The Punic Stronghold: Marsala

Eight  kilometres after Motya, Marsala hides almost all its secrets. Yet it was renowned in antiquity, especial!y Jor its harbour, of decisive importance first for the Carthaginians and then for the Romans. It was called Lilybaeum, and lay on Cape

Boeo, and was founded in 397 BC on a small existing archaic settlement by the survivors from Motya. It became the most important and best defended Punic naval base in Sicily, and was able to withstand the attacks of Dionysius, Timoleon, Pyrrhus

And Rome.

Diggings and recent researches give us a more accurate idea of  its impregnable fortifications, mentioned by Polybius and Diodorus, reinforced on both sides of the promontory by a moat, traces of which appear when building work is done. Near the Trapani gate there is another gate j7anked by two rectangular towers with an imposing structure, probably key points in the defences of the town. In the northern zone, near Cape Boeo, amid ruins of cisterns and warehouses, we enter a big house with an atrium and a peristyle around which there are some of the rooms of a thermal establishment, datable to the 3rd century BC, with little places for saunas and traces of baths. There are splendid floors with mosaics in a naturalistic style, one of which shows Jour groups of wild animals attacking a deer; others have decorations with plant and geometrical motifs of a North African type. This is an example of the luxurious standard of living there must have been in the town, which went to the Romans in 241 and from that time on was a bridgehead for the conquest of  Carthage and the invasion of Africa.

Among the many relics buried in the Mediterranean, there is the only Punic ship so far known, whichbas been partly recovered and can be seen at Baglio Anselmi: tbe back part and the port side of a warship, with a slender style, on whose bull one can make out letters of the Phoenician-Punic alphabet.

From the Roman epoch (2nd century BC) there dates the funerary chamber recently discovered by chance in the centre of the town of  Marsala. Reached via a rock-hewn staircase, the chamber is three metres deep, measures 5 by 5 metres, is trapezoidal and contains six graves hewn out along the sides. But what is striking is the explosion of life in tbis place of death. 1bere is very lively painted decoration on the walls: banqueting, dance and music scenes, winged figures and peacocks in a polychrome triumph of lowers, garlands and festoons, in accordance with Roman funerary imagery referring to the  journey of the deceased to the Elysian Fields. This  is the Crispia Salvia hypogean chamber: an inscription indicates by this name the deceased woman to whom (uxori dulcissima) the husband, Julius Demetrius, dedicated the epigraph.