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The majestic ruins of Selinunte, the westernmost of the ancient Greek colonies, are found on the southern coast of Sicily (south-east from Marsala) between the present-day counties of Campobello and Menfi.
The city of Selinos as it was called by the Greeks was once one of the richest and most influential in the world and its ruins are one of the most important archaeological sites in Sicily. It is also very beautiful with its wonderful cliff top position and sea views.
The 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 nearby 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.
The 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, which was 113 meters long and 54 meters wide with 46 columns. The destruction that the city suffered when defeated by the Carthaginians in 409 BC prevented this imposing temple from being completed.
There is a small museum on the Western Hill with some finds from the sites - though most are in Palermo - and exhibits demonstrating what the temples would have looked like in Greek times.
The Archaeological site is huge but there are electrical trains runnning around the site which are useful if time or mobility is an issue.
Explore the Selinunte Temples
The Eastern Hill
As you enter the Selinunte archaeological site you first reach a small hill with three temples. This hill sits outside of the Greek town and would have been a sacred site.
On the Eastern hill are the temples E, F and G. Temple E was probably dedicated to Hera and is the most recent at 460-450 BC. It is the most intact looking at Selinunte as it had some controversial reconstruction work done in the 1950s.
Temple F is the smallest and oldest of the three and was probably dedicated to Athena. It was built between 550 and 540 BC.
The biggest of all is the temple G, with columns with a diameter of nearly 3.5 metres and a height of more than 16 metres. This temple was certainly dedicated to Apollo, although the temple remained unfinished.
Beyond the Eastern Hill you get to the Acropolis which formed a trapezoid shape with one end on the cliffs overlooking the sea and then narrowing to 140 meters wide at the north end. It was surrounded by a stone wall with five towers and four gates.
Inside the Acropolis were two main roads running north to south and east to west and a number of minor roads. The temples can be found at the southern end of the town towards the sea. In the Acropolis there are temples A,B,C,D and O.
Temple A is notable for its two spiral staircases leading to the top of the building. 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', Minerva fighting a giant and many more.)
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
Below the temples are the quiet beaches of Selinunte which are protected and can be reached from the nearby town of Marinella-di-Selinunte. From the beach you have some great views back up the clifff to the temples.
Local cuisine is delicious and 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.
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.
Places to Visit Nearby
Another important temple can be found at Segesta to the north of Selinunte.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.