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  • Writer's pictureThe Sicilian Wanderer

The Greek civilization in Sicily


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Today we will talk about the Greek civilization in Sicily, one of the most important and influential cultures of antiquity that has left a lasting imprint on the island.

Sicily was colonized by the Greeks in the 8th century BC, marking the beginning of a period of significant cultural and economic growth. The Greeks primarily settled on the eastern coast of the island, in cities like Syracuse, Gela, and Akragas (today's Agrigento), founding numerous colonies that became significant trading centers with the Mediterranean world.


The Greek civilization in Sicily reached its peak in the 5th century BC, during the so-called "golden age" of Athens. Syracuse, under the leadership of figures like the tyrant Dionysius I, became one of the largest and most powerful cities in the Mediterranean, a center of culture and power that attracted writers, artists, and philosophers from all over Greece.

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The Greek culture deeply influenced Sicily, leaving a lasting legacy that can still be admired today. Greek architecture, with its imposing temples and open-air theaters, is still visible in many cities on the island, such as Agrigento, where the famous temples of the Valley of the Temples are located. The Greek language, which was spoken in Sicily for centuries, has left traces in the island's toponymy, while Greek literature inspired Sicilian authors like Archimedes and Theocritus. But not only art and culture, the Greek civilization in Sicily also had a strong impact on the island's economy. The production of olive oil and wine reached very high levels, and the island became an important trading center with the Greek world.

If you visit Sicily, don't miss the opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and culture of the Greek civilization. Admire the ancient temples, stroll through the streets of the Greek cities, and savor the flavors of Sicilian cuisine influenced by Greek culture, such as Sicilian swordfish and orange salad with red onion and black olives.

The Greek civilization in Sicily was one of the most important and influential cultures of antiquity, which has left a lasting imprint on the island. Its cultural and historical legacy is still alive and palpable today, making the visit to Sicily a unique and unforgettable experience.


In this article, we will guide you through some of the most fascinating sites and stories of ancient Greece in Sicily, Discovering a Heritage that Still Shines with All Its Charm Today.


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Syracuse:

  • Greek Theatre: The Greek Theatre of Syracuse is an architectural work of great importance. Built in the 5th century BC, it has been expanded and modified over the centuries. One of the most interesting aspects of the theatre is its semicircular structure, which allowed a perfect view of the performances from any point. Moreover, the acoustics of the theatre are remarkable: sounds propagate clearly throughout the building, making the theatrical experience even more engaging. The theatre is also famous for hosting the annual cycle of classical performances, "Inda," where Greek and Latin tragedies and comedies are staged.

  • Ear of Dionysius: This artificial cave, 65 meters long and 23 meters high, offers a unique experience both visually and acoustically. Its particular S shape and its extraordinary acoustics make it a fascinating place to visit. Legend has it that Dionysius I used the cave to spy on prisoners and listen to their whispers, amplified by the exceptional acoustics of the cave.

  • Latomie: The Latomie are an important example of how the Greeks exploited the natural resources of the island. The limestone quarries, like the Latomia del Paradiso, were used to extract the material needed for the construction of the city's imposing structures. Today, the Latomie offer a fascinating glimpse into the daily life and activities of ancient Greeks.

  • Altar of Hieron II: The altar, one of the largest of antiquity, is an impressive testimony to the importance of religion in the life of ancient Greeks. The ceremonies and sacrifices held on the altar were significant events, participated in by both the population and the rulers of the city. The altar is also an example of the mastery of Greek architects and sculptors, who were able to create works of great visual and symbolic impact.

  • Ortigia: The Island of Ortigia, the historic center of Syracuse, is a place rich in history and charm. Among the attractions related to Greek civilization, the Temple of Apollo, a Doric temple dating back to the 6th century BC, and the Fonte Aretusa, a natural spring linked to myths and legends of ancient Greece, such as the story of the nymph Arethusa and the river god Alpheus, stand out. Strolling through the streets of Ortigia allows you to immerse yourself in a unique atmosphere, where the Greek past intertwines with the testimonies of other civilizations that have inhabited the island over the centuries.

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Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples:

  • Temple of Concordia: The Temple of Concordia is one of the best-preserved Doric temples in the world. Built in the 5th century BC, the temple features a majestic facade and imposing columns. The structure was transformed into a Christian church in the 6th century AD, which helped preserve its structure over the centuries.

  • Temple of Juno (Hera): Located in the Valley of the Temples, the Temple of Juno is another example of Doric architecture. Although partially in ruins, the temple still retains many of its original columns and offers an evocative image of the grandeur and majesty of Greek architecture.

  • Temple of Hercules: The Temple of Hercules is the oldest temple in the Valley of the Temples, dating back to the 6th century BC. Although in ruins, the remaining columns and the panoramic position of the temple provide a fascinating and evocative experience for visitors.

  • Temple of Olympian Zeus: Although only a few traces of the Temple of Olympian Zeus remain today, it was once one of the largest and most grandiose temples of the ancient world. Its construction began in the 5th century BC to celebrate Agrigento's victory over the Carthaginians in the battle of Himera. Although it has been largely destroyed over the centuries, the site still offers a testimony to the grandeur of Greek civilization in Sicily.

  • Regional Archaeological Museum of Agrigento: To deepen the knowledge of the history and culture of Greece in Sicily, a visit to the Regional Archaeological Museum of Agrigento is a must. The museum houses numerous artifacts from the Valley of the Temples and other archaeological areas of the region, including sculptures, jewelry, vases, and everyday objects.



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Segesta:

  • Temple of Segesta: The Temple of Segesta, located in the western part of Sicily, is another extraordinary example of Doric architecture. Built in the 4th century BC, the temple is known for its panoramic position and for remaining unfinished. Its columns, however, are well preserved and provide an impressive testimony to the mastery of Greek architects.

  • Theatre of Segesta: Situated on the hill of Monte Bàrbaro, the Theatre of Segesta offers breathtaking views of the surrounding valley and the sea. Built in the 2nd century BC, the theatre could accommodate about 4,000 spectators and is still used today for theatrical performances and concerts.



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Selinunte:

  • Archaeological Park of Selinunte: The Archaeological Park of Selinunte, located on the southwestern coast of Sicily, is one of the largest and most impressive archaeological sites of antiquity. Founded in the 7th century BC, Selinunte was one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily. The park includes numerous temples, sanctuaries, and other structures, such as the Acropolis and the Temple of Hera, which testify to the importance and wealth of this ancient city.

  • Archaeological Museum of Selinunte: To complement the visit to the Archaeological Park of Selinunte, the Archaeological Museum offers a vast collection of artifacts found on the site, including statues, reliefs, and everyday objects, which help to better understand the life and culture of the Greek city.



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Taormina:

  • Greek Theatre of Taormina: The Greek Theatre of Taormina, dating back to the 3rd century BC, is one of the most famous and evocative ancient theatres in Sicily. Built on a panoramic position on the hill, it offers a spectacular view of the sea and Mount Etna. Although it was modified by the Romans, the theatre still retains many of its original Greek features. Today, the theatre is used for theatrical performances, concerts, and other cultural events.

  • Naxos: Naxos, located a few kilometers from Taormina, is considered the first Greek colony in Sicily, founded in 734 BC. The ruins of the city are located on the coast and include remains of buildings, fortifications, and roads, offering a glimpse into the daily life of the colony. The Archaeological Park of Naxos is an interesting place to explore and discover the origin of Greek presence in Sicily.

  • Archaeological Museum of Taormina: The Archaeological Museum of Taormina offers a collection of artifacts from the city and the surrounding area, including vases, statues, and everyday objects, which help to better understand the life and Greek culture in the region. The museum is housed in a historic building, the Palazzo Badia Vecchia, and also offers a splendid view of the city and the sea.

  • Isola Bella: Although not directly related to Greek civilization, Isola Bella, located off the coast of Taormina, is a place of great natural beauty worth visiting during the stay in the city. The island, also known as the "Pearl of the Mediterranean", offers enchanting beaches and coves, as well as lush Mediterranean vegetation. The surrounding area has been declared a nature reserve, to preserve the landscape and biodiversity of the island.

 
  • Lentini: located in the southeastern part of Sicily, was founded in the 7th century BC as a Greek colony named Leontinoi. The archaeological site of Lentini includes ruins of a Greek theatre, a gymnasium, a temple, and a necropolis. Additionally, the Regional Archaeological Museum of Lentini houses numerous artifacts from the city and surrounding area, including sculptures, coins, ceramics, and mosaics.

  • Palazzolo Acreide: is located inland of Sicily, southeast of Syracuse. Founded in the 7th century BC as a Greek colony named Akrai, the city was an important military and cultural center during the Greek era. The archaeological site of Palazzolo Acreide includes a well-preserved Greek theatre, remains of buildings, and a sanctuary dedicated to the goddess Cybele. The Regional Archaeological Museum of Palazzolo Acreide displays artifacts found on the site, including sculptures, vases, and everyday objects.

  • Solunto: is an ancient Greek city located on the northern coast of Sicily, near Palermo. Founded in the 4th century BC, Solunto was one of the most important Greek colonies on the island. The city's ruins include remains of houses, streets, mosaics, as well as a theatre and an agora (market square). The archaeological site offers a panoramic view of the sea and surrounding hills.

  • Himera: located on the northern coast of Sicily between Palermo and Cefalù, was founded in the 7th century BC and is known for being the site of the famous Battle of Himera in 480 BC, where the Greeks defeated the Carthaginians. The city's ruins include temples, necropolises, and fortifications. The Temple of Victory, in particular, was erected to celebrate the Greek victory in the battle.

  • Eloro: is located on the southeastern coast of Sicily, near Noto. Founded in the 7th century BC, the city was an important commercial and military center during the Greek era. The ruins of Eloro include remains of public and private buildings, walls, and a theatre. The archaeological site is located in a panoramic position overlooking the sea and surrounding countryside.

  • Megara Hyblaea: is an ancient Greek city located on the eastern coast of Sicily, north of Syracuse. Founded in the 7th century BC, it was one of the first Greek colonies on the island. The city's ruins include fortifications, houses, streets, and an agora. The archaeological site offers a panoramic view of the coast and sea.

  • Gela: located on the southern coast of Sicily, was founded in the 7th century BC and became an important commercial and military center during the Greek era. The city's ruins include remains of temples, theaters, walls, and other buildings. The Archaeological Museum of Gela houses numerous artifacts found on the site, including sculptures, jewelry, and everyday objects.

  • Tindari: located on the northeastern coast of Sicily, was founded in the 4th century BC. The city's ruins include a well-preserved Greco-Roman theatre, walls, streets, and remains of buildings. Tindari is also famous for the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna of Tindari, an important pilgrimage site.

  • Monte Adranone: The archaeological site of Monte Adranone is located inland of Sicily, near the town of Sambuca di Sicilia. Founded in the 6th century BC, the city was an important military and political center during the Greek era. The ruins include walls, buildings, an agora, and a temple. The site offers a panoramic view of the surrounding valley.

  • Kamarina: located on the southeastern coast of Sicily, was founded in the 6th century BC and became an important commercial center during the Greek era. The city's ruins include remains of temples, walls, and other buildings. The Archaeological Museum of Kamarina houses numerous artifacts found on the site, including sculptures, coins, and everyday objects.

  • Heloros: located on the southeastern coast of Sicily, near Syracuse, was a military and commercial outpost during the Greek period. The city's ruins include remains of buildings, streets, a temple, and a bridge. The site is located in a panoramic position overlooking the sea and surrounding countryside.

  • Mozia: is an island located off the western coast of Sicily, near Marsala. Although it was originally a Phoenician colony, the city was conquered by the Greeks in the 4th century BC. The ruins include remains of walls, streets, houses, and a temple. The Whitaker Museum, located on the island, houses a vast collection of Phoenician, Greek, and Roman artifacts found on the site.


 

Here's a list of Greek archaeological sites in Sicily open to the public, along with opening hours, prices, and official websites. However, we always recommend checking the opening hours and prices on the official website or contacting the site directly before your visit, as they may vary over time.


  • Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples (Agrigento):

  • Hours: Open daily from 08:30 to 19:00.

  • Prices: Full €12, Reduced € 6.

  • Archaeological Park of Neapolis (Syracuse):

  • Hours: Open daily from 09:00 to 18:00.

  • Prices: Full €10, Reduced € 5.

  • Archaeological Park of Selinunte:

  • Hours: Open daily from 09:00 to 17:00.

  • Prices: Full €6, Reduced € 3.

  • Archaeological Area of Segesta:

  • Hours: Open daily from 09:00 to 17:00.

  • Prices: Full €6, Reduced € 3.



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In addition to the numerous archaeological sites, Greek civilization has left a lasting legacy in various aspects of Sicilian culture, society, and economy. Here are some of the main contributions of the Greeks in Sicily:


Language and Toponymy: The Greek language was spoken in Sicily for centuries and has influenced the island's toponymy. Many names of Sicilian cities and places have Greek roots or were directly influenced by Greek presence.


Literature and Philosophy: Sicily was home to numerous Greek authors, poets, and philosophers such as Archimedes, Theocritus, Empedocles, and Gorgias. The work of these authors has left an indelible mark on Western literature and philosophy.


Art and Architecture: Greek art and architecture have significantly influenced the style and form of Sicilian buildings, not only in archaeological sites but also in subsequent constructions. Elements such as columns, pediments, and Greek friezes are visible in many churches, palaces, and other Sicilian buildings.


Religion and Mythology: Greek religion and mythology have left a lasting mark on Sicilian culture. Many local myths and legends, as well as religious traditions and practices, have roots in the Greek period.


Cuisine: Sicilian cuisine has been influenced by Greek culture, with the introduction of ingredients and culinary techniques that are reflected in typical island dishes, such as Sicilian-style swordfish and orange salad with red onion and black olives.


Agriculture and Economy: Sicilian agriculture and economy benefited from Greek knowledge and innovations. The Greeks introduced crops like olive and grapevine, which became fundamental for Sicilian economy. The production of olive oil and wine reached very high levels, and the island became a significant trade center with the Greek world.


Political and Social System: Greek civilization introduced new models of political and social organization in Sicily, like the polis (city-state) and democracy. These political systems influenced the development of Sicilian cities and the social structure of the island.




filosophes in sicily

In Sicily, during the time of Magna Graecia, some philosophers of great importance lived and operated, significantly contributing to philosophical thought and Greek and Western culture. Below is a detailed description of some of the most important philosophers native to Sicily:


Empedocles (circa 490-430 BC):

Empedocles was born in Akragas (today's Agrigento) and was a presocratic philosopher, as well as a poet and politician. He is known for his theory of the four fundamental elements (earth, water, air, and fire) that would constitute all existing things. He also supported the idea of reincarnation and developed a theory on the birth and destruction of the cosmos. Empedocles was an eclectic character who combined elements of Parmenides, Heraclitus, and Pythagorean philosophy in his thinking.


Gorgias (circa 485-380 BC):

Gorgias was born in Lentini and was an important sophist, rhetorician, and philosopher. He significantly contributed to the development of rhetoric and sophistic philosophy in ancient Greece. Gorgias was famous for his skill in the art of persuasion and eloquence. He was a master in the use of rhetorical figures and argumentation techniques. In his thinking, Gorgias questioned absolute truth and objectivity, arguing that truth is relative and dependent on individual perception.


Archytas (circa 428-347 BC):

Archytas was born in Taranto, but his influence also extended to Sicily. He was a Pythagorean mathematician, philosopher, musician, and engineer. A friend and contemporary of Plato, Archytas contributed to the development of mathematics, geometry, and mechanics. He was one of the first to study the relationships between mathematics and music, examining the proportions between string lengths and musical tones. In philosophy, Archytas focused on the relationship between soul and body and on ethical issues.


Philolaus (circa 470-385 BC):

Philolaus of Croton was a Pythagorean mathematician and philosopher who lived in Sicily for a long time. He significantly contributed to the Pythagorean theory of numbers and was one of the first to propose a cosmological model where the Earth was not at the center of the universe but moved around a central fire along with other celestial bodies.


Ecfrenor (4th century BC):

Ecfrenor of Cyrene was a Pythagorean mathematician, musician, and philosopher who lived in Syracuse. He was a disciple of Archytas and focused on the study of music and mathematics. Ecfrenor developed a system of classifying numbers based on their properties and contributed to the theory of musical proportions.


Diodorus Cronus (3rd century BC):

Diodorus Cronus was a philosopher and logician from Hipparis, in Sicily, who mainly operated in Athens. He was a member of the Megarian school of logic and proposed the so-called "Sorites," a type of logical argument based on the use of categorical premises. Diodorus Cronus sought to solve logical and philosophical problems through the rigorous use of logic and definitions.


Theophrastus (circa 371-287 BC):

Theophrastus, although born in Eresos, on the island of Lesbos, spent a lot of time in Sicily and was a disciple of Aristotle. He is best known for his botanical studies, but he was also a philosopher of great importance. He wrote numerous treatises on ethics, metaphysics, logic, and natural sciences, and was one of the first philosophers to systematically explore the properties and classifications of plants.


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The Two Colossi


Archimedes of Syracuse:

Archimedes (circa 287-212 BC) was born in Syracuse, Sicily, and is considered one of the greatest mathematicians, physicists, and engineers of antiquity. He was a disciple of the Greek astronomer and mathematician Conon of Samos and probably also studied in Alexandria, Egypt, where he came into contact with Euclid's legacy.

Archimedes made significant contributions to mathematics, especially geometry and numerical analysis. Among his most important works are the determination of the volume of irregular solids using the principle of balancing and the development of methods to calculate the approximate value of π (pi). Archimedes was also the first to demonstrate the relationship between the surface and volume of a sphere and its circumscribed cylinder.

In the field of physics, Archimedes is best known for the "Archimedes' Principle," which states that an object immersed in a fluid receives an upward thrust equal to the weight of the fluid displaced. This law is fundamental for understanding buoyancy and fluid pressure. Archimedes also developed theories on the lever and simple machines, such as the Archimedes' screw, used to lift water.

During the Roman siege of Syracuse, Archimedes put his engineering knowledge into practice to defend the city. He invented several war machines, including catapults and burning mirrors, which reflected sunlight to set enemy ships on fire.


Thucydides:

Thucydides (circa 460-400 BC) was an important Athenian historian and military man, known primarily for his work "The Peloponnesian War," which narrates the conflict between Athens and Sparta in the 5th century BC. Although he was not Sicilian, Thucydides wrote extensively about Sicily and its geopolitical importance in the context of the Peloponnesian War.

Thucydides is considered one of the first critical historians, as he strove to analyze historical events objectively and based on evidence. Unlike Herodotus, who preceded Thucydides and often inserted mythological and legendary elements into his narratives, Thucydides sought to provide an accurate and realistic view of events. His work is an important source of information on the political institutions, military strategies, and culture of classical Greece.

Thucydides' historiography profoundly influenced later historians, such as Titus Livius and Polybius, and his critical and analytical method is still a model for modern historians today.





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In conclusion, Sicily has been a land of great significance and a cultural crossroads during the era of Magna Graecia. Its archaeological sites, philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists have left an invaluable legacy that has influenced Western culture in subsequent centuries. The presence of Greek civilization in Sicily has enriched the island with historical monuments, traditions, flavors, and knowledge that make Sicily a fascinating and unique place to visit.


Exploring Sicily offers the opportunity to immerse oneself in an ancient world and discover the roots of many of the ideas and concepts that form the basis of modern thought and culture. Through visiting archaeological sites, observing works of art, reading the works of philosophers, and discovering culinary traditions, we can appreciate the greatness and depth of Greek civilization in Sicily and its lasting impact on human history.



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