Visiting the ruins of Selinunte
On my final day, I skirted a harsher, wilder and neglected coastline of headlands and windswept beaches. In one place I had to carry my bike across a shallow river mouth because the bridge was out of action. The ride felt more remote than anywhere I’d been all week, but ended at one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world.
The ruins of Selinunte are the tumbled remains of a Greek metropolis where once more than 100,000 inhabitants lived, worked, worshipped and fought. Fallen Doric columns lie in immense heaps over two hillsides, with a valley in between plunging down to a cliff-sheltered beach, Lido di Zabbara.
The site area is fenced off and you need a ticket to enter, but after that there is virtually no officialdom. I stretched my legs across this magnificence of space and brilliance of light, clambering over smashed remains of temples, statues and walls – some excavated, some not.
Why is everything in smithereens – unlike, for instance, intact Segesta? Earthquakes have done some damage over the centuries. But mostly it was down to Carthaginian leader Hannibal, who unleashed the devastating destruction of the Greek city in 409BC. Selinunte was never resettled, and two-and-a-half millennia later it remains the largest archaeological site in Europe.
Sicily can feel remote from the rest of Italy, and even for some Sicilians the island’s far west, with its flavours of Africa, is their outer edge. But the point about Selinunte, about Segesta and the coastal towns I had cycled through, is that they remain right in centre of the Mediterranean and its classical culture. A paradox to ponder as I headed home, batteries re-charged in every sense.