Segesta was the capital of the Elymians. They built a great temple to compete with nearby Selinus, but the temple was never finished. They also built a magnificent greek theatre. The Elymians had good relations with the phoenicians and punics.
Along the highway from Palermo to Trapani lies one of the most visited archaeological sites of western Sicily, the historical town Segesta. The site is known for it's Greek temple that was built by the Elymians. The Elymians are the original inhabitants of this part of Sicily and Segesta (then called Egesta) was their political capital, Eryx (Erice) their religious centre. The remains of the town itself can be found on the top of the Monte Barbaro where another spectacular monument survived until our times, the Greek theatre. The remains that have been excavated are mostly of the hellenestic and roman phase of the town. Particularly in the hellenistic phase there was a continuing competition with Selinunte (Selinus), the greek colony on the south coast. In this competition the Elymians sought support from Athens and finally from Carthage.
The temple of Segesta stands isolated on the top of a hill in front of the Monte Barbaro, surrounded for three-quarters by a deep ravine. The temple was built in the fifth century BC in Doric style on the place that for the Elymians already had a special religious function. To which divinity the temple was dedicated is not known. The building of the temple was started in 417 BC and had to be interrupted in 416 BC due to a war with Selinunte. At first the help of Athens was asked but the fleet of the Athenians never arrived. Finally in 409 BC it was Carthage that helped Segesta and they conquered Selinunte to bring it under the Carthaginian sphere of influence in Sicily. The building of the great temple at Segesta however was never resumed and it has remained in it's present state until our days.
The classical town centre: forum and agorà
To reach the top of the Monte Barbaro you can either walk the steep slopes or take a bus from the entrance. The bus stops at the agorà or forum where the latest archaeological excavations have taken place. Part of the forum and the buildings around it have been excavated, mainly houses of the richer patricians and a bouleuterion, where the city council met. From here a path leads to the other side of the top of the mountain to the other monumental building that has survived the time, the theatre.
The theatre was built in the third century BC, when Segesta was already Roman. The scene has disappeared leaving the visitors with a breathtaking view of the landscape looking as far as Castellammare del Golfo and the sea. The theatre has two entrances and stairs leading down to the half round orchestra, only the upper ring of seats is no longer preswent. Even today the theatre is still used for performances and events with the countryside as background scenery.
The town and the townwalls
On the very top of Monte Barbaro the remains of a Norman castle can be seen. After Sicily was conquered by the Arabs a mosque was built next to the castle, the foundations of this mosque can still be seen there. Walking the path down the mountain to the entrance, there is a typical house of Segesta that has been excavated, the casa rupestre. The houses of Segesta were in part cut out in the rock and this house is a good example. Archaeologists were able to establish that the house was in use since the seventh century BC until the thirteenth century AD. Further down the remains of the upper town walls can be seen, these walls date back to Roman times when the town was smaller. The older (hellenistic) town walls are at the foot of the mountain. At one point not far from the entrance the remains of a towngate can be seen, this gate was closed in later times because it revealed itself utterly vulnerable to attacks.
Address: Case Barbaro - contrada Barbaro - S.P. 68, Calatafimi (TP)
Tel: 0924 952356
Opening times: 9:00 - 19:00 (april-september) ; 9:00 - 18:00 (march and october); 09:00 - 17:00 (november-february)
Prices: 6.00 euro (reduced 3.00 euro for groups)
Website: Beniculturali della Regione Sicilia
The information has been updated for 2016 but prices and opening hours may vary.