John and Joan's Travels through France, Spain and Italy travel blog


As Joan points out, everything is layered here - the Phoenicians/Carthaginians, the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Normans, Spanish Bourbons, Garibaldi's Italians. On Tuesday it was the Greeks at their best, with a splash of Carthaginian and Arab.

Selinunte is the ruin of a mainly 6th and 5th century BC Greek city. Most of the buildings are a jumble of stones, extending across about 150 acres facing the sea. From the guidebook description we didn't expect much, but it is a moving place to visit - to think of all those lives that lived and what they made and how they're gone. One temple was reassembled in the 50s and it's a Wonder. Massive, Doric, sandstone, harmonious, rocks made into a dream. Behind it about 30 meters away are piles of huge fallen collumns from an even larger temple. About a mile away across the shallow vale of what was the town you can see its acropolis standing above the sea. When we get there we see the ruins of what look like shops, maybe Carthaginian after they sacked the place, or even Roman. Doesn't seem Greek. And the remains of temples from the late 5thC BC. Oh we are happy, the day has gone well, but the best was yet to come.

Mazzara del Vallo is an important fishing port and the first town in Sicily to fall to the Arabs, in 807 I think. It has an intricate network of winding streets the maps call the 'kasbah'. A large fleet of fishing trawlers sit beside its docks and along a wide canal. A gorgeous seaside promenade is decorated by palms and massive trees in a park that look like Moreton Bay figs, above which the shiny green Baroque dome of a church looms. But this isn't what we've come for.

In a deconsecrated church with two red mosque-like domes is what we're here to see. About 15 years ago a trawler from this town found an ancient bronze leg in its nets. After that the local fishermen hoped they would find the rest of the statue and not long after one of the boats did - a far bit of it, anyway. 'It's the statue! It's the statue!' they cried. So beautiful some scholars think it is a particular work by Praxitiles mentioned by Plato and perhaps centuries later by Pliny, but long lost. Others think it is Hellenistic, or even that it may have been made around 30BC in honor of Marc Anthony. After viewing it for 3 microseconds I came to the (well considered and authoritative) view that it might well be Hellenistic, but was more likely to be late Classical. A dancing satyr in ecstasy. No arms to speak of and one leg missing. The alabaster eyes still in the sockets. Hair in a whirl, leg and body in a wild dance. Oh what a joy to see it.

Oh, we were happy as we strolled along the promenade and conversed with an old man (of the sea, I assume), who lamented the approaching Sirocco, due to arrive tomorrow, and we even gave him the Euro he demanded for his expert weather forecast. We went into the only restaurant that seemed to be open and ordered sea anenomie on pasta (and you thought the Holts would not mention food for once). Crushed pistachios and cherry tomatoes in the sauce with copious anenomies and a sprinkling of paprika. Mmmmm.

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