Continued Tale of Two Ancient Cities

Segesta, as previously discussed in the blog of conflict with Selinunte, was also a site with a history dating back to last millennium BC. Legend, and assumed factual by some historians, is that the founders were surviving Trojans who fled after their historic defeat. The city is referred to in this context by a number of Ancient Greek poets.

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All that remains is a beautiful temple that is one o& the most intact of this architecture in the world. Despite its relative completeness it was never finished as it lacks the ornamental trimmings of a completed work. But it is spectacular to behold in a relatively remote but pastoral setting.

The reason for not being complete is still a mystery. Some say it lack funds due to continuous wars with Selinunte. Others say it was quickly started as a tribute to Athens in anticipation o& their support against that same enemy.

In its continued battles, and ultimate defeat, of its neighbour Selinunte Segesta remained a viable city into 1st century BC. But although it survived, it was often subjected to severe events over the centuries. It’s most devastating was at the hands of the despot Agathocles of Siracusa, having landed in the West of Sicily on his return from Africa (307 BC). Though received into the city as a friend and ally, suddenly turned upon the inhabitants on a pretence of disaffection, and put the whole of the citizens (said to amount to 10,000 in number) to the sword, plundered their wealth, and sold the women and children into slavery. He then changed the name of the city to Dicaeopolis, and assigned it as a residence to the fugitives and deserters that had gathered around him.

Romans belief and acceptance of Trojan history gave the city special status even into the first century AD – despite some alliances with the Carthageans during the Pubic Wars.

The city rose again to some prominence and given the status:

“sine foedere immunes ac liberi”- a free and immune city.

Close by is also the remains of well preserved Roman type theatre which is open allowing you to test the acoustics as you walk down to your seat to enjoy a goblet of wine before the play begins,

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Ancient Cities and Conflict’

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Selinunte has been an significant area/city occupied since at least 600 BC and was known to be important to early Greeks as the most western site in Sicily. But it’s position also made it a point of contact with other ancient Greek powers such as Athens as well the Phoenicians and Carthaginians.

Also it was early days when contact with the Elymian residents of another early city Segesta resulted in ongoing conflicts.  Over the years, a number of major battles occurred. Each city often sought help from larger states. Selinunte from the Carthageans, and Segesta  brought in Athens in a siege of Syracuse, an ally of Segesta. But this was unsuccessful and the result was a defeat of the Athenians.

Later Segesta sought and received help from the Carthaginians. Selinunte was not prepared for vast army said to number 100,000 that descended on the area. The result was almost total aninhalation of the city around 409 BC.  The surviving city was said to continue to exist in some form till 200 BC when the Romans pushed back the Carthaginians in the Punic wars, and the city was abandoned.

Much of what we visited dates back to prior to the defeat of the city in 409, so some 2,500 years. Reconstruction of what is supposed to be a temple dedicated to the goddess Hera is a stunning site.

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Yet it is not the largest temple at the site, that one still exists only in rubble, as so many pieces have been looted that it was decided not worth the effort to replace missing parts.

The area also has areas similar to Pompeiu with outlines of homes along streets, and even a bathing tub.

The site allows you to walk down and gaze upon some of the same views an ancient inhabitant might have seen.

And the site is one of few that you can still walk through and touch history…

Power & Glory

Within the main city of Palermo it seems every district and more has a church. A small listing can be found at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Churches_in_Palermo .

We did not visit all of them (although it felt like it 😀) but here are a few of the highlights.

Although each has its own story, returning to the Norman influence in the 11th century,  Roger had ideas of his own about who should hold religious power in the island. One might call it a Henry VIII complex, but he was 200-300 years ahead of that time.

This continued into the following generations, as he had established his own dynasty and his heirs were now kings in their own right – perhaps surpassing their family position back in Normandy.  So by the time his grandson William came along it was time to up the stakes. One story is that William sought permission from the pope in Rome to sanction a new cathedral, and when refused, he sought out a different pope (there seemed to be competing popes at times) who did sanction his wishes. And with support of Benedictin monk he set out to build one to rival Cefalù.

Legend has it that William II Had a vision of this cathedral in a dream when, during a hunting expedition, he fell asleep under a carob tree. While slumbering, the Virgin Mary appeared to him, indicating where a treasure chest was located — and with this loot he was to build a church in her honor.

Legends aside, the real motives , and financing, that led William to build a new church were dictated by supremacy: The struggle between temporal and secular power was ever-present. It is the last — and the greatest — of the series of Arabo-Norman cathedrals with Byzantine interiors. 

And he’s was not shy to ensure images in the church supported his position as being blessed by Christ himself.

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But despit all this  gold and silver other churches prove even more interesting as being truly unique even without the history or glitter.  One in particular is the small Byzantine near the city hall.  With its three domes, it stands out  as different, and  though simple, has an impact beyond its size when you enter its relatively tiny interior.

Hiking History

Although we seem to walk 8-10 KM a day, it never seems enough to offset the Italian food that you can sample in other posts. So it was with some excitement that we set our sites on Cefalu, an hour train ride outside of Palermo.

The town is home to one of those areas that allows you to experience multiple historic sites that are separated by some 2,000 years in time, with the most recent still some 1:000 years from present day. Waking beside the fortified walls built around 900 BC you arrive at the Temple of Diana (Roman) dated around 5th century BC close to a Byzantine church and finally an 11th century AD Norman castle.

But first we have to climb up 600 feet or 200 meters along a dusty, rocky upward sloping path in the mid day heat to reach our goal. This should work off some pasta.

Starting back…..way back, just before you reach the pinnacle

Here is the door to the temple and a step along our virtual hike through the ages.  A time when the Romans ushered in their golden age through conquests of many parts of the Mediterranean.  With temples dedicated to their borrowed Greek gods,  they established settlements to control Sicily as a strategic position, but also to gain access to fertile grain fields to feed the growing population in Rome and elsewhere.

Next stop 11th Century AD.  As was custom in ancient and medieval times,  the first son received titles and all the land/riches that was accumulated in the previous generation.  As such the other sons had to rely on the good faith of the elder sibling (not often generous) or seek fortune elsewhere.

So it was that some Norman aristocrats were encouraged/forced to travel great lengths to find their place.  Roger, youngest son of Tacred of Hauteville, found his way to Sicily.  Encouraged, and with some resources, to force the Muslims out of these areas. (One of his brothers also held sway on parts mainland of what is now Italy).

Roger was successful and more will be said.  But here we see one of his castles, set up  near the height of the Rocca.

In Cefalu, there is also a beautiful Norman church, set up to show the new power in Sicily, and also to claim more power than the Pope  in Rome had intended.  This allowed the new dynasty  to hold both religious and sectorial roles.

Palermo Quick Tour

Walking in the old town near our hotel, you come across evidence of previous wealth and prosperity.  An example is the four corners – Quattro Campi – two shown here.

Built to the wealth of the Campi or districts,  each corner represents one of the four seasons topped with the usual statues of princes and religious icons.

Other examples include the Opera House

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Another is a piazza which was referred to as the Square of Shame.  Piazza Pretoria demonstrated a time when excess may have been too timid a description. This  fountain was purchased from Tuscany as is, and transported piece by piece to Sicily to “scream” we have arrived and we are rich.

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But as may be the case with some wealth it went too far.  Within sight of two  churches with nuns’ convents overlooking the square, the naked exposure of numerous genitalia was consider inappropriate.  As a result some pieces have been concealed and some statues parts have been physically removed.

 

A celebration in Italy

One of our guides, Angelo, was wise beyond his perceived age.  Along with amusing and informative discourse, which was continuous, he shared his views on the hard history lessons and current problems faced by Siciliano people.  Intermixed were some anecdotes that perfectly captured different ideas.  One that rings true for us…

“Sicily has many problems, but food is not one of them”

 And we have had ample proof including a celebration of years with some wonderful Sicilian fish and wine.  Fortunate to get in with no reservations,  we were given a small table near the door with a promise to be finished before  “otto e mezza.”

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The food was fresh, well prepared, and delicious….

 

And even with no reservation and supreme patience wiyh my  broken Italian, they put together a small surprise for that special celebration…

 

The Center of the Mediterranean – Sicily

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Medusa – Symbol of Sicily

In researching our adventure to Scicily,  you learn so much about the history of this little piece of earth that has been inhabited for thousands of years.  Even more interesting is how it’s position made it unique in being conquered, colonized or just used as a convenient interim port by so many cultures – from pirates to merchants traders to kings and others rulers. A42A0DC2-5136-4FE9-BDAB-D72AF5CBB502

Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantine Greeks, Saracen Arabs, Normans to name the primary inhabitants over the years.

 

And despite the chaos that seems to persist including World War II BOMBED buildings that still wear the scars,  there exists monuments, churches and architectural wonders that rival Rome, Pompei and Athens.

So much history and territory to cover in so little time.

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