On Wednesday I told you about the Phoenicians, the first Super-power of the ancient world and Sicily’s first colonists.
Today, let’s see what the Greeks did for Sicily.
The ancient Greeks: the second superpower
The Greeks copied the Phoenicians by founding coastal colonies all over the Mediterranean from the 8th century B.C. onwards. We call them „colonies“, but they had full political independence from the mother city. They were economic and military allies.
For 500 years, rivalry between the Greeks and the Carthaginians was fierce. Piracy was the rule of the day, and attacking each other’s trading stations to steal everything from the warehouses guaranteed rewards and honour at home for the winning captain-cum-thief.
Athens, with her silver mines and highly skilled potters, was the greatest trader and colonist of the ancient Greek world. Athenian coinage was trusted worldwide.
One Greek colony, Siracusa in Sicily, gradually became more rich and powerful than Athens. Athens regarded it as a dangerous rival and tried (disastrously) to invade it!
How to get the Greek feel in modern Sicily
Try some of the many baked goods made from spelt (farro) which is the ancient species of wheat that the Greeks cultivated. These are becoming trendy as a health food in modern Sicily.
The Greeks loved beans and pulses like the Phoenicians, but typically ate them as a sturdy stew with spelt added. When they needed a premonition to help them foresee the future they would add grated cheese to the top of their bean and spelt stew to give them trippy cheese dreams, which they interpreted with the help of specialist priests.
Be sure to eat them with the oldest type of Sicilian cheese, called Pecorino Siciliano, made from sheep’s milk and invented by the Ancient Greeks in Sicily about 500 B.C. It is not made anywhere in the world outside Sicily. The Greeks were very fond of cheese and made many varieties back in the old country, inclulding many using goats’ and sheep’s milk.
Finally, have some octopus or squid: the Ancient Greeks loved these types of seafood and ate them as a dietary staple.
Where to see the Greeks in Modern Sicily
The majority of ancient sites in Sicily date from the Greek period so it is hard to pick out just a few, but I think these are some of my personal favourites.
The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is the most impressive archaeological site in Sicily. The ancient Greek city of Akragas was later taken over by the Romans and is exceptionally large and well-preserved. UNESCO has declared the Valley of the Temples as a World Heritage Site.
Siracusa’s Greek theatre is still in such good contition that plays and concerts are performed there every summer; in this photo it’s ready for a performance of Aida. The whole Greek site is fascinating and the archaeological museum has one of the finest collections in all Italy.
Don’t miss the treasury vault section in the basement (called the Medagliere) with a priceless collection of thousands of ancient Greek-Sicilian gold and silver coins and jewellery. The curator there, called Rosalba, gives wonderful guided tours – if you meet her, say hello from me!
Segesta was right on the border between Carthaginian and Greek territory. The Greek temple at Segesta is in exceptionally good condition but was never finished, and therefore offers a unique lesson in the way Greek temples were built. There is also a fine Greek theatre in Segesta.
The city of Selinunte is only 40 km south of Segesta. It was founded by Greek colonists and later taken over by the Carthaginians. Today’s archaeological site is 40 hectares and most of it is open to the public.