Selinunte, Italy: travel guide to the temple complex at Selinunte

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Visit Selinunte

The majestic ruins of Selinunte, the westernmost of the ancient Greek colonies, are found on the southern coast of Sicily to the south-east of Marsala. 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.

Explore the temples at Selinunte

Italy This Way comment: Selinunte is a remarkable place to visit, and although many of the temples that once stood here are now in ruins, the remaining temples are an extraordinary sight and a visit is highly recommended. It is also in an attractive cliff top position with sea views.

The settlement at Selinunte arose on top of two hills between the rivers Hipsa and Selinus, while the eastern hill 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 temples are divided into two main groups about one kilometre apart, the first group is about 500 metres from the entrance, and there are further temple and sanctuary ruins even further west.

Selinunte Temple E

If you prefer to avoid walking quite a lot you can pay a small supplement for a ticket that allows you to be driven around the area on small electric cars and trains.

The reputation of the city as an important attraction is due to its eight Doric temples: five of these temples are in the Acropolis and given the names A, B, C, D, O (in the absence of the name of the deity to which they were dedicated) and three are on the eastern hill, referred to as temples E, F and G.

The structure of the first temples was simple (rectangular), but with elegant stonework.

The oldest temple at Selinunte is Temple C in the acropolis, which dates from the first half of the 6th century BC, but certainly the most impressive of the temples is Temple G in the eastern area, which is 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.

As well as the temples you can visit a small museum with some finds from the sites - though most are in Palermo - and exhibits demonstrating what the temples would have looked like in Greek times.

Layout of the Selinunte temples

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 this hill you can see 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 temple at Selinunte (and the one you always see in photographs) 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.

Selinunte temple E

The Acropolis

Beyond the eastern Hill you get to the Acropolis of Selinunte 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 thee 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, discoverd 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 Carthage and other Sicilian cities.

Selinunte beach

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.

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.

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

Below the temples you can see 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 cliff to the temples.

Another important temple can be found at Segesta to the north of Selinunte.

Mazara-del-Vallo to the west has a lovely seafront and an important historical centre. Sciacca is also popular with its thermal spa and attractive harbour.

You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.

See also:

Map of Selinunte and places to visit

Places to visit near Selinunte

Menfi

Menfi

Menfi has some good beaches and a pleasant town centre.

Menfi guide

Mazara-del-Vallo

Mazara-del-Vallo

With pretty streets and harbour Mazara del Vallo has plenty to explore.

Mazara-del-Vallo guide

Sciacca

Sciacca

A lovely coastal town with beaches, Sciacca is also the oldest spa resort on Sicily.

Sciacca guide

Caltabellotta

Caltabellotta

Situated on Mount Kratas and surrounded by mountain peaks the fortified town of Caltabellotta offers great scenery and historic monuments.

Caltabellotta guide

Segesta

Segesta

Segesta is home to various ancient monuments including Segesta Temple.

Segesta guide

Roccamena

Roccamena

From Roccamena you can visit the Calatrasi castle and the Mont Maranfusan archaeological site.

Roccamena guide