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Segesta, gloria immortale degli Elimi


Segesta è una città storica non più abitata, fondata dagli Elimi e situata nella parte nord-occidentale della Sicilia. La vecchia città sorge sul monte Bàrbaro, nel comune di Calatafimi-Segesta, a una decina di chilometri da Alcamo e da Castellammare del Golfo. Di particolare bellezza sono il tempio, in stile dorico risalente alla metà del V sec. A.C., e il teatro, in parte scavato nella roccia della collina, costruito tra il III e il II sec. A.C. nel quale, durante tutta l’estate, si svolgono manifestazioni teatrali di importanza nazionale e internazionale.
  Sul fianco occidentale del monte Barbaro si trova il santuario di Mango all’interno del quale sono stati rinvenuti i resti di due templi dorici assegnabile ai secoli VI e V a.C. Recenti scavi hanno portato alla luce la cinta muraria di Segesta, il castello medievale e la moschea risalenti al XII sec.

Two spectacular monuments

Segesta, which is perched on the Monte Barbaro, was the most important city of the Elymi, a reference point not only for the Elymi themselves (a population probably made up of natives and of foreign components), present at Entella and Eryx, but for the Punics too, who were present in the western part of the island and were engaged in containing the expansion of  Selinus. According to the tradition, the name der/ves from the nymph Egesta, who gave hospitality to Eneas during his wanderings, and Thucydides suggests that actual/y the Elymi were Trojans who had fled from their homeland, as well as some Phocians.

Although the site of the ancient city was identified by Fazello way back in the 16th century, the fame of Segesta has always been linked to the Doric temple and the theatre; it was only starting from 1987 that research began to show up the conformation of the city in the

various historical epochs.

The archaic settlement was made up of habitations partly hewn out in rich, placed on artificial terraces on the slopes of the Monte Barbaro, and had a complex system of fortifications with urban gates, mostly of' the type with inner courtyards. On the western height, around the middle of the 5th century BC, i.e. at the time of the bitter fighting between Segesta and Selinus, on the remains of an older building there was put up the Doric temple, one of the biggest and best preserved exemplars in Sicily. The construction, which is of monumental size, with six columns on the short sides, has no cella or roof, probably because it was never completed on account of the tragic events at the end of the 5th century BC, as we also deduce from the columns without grooving, the unchiselled blocks of the seats, and the unfinished abacuses. The temple is an expression of the rapid Hellenisation of the city, which was Elymian by tradition and culture but soon adopted Greek models for the construction of the most important and representative edifices. Even the indigenous shrine in the Mango area, datable to the start of the 6th century BC, was done under Greek influence: a témenos (a big sacred precinct) enclosed the sacred edifices, relating to several structures, and was probably abandoned as early as the 5th century BC.

In the Hellenistic age Segesta took on a highly picturesque look; the south acropolis was almost entirely occupied by private buildings of a residential type with houses of a certain level, like the one referred to as the Helmsman's House because of the presence of three ledges in the shape of ships' prows, datable to the late 2nd or early 1st century BC. On the north acropolis there were the big public buildings, including the agora (identifiable with what is now the parking area) and the bouleuterion, both jeopardised by later settlement in the Middle Ages. This was a logical setting for the famous theatre built  between the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC in a dominant position looking out north on the landscape formed by the surrounding hills and the Sea. It had a stage with two lateral pavilions decorated with pilasters, columns and telamons showing the god Pan.  Moreover, in the upper part of the pit recent research has shown up a further sector which must certainly have made the theatre much bigger than we now see it.

The streets of Segesta were winding ones which partly followed the lie of the land, and more specifically the bases of the terraces. There were a certain number of larger streets and what appears to have been the main one ran from east to west. From the late republican age or early imperial one there dates the upper ring of walls in which there were 13 quadrangular towers and two gates. During the Roman imperial age the ancient city of Segesta must have undergone a slow and progressive decline until  it was abandoned in the course of the 6th century AD. It was only at the start of the 12th century that the northern peak of the mountain was occupied by a nucleus of Moslem populations, as we know from the discovery of a big mosque, the first one found in Sicily, characterized by a rectangular plan, and having a sloping roof supported by four columns. Towards the end of the 12th century the arrival of a Christian feudatory is attested by a castle with a tower articulated on two levels, constructed at the highest point on the site, and by a church with a nave and two side aisles terminating in apses with a space in front occupied by the Christian cemetery; and it was probably at this very time that the mosque was demolished. The feudal phase is characterized by marked expansion of the inhabited area and by a general increase in the quality of material life. Around the middle of the 13th century the village and castle were abandoned and never again occupied. It was only in the fifteenth century that below the castle the inhabitants of Calatafimi built a little church dedicated to St. Leo.