Segesta & Selinunte

As with most conferences, one afternoon was “sacrificed” to some organized sight-seeing. This sight-seeing was meant to take us away from Erice, which  is a very cute little town, but if you’ve spent 3 hours there, you’ve seen it all. Therefore we got onto the bus and set off to visit some of the Greek ruins in the area.

Our first stop was Segesta, our second stop was Selinunte. Both cities are surrounded by beautiful country side and bake in the incredible heat that holds Sicily hostage during the summer.  The history of these two cities is strongly interleaved as both cities spent their time plotting the destruction of the other one respectively. Ultimately Segesta destroyed Selinunte, with some help, this did not prevent Segesta from being destroyed by the vandals a couple of hundred years later, so today only ruins remain from both these cities.

The most obvious sight in  Segesta are the ruins of a Greek temple on the adjacent side of  the mountain. Or at least I thought those were ruins.  Our tour guide told a quite different story:  Segesta and Selinunte had been fighting against each other for many years. Selinunte was by far the bigger and more important city, but neither managed to prevail. Ultimately Segesta sent a request for military support to Athens. Athens replied that it would help any Greek city against its opponents, but wanted to visit Segesta first. At that point, Segesta was anything but a Greek a city, so in order to convince the Athenian delegate that they were indeed a Greek city, they built this temple. Now things had to be done very quickly and therefore, against normal customs, the city insisted that the outer pillars be built first and that the building inside the pillar would be added later.

They had barely finished this outer rounds of pillars, when they got the positive feedback from Athens, that it would indeed send out its army to help destroy Selinunte. Now had Athens outing been successful, maybe the temple would’ve been finished. But it was a fiasco, two years later, with heavy losses and a still very alive Selinunte, the Athenians retreated to Greece. Segesta however remained with its half finished temple and Selinunte as a threat to its safety.
After the disappointment with the Athenians, Segesta hired Carthaginian mercenaries which were far more successful than their Greek counterparts and completely destroyed Selinunte. Much of the debris of the former temples, and there were tons of them in all sizes and forms, of Selinunte are still lying there today. It was very impressive to walk among them and see how huge these temples must have been, when already a simple stone alone is twice as large as you yourself are in diameter.

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