Archaeological area of Segesta
Segesta, the city of the Elymni, exiles from TroyThe date of its founding is unknown, however historical documents indicate that the city was inhabited in the 4th century B.C.. The Greek historian Tucidides writes of refugees from Troy crossing the Mediterranean and arriving in Sicily to found the cities of Segesta and Erice. The refugees were called the Elymni. According to myth Segesta was founded by Acestes, the city's first king, who was the son of the noble Trojan Egesta and the river god Crimisus. From the time of their foundation, Segesta and Selinunte were at war with each other over their respective boundaries. The first encounter took place in 580 B.C. when Segesta emerged victorious. In 415 B.C. Segesta asked Athens for assistance against the initiative of Selinunte which was supported by Syracuse. The Athenians took as a pretext Segesta's request and set off for Sicily with a large expedition, besieging Syracuse but suffering disastrous defeat. The encounters were concluded in 409 B.C. when Selinunte was besieged and defeated by the Carthaginians, once again at the request of Segesta. In 307 B.C. many inhabitants of Segesta were horrifically murdered or sold into slavery by the tyrant of Syracuse Agatocles for not having supplied the economic assistance that he demanded. After the fierce repression, Agatocles changed the name of the city to Diceopoli or "just city". In 276 B.C. the city was ceded to the armed forces controlled by Pyrrhus and returned to Punic influence after the death of the Epirote. In 260 B.C. during the first Punic War, the city allied itself with the Romans who treated it with great respect as according to tradition they had common ancestors - both peoples were descended from Trojan refugees. The Romans defended the city from an attempt by the Carthaginians to reconquer it. It was subsequently granted the status of a 'free city' with an exemption from paying taxes in contrast to other cities in Sicily (civitas libera ac immunis). In 104 B.C. the slave revolts or so-called 'servile wars' began in Sicily at Segesta guided by Atenione. The revolts were extinguished in blood by the Romans in 99 B.C.. In the 5th century Segesta was destroyed by the Vandals and was never reconstructed on its previous scale.
Nevertheless, a small settlement remained and after the expulsion of the Arabs the Normans constructed a castle there. The castle was enlarged by the Svevi people and became the centre of a medieval town. It then disappeared in all but name until 1574 when the Dominican historian Tommaso Fazello, an expert in the identification of ancient cities in Sicily, discovered its location.
The archeological site contains a magnificent temple noted for the quality of its perfect Doric features. It appears that the temple was never finished as traces of the cells, the roof and grooves on the columns have never been found. Its completion may have been terminated by the onset of war or alternatively it is possible that the temple was used for indigenous rites or that the cells and roof were constructed from wood. Some traces of the cells have recently been found inside the temple together with traces of earlier buildings which point to the fact that the temple was constructed on a site which had a much earlier religious significance. The temple has 6 smooth columns on each of the two shortest sides and 14 columns on each of the two longest sides making a total of 36 columns. The temple was constructed during the last 30 years of the 5th century B.C. on the top of a hill to the west of the city outside the city walls. Its construction and its current condition make it one of the most beautiful temples of antiquity. The theatre, which likely dates from the middle of the third century B.C., is located on a hill opposite the temple at a height of approximately 440 metres. Seating for the spectators is divided into seven sections made from travertino marble. The horizontal division of the theatre made it easy for spectators to move from one section of the theatre to another. The upper section is now semi-derilict and little remains of the stage which, according to experts, would have been decorated with columns and pillars. The theatre could seat up to 3,000 spectators.
Each year in summer, the theatre is home to classical Greek performances, "Le Dionisiache" which also include modern plays, ancient dramas, dance and opera, operettas and musicals organised by the municipality of Calatafimi-Segesta.