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From the Greek to the Byzantine age


The architectonic witnesses left by Greeks and Romans in the island of gods are the most beautiful artistic expressions of the antiquity.

The Greeks landed in Sicily in the 8th century B.C., invariably founding their colonies by the sea or near a river, as well as on easily defended high ground: Agrigento for istance, and Selinunte, as well as Syracuse, originally built on the island of Ortigia.
There can be no doubt that temples are the ancient monuments which most vividly illustrate Greek influence in Sicily. One needs only to visit those at Selinunte, Segesta and Syracuse to fall victim to their fascination.
The Greek temple in Sicily was usually built in a rectangular plan with its interior divided, often with an end space that appeared impenetrable.

The theatre of Syracuse is the most renowned one built during the 5th century B.C. The cavea is one of the largest in the Greek world: 67 rows, divided into 9 sections with 8 aisles for access to the seats. A temple which is absolutely unconventional and best illustrates Sicilian innovation, is the colossal Temple of Olympian Jupiter at Agrigento, dating to the first half of the 5th. century B.C. The Valley of the Temples was once a sacred site used for religious purposes till the end of the 7th century B.C..

The Selinunte group of temples is of incomparable beauty and importance, too. Most of them are sited at the bottom of slopes.

Also in Taormina the Greeks built a wonderful theatre, the second largest classical theatre in Sicily, almost completely reconstructed by the Romans. From high in the cavea and even better from the terraces above the stage, one can enjoy an unforgettable panorama. On the east side of the cavea are the ruins of a little temple, and a little further off there is a small restructured Antiquarium, with archaeological finds from Taormina area.

But the first Greek colony in Sicily was Naxos. Excavations have revealed traces of roads and houses, the témenos and various sacella inside and outside the town: one of these has been identified as the Sanctuary of Apollo Archegetes.

Near Piazza Armerina lie the remains of the Roman Villa of the Casale, one of the most luxurious country houses dating to the late Roman age and still in existence. It is articulated in various buildings erected at different levels along the natural slope. The access avenue runs alongside the termal baths before reaching the entrance to the villa, famous for the splendid mosaic floors in every room, one of the most interesting being the Little Hunt with five rows of scenes.

Despite the fact that Sicily became part of the Byzantyne empire in 535 and remained under Constantinople for three and a half centuries, the island possesses no precious example of Byzantine art. The most characteristic feature of architecture in this period is the tricore cellae or the Cube, churches having a centrally symmetrical layout drawing inspiration from the late Roman tradition: among the most famous the one sited in Castiglione di Sicilia, a small town on the bottom of Mt. Etna, and the one in Malvagna, a village along the Alcantara river.

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