Archeological Area of Solunto
Solunto, the rock-cut town, founded by the CarthaginiansSolunto is an ancient town near Palermo, founded in the IV century BC by the Carthaginians. They maintained their control over the town for more than a century, during which Solunto became a large seaport hub, competing against Palermo and Mozia. Later on, it fell into the hands of Dionysius the Elder, tyrant of Syracuse, and it was probably in this period that it was destroyed. Solunto was later rebuilt and occupied by a group of Greek mercenaries, while during the first Punic War it was handed to the Romans. These two pieces of information are endorsed by the presence of Greek inscriptions and by a dedication in Latin to the wife of Roman Emperor Caracalla.
The excavations started in the nineteenth century had already released part of the city, but they were resumed in 1952 and carried on in subsequent years. A significant section of the urban fabric has thus been brought to light, that allows us to reconstruct the urban structure, fully reorganised around the mid-fourth century BC. The town occupies the plateau of Mount Catalfano, an area that originally was to be around 18 hectares.
Situated at the entrance of the excavation site, the Antiquarium exhibits materials from two Solunto houses in some display cases: two arete-thymiaterion (incense-burners), ceramics from the IV century BC to Roman times; fragments of painted plaster. In addition, three Punic-style stones and a small votive relief with a knight are displayed, as well as a series of Hellenistic and Roman capitals; some late-Hellenistic and Roman statuettes, a few coins from Solunto and other Sicilian hubs. Shortly after crossing a suburban quarter of little interest, one reaches the area with the most luxurious houses and stores, of which one can admire the ruins and some mosaics fragments.
The most important ruins are:
The Gymnasium: right after the side street, in the subsequent block, is the so-called Gymnasium, excavated and restored in the mid-nineteenth century, when the columns of the peristyle were raised with arbitrary additions. Within the house, remnants of rich mosaic floors are still visible, as well as Fourth-style paintings belonging to a restoration carried on in the second half of the I century A.D.
The House of Leda is another fairly well-preserved dwelling, that took its name from the subject of one of its paintings. The house was excavated in 1963. The rooms are richly decorated with mosaics and paintings. In the peristyle are the remnants of a mosaic with black and white wave patterns. In a large hall that looks out to the west of the peristyle (perhaps the triclinium) are stored some Fourth-style paintings of the late first century A.D., replacing the original First-style paintings, of which traces remain. The rich decoration of this house was completed by a number of sculptures: three small draped female statues, two of which in marble and one in limestone, with hands and feet made of marble (exposed in the Antiquarium).
The Sanctuary lies on the returning path to the Agora, at the next intersection with a side road (called "via Salinas"). Here begins the main public area of the town. The road is interrupted by a threshold, which prevented the access of cars in the agora. Right on the left is an important building complex, identifiable with a sanctuary. The left one is characterized by an altar with three stones, typical of Phoenician-Punic cults. An inclined platform, reaching from the altar to a bowl, was probably used to collect the blood of victims. The central area, characterized by a two-step platform extended to the four sides, was certainly intended for worship ceremonies. Nothing can be said of the third room, in ruins. The whole complex shows a number of refurbishments carried out up until imperial times.
From Solunto one enjoys fantastic views over the Tyrrhenian Sea, the promontory of Capo Zafferano and Porticello harbour.