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Mothia

Mothia

Marsala (TP)

Motya, or Mothia, was the most important Phoenician-Punic town in West-Sicily, built on a small island in front of the coast. It had a large industrial quarter and in punic times was surrounded by a city wall and city gates to defend itself against the attacks of the Greek tyrants of Sicily.

Mothia

Mothia was one of the flourishing Phoenician-Punic towns in the western mediterranean until it was literally razed to the ground in 397 BC by the greek tyrant Dionysios of Syracuse. After that it has hardly been inhabited thus conserving much of it's original punic character that can be seen in the remains of the town. This has made the site so very interesting for archaeologists studying Phoenician and Punic times, and it is why it appeals so much to the visitor interested in this period. The ancient town of Mothia (Punic Motya) was built on the small island in the middle of the lagoons, the Stagnone of Marsala. The only way to reach the site is by boat.

From the House of the Mosaics to the Cothon

The landing place is right in front of the great house that is now a museum, museo Whitaker, which takes it's name from the family that owned the island for a long time. Near the museum are the foundations of the house of the mosaics, the Casa dei Mosaici. Part of the mosaics, made of white, grey and black cobbles can still be admired. This type of mosaics is unique for Sicily, as are the mythological figures; a lion attacking a bull and a winged griffon attacking a deer. The architectural style of the house is north-african, in latin opus africanum; large upright stones at regular intervals filled inbetween with smaller stones. Usually the walls were plastered and the upper storeys were built using dried clay, a technique still used into the twentieth century for small houses.

The town was protected by a wall around the entire island, parts of the walls are still visible when walking on the edge. Not far from the house of the mosaics is the casermetta (small barrack). It is not clear whether this was originally part of the townwalls or built in later times, opus africanum was used well into Byzantine times in the early Middle Ages. From the casermetta it is not far to the south gate of the town. From this point there is a magnificent view of the cape with Marsala. Next to the southern gate there is a bassin, called Cothon, which was believed to have been either a drydock or a small harbour. It has been used also as a saline in later times. Cothon is a greek name for this type of bassins found also in the Lebanon and at Carthage. The rectangular bassin is connected to the sea by a canal that could be closed. Next to the Cothon recent excavations by the University of Rome La Sapienza have uncovered a temple complex. It is now believed that the Cothon was part of the sanctuary, a sweet water source has been found at the bottom of the bassin.

From the Cothon to the sanctuary, Cappiddazzu

The path returns from the Cothon to the museum. Behind the museum are the foundations of a house, called the House of the Amphorae (Casa delle Anfore) because of the large quantity of amphorae found. The path continues across the island to the northside. Only a small part of Mothia has been excavated, there are still vineyards cultivated, but probably everywhere stood houses on the entire island in antiquity. According to some classical authors there were houses with six storeys, much like Tyrus and Carthage. On the northwest side lies the tophet, the open air sanctuary of Phoenician-Punic times dedicated to Astarte and where the urns with ashes of animals and children were placed on the ground. In this area many ash-urns and stelae (votive stones) have been found that are now shown in the museum. East of the tophet is the archaic necropolis. Apart from this burial site there was another necropolis on the mainland, at Birgi, north of Motya. Around 397 the necropolis was sacrificed to build new fortifications, under the threat of war with Syracuse.

The northside of the island has undergone more excavations. Here parts of the industrial area of Mothia has been uncovered. In Mothia there was a large production of earthenware (ceramics) and purple dyeing of fabrics. In the vicinity was a large sanctuary, the Cappiddazzu, which was undoubtedly connected to the industrial quarters of the town and the port nearby. The name of this sanctuary is derived from a popular legend of a man wandering around with a large hat, cappiddazzu in sicilian. To which deity the temple of the Cappiddazzu was dedicated is not known, however nearby the most spectacular find has been done in the seventies of the previous century. A man-high statue in marble of extraordinary craftsmanship was uncovered and it has been baptised the youngster of Mothia. The statue can be admired in the museum.

The north gate and the road through the lagoon

The industrial quarters and the sanctuary are located near the north gate. The north gate was closed by two sets of doors for the two parallel lanes leading into town. The wheels have left their marks in the stone pavement of the road and the cavities for the hinges for the great doors are still there. On both sides massive walls and towers protected the entrance, there are still about two metres high remains that give an idea of the impressiveness of the gate. The island of San Pantaleo was connected to the mainland, near Birgi, with a road raised above the level of the sea. Now this road is under water due to the rise of the sealevel in the past thousands of years, but it had been in use by Sicilian peasants well into the twentieth century. On satellite photo's the road is fairly well visible. It had been interrupted by the citizens of Mothia during the siege by Dionysios to avoid the large rams and siege towers to approach the walls, but to no avail. Just outside the gate under the water level archaeologists have discovered quays and a square which was part of the northern harbour.

Going south more defensive walls can be seen along the banks until the path leads finally back to the landing place in front of the museum. Around the museum there are a few smaller houses, one of these a winemakery. The floor of the winemakery has been excavated to uncover the foundations of ancient buildings. Because the large house stands on the highest point of the island for sure there must be other important remains below it. The museum itself can be considered a jewel in it's kind, not in the least because of the statue in marble of the youngster of Motya, but also because of other important remains like the two large stones with figures, two lions attacking a bull, that would once have been part of the gates. Back on the mainland the Saline di Ettore Infersa and the windmill (Spanish model) are also worthwhile visiting.

Bibliography

Ciasca, A. et al. 1989, Mozia, Roma
Servadio, G. 2004, Mozia, alla scoperta di una civiltà scomparsa, Palermo
Volpi, A., M.P. Toti 2004, Motya, nel mondo dei fenici, Marsala
Nigro, L. 2009, Recenti scoperte dell'Università di Roma 'La Sapienza' a Mozia (2002-2006): il Tempio del Kothon, la Casa del sacello domestico, il Basamento meridionale e la Fortezza Occidentale in: Ampolo C. ed., Immagine e immagini della Sicilia e di altre isole del Mediterraneo antico Vol II, Pisa

Address: Isola San Pantaleo, ferry for visitors departs from the Saline di Ettore Infersa

Openingtimes: summer 09:30 - 18:30 (april through october), winter 09:00 - 15:00

Prices: Euro 9,00 (students Euro 5,00 and groups Euro 6,00) excluding ferry

Web site: Fondazione Whitaker
University of Rome "La Sapienza"

The information has been updated for 2016 but prices and opening hours may vary.

Last updated 06/09/2016

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