Built of large masses of stone (without cement and lime), the theatre was quite isolated and of a semi-circular shape, with part of the stage facing west. The “cavea” is contained in a semicircle of about 60 feet diameter.
The theatre stage, of which few traces remain, was originally decorated with columns and pillars.
Historical notes about the Segesta theatre site
Several doubts have emerged concerning the date of construction of Segesta Theatre, but the original construction of the “cavea” is thought to date from the late 4th century BC:
"A chronology of the original ‘cavea’ as dating from the second half of the fourth century BC is credible, but we can not exclude some restructuring and functional adaptation. The current shape of the seats suggests the II-I century BC, but we cannot reasonably deny the possibility that these have been replaced."
(M.L. De Bernardi, “Analisi delle anomalie architettoniche dell’attuale ‘cavea’ del Teatro di Segesta” in “Terze Giornate internazionali di studi sull’area elima”, Proceedings, I, 2000: 386).
Other Segesta monuments and highlights
At the foot of Mount Barbaro, in "Contrada Mango", excavations have unearthed the remains of a sanctuary from the Archaic period, surrounded by a large rectangular wall of square blocks. Inside they have found the remains of one or more buildings in the Doric style, built between the sixth and fifth centuries BC.
Finally, your archaeological tour of segesta can be concluded with a sightseeing trip to the famous ‘Thermae of Segesta', patronized in turn by by the Greeks, Romans and Arabs, who knew the health properties of these sources, which consisted of good water for the treatment of rheumatic, dermatological and respiratory diseases.
In the 19th century, close to the “Thermae”, a very auspicious Greek inscription was found, "Asoteria Iaskarin" or "For the benefit of your own health".
Other Segesta visitor information
Nearby the environment has a great deal of scenic charm, and there are places that offer the chance to taste the local cuisine of Calatafimi-Segesta, which offers a wide variety of products such as tomatoes, eggplant in olive oil, jams and some local dishes such as the "pisci d’ovo", an omelette with bread and cheese, pasta with sardines and fish soup.
See also Segesta history and etymology.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.