Segesta began life as an Elymian city.  The Elymians were one of the three original tribes of Sicily, their main centres being Entella and Erice.  They had their own language using Greek letters, but this as yet is untranslated.  By the time of the Peloponnesian war (431-404 BC) the Segestans were allied with various Greek cities in Sicily, by whom they were described as barbarians.  They were mainly at war with Syracuse and gradually came under the protection of Carthage after being sacked in 307 BC.  Just before 260BC they abandoned their allegiance to Carthage, killed the soldiers based there and declared for Rome, being unsuccessfully besieged, relieved by Gaius Duilius and becoming a free and immune city under Rome.  The site was destroyed by the Saracens in 900 AD, but reused, being finally destroyed around 1240 when the Muslim population was expelled to the mainland after a series of revolts against Hohenstaufen rule.

Four main occupation phases have been discerned at Segesta.  The first was an early fifth century BC temple of which only the foundations survives, the second in the fourth and third centuries consisted of a building with central yard which may have been a gymnasium.  

In the last years of the second century BC the main buildings were constructed including the hall where the civic council met.  This had a speaker's platform in red marble from nearby Mount Inici and seating for some 200.  In front was a portico with an inscription commemorating the director of works, Asklapos, and the architect, Bibakos.

The summit of Monte Barbaro, largely protected by precipitous drops to east and west with a boundary wall with monumental gates low down the slope to the southwest near to the great Doric temple of 430-420 BC.  The 6' thick rubble wall, which is pinned in the defile by 2 projecting rectangular towers standing some 400' apart.  The northeast tower is best preserved and is some 18' by 16'.  From the site of the southwest tower the wall then ran southwards for some 200' to another boldly projecting rectangular tower.  The wall then runs south a further 220' before passing under the modern road and swinging eastwards along the top of the cliff protecting that side of the site.

The gate in the base of the valley was further protected by 2 towers in the late fifth century and then around 400 BC reduced in size from 21' wide to 10'.  About 100 years later the entrance was completely blocked and a new gate made at the Porta Stazzo, higher up at the top of the defile in better quality rubble masonry.  At this point the lower gatehouse was converted into a military barracks.  Presumably this was due to Carthaginian or Roman activity.  Finally the complex was abandoned in the last half of the first century BC.  The Porta di Valle was then converted into an oil mill before being abandoned.

The upper, presumably Roman defences at the top of the valley consist of a concave 7' thick wall blocking the pass.  Again there are rectangular towers defending the work.  To the north is a rectangular well laid rubble tower set on a fine stepped plinth.  To the south a recangular tower has been added on a short section of westwards running wall.  This is otherwise set well beyond the main line of defence.  Centrally is another projecting tower, but this is set shortways through the wall, unlike the other towers.  The bulk of the tower is therefore within the defences, as the lie of the land probably demands.

During Roman domination in the last part of the second century BC the main public buildings were built, including the bouleuterion, gymnasium and theatre.  The latter could hold some 4,000 people and was built using fine quality monumental ashlar work.  The theatre may have been used for a thousand years before decaying and being built upon by the new Muslim inhabitants to found a town, a mosque south of the castle and a necropolis in the twelfth century.  These were followed by a church and a castle built upon the hill top and utilising the older ruins.

Why not join me here and at other Sicilian castles and cities?  Information on this and other tours can be found at Scholarly Sojourns.


Copyright©2019 Paul Martin Remfry