ITALY – Selinus


  • Project: Research on Selinus temple architecture
  • Site: Selinus (TP)
  • Scientific director: Giorgio Gullini
  • Project managers: Maria Clara Conti, Carlo Zoppi

The research conducted in Selinus by the University of Turin and by Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino is part of a study project regarding the temple architecture of the Greek city. Carried out in accordance with the Archaeological Local Authorities of Palermo initially, and subsequently with the Cultural and Environmental Heritage Authorities of Trapani, the research activities were primarily concentrated in the area of the eastern hill, seat of three important sanctuaries, and in particular on temples F and E and on the latter’s temenos. In addition, a systematic survey was conducted in the vast area of the southeastern quadrant of the Selinus territory. Recently a study was carried out on the monumental complex of temple M, on the western hill of the ancient city.


History


Selinus was founded by Megara Hyblaea, a Greek city in eastern Sicily, in 651 BC according to Diodorus the Sicilian, in 628 BC according to Thucydides. The settlement’s site, on the island’s southwestern coast, is composed of three hills facing the sea that in ancient times were separated by two rivers, the Modione (the ancient Selinus) to the west and the Cottone to the east. Houses, public buildings and urban sanctuaries were located on the central hill; the rivers’ mouths became harbors, while the hills to the east and west were used as vast sacred areas. The area’s fertility and the favourable geographical position, on the boundaries of the areas settled by the local populations, the Greeks and the Punics, made the city rich and powerful. Little is known about Selinus’ political life from historical sources. During the 6th century BC the city was ruled by tyrannical governments, which were probably succeeded, in the following century, by an oligarchic regime. Events linked to the city’s expansion into the surrounding areas and choices dictated by the need to safeguard its commercial interests marked Selinus’ more ancient history: in the 6th century BC it was involved in the attempts to establish Greek settlements in the easternmost part of Sicily at the expense of the Punic cities; during the war between the Sicilian Greeks and the Carthagineans, which ended with the battle of Imera in 480 BC, Selinus allied itself with the latter; territorial disputes were frequent, especially with the nearby Segesta. The most eloquent accounts of the Selinuntines’ wealth, power and culture during the first two centuries of the city’s existence are given by the rational urban layout, the numerous temples, the remarkable stone sculptures, the large stonework houses built in the 5th century and the rich funerary furnishings of the necropoleis. During the last twenty years of the 5th century BC Selinus’ antagonism with Segesta spurred Athens first, and then Carthage, to intervene in Sicily. However, the clash with its former ally proved fatal for Selinus. In 409 BC the Carthagineans conquered the city, destroying its walls, looting its buildings and slaughtering its inhabitants. This catastrophe was followed by the building of the fortifications surrounding the Acropolis, which were subsequently reinforced by complex defensive structures during the 4th century BC. The new city, which became a stronghold alternately controlled by Syracuse and Carthage, finally fell definitely under Punic rule. In 250 BC, during the first Punic war, Selinus’ inhabitants were transferred to Lilybaeum (the current Marsala), which was easier to defend against the Romans’ advance. From that time onwards, the site’s occupation was rare and modest.


Temple E


The conspicuous remains of three temples, today known as temples E, F and G, dominate the suggestive landscape of Selinus’ eastern hill. The structures of temple E, lying in ruins, as those of the nearby buildings, were partly recomposed and raised again in the 1950s. The temple, built in the the 5th century BC and dedicated to the goddess Hera, is a peripteral and rather elongated Doric building, with six columns on the short sides and fifteen on the long sides. Having a pronaos and an opisthodomos, the cella, characterized by a considerable width and without internal supports, comprises another room, the adyton, which housed the cult statue.

The faces of the pronaos and opisthodomos were decorated by metopes, sculpted in bas-relief and completed with marble inserts. They are currently preserved in Palermo’s “A. Salinas” Regional Archaeological Museum. Research conducted on the monument by the University and Centro Ricerche Archeologiche e Scavi di Torino began in the 1970s, with the photogrammetric survey of the colonnades and the survey, with traditional methods, of all remaining structures. It was thus possible to graphically reconstruct the temple’s plan and elevations, indispensable for studying the monument.
Numerous excavation trials, inside and along the outer perimeter of temple E, were subsequently performed in order to acquire a greater knowledge of the building’s design and construction techniques, as well as of its history and its relationship with the surrounding area. The soundings allowed the building to be dated to the years between 460 and 450 BC. A lot of information on the construction activities, on the stoneworking techniques and on how the stone blocks were put in place was acquired by examining the temple’s foundations. A very significant result of the studies conducted on the ground was also the confirmation of the existence of a series of more ancient structures, existing before the temple of the 5th century BC and obliterated or partly reused in the latter’s construction. These structures comprise cuts in the rock, remains of blocks of walls and reused architectural elements that for the most part belonged to an archaic temple that was destroyed by fire. A very large number of terracotta roof fragments, remarkable for their craftsmanship and vivid decorations, also belong to this building.