TRAVEL / Great Civilisations of the World: 3 Magna Graecia: Where to go, what to see

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The Independent Culture
AGRIGENTO*** One of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. Founded in the sixth century BC by Greek colonists from Rhodes and by Greek Sicilians, the city - originally known as Akragas - boasted nine great temples, several of which survive in superb condition. Apart from the Hephaisteion in Athens, Agrigento's so- called Temple of Concord (its ancient name is unknown) is the best-preserved Greek temple. See also the Temple of Hera - its walls reddened by fire during the attack by Hannibal's Carthaginians in 405 BC - the Temple of Chthonic Divinities, the Temple of Herakles and the remains of the 130m-long Temple of Olympian Zeus, one of the largest in the Greek world. The nearby museum houses important finds from the site.

CAPO COLONNA* Scant remains of a sixth-century BC temple dedicated to Hera. Sadly, almost all the structure has been destroyed over the past 300 years.

GELA** Located within the boundaries of the modern town are the scattered remains of an ancient Greek city. Although founded in 688 BC by colonists from Rhodes and Crete, the visible remnants date from the fourth century. They include one of the world's finest surviving ancient Greek city walls, unique in having its upper mud- brick courses preserved. The defences remained hidden under sand dunes until 1948, when a storm uncovered them. See also a rare Greek terracotta bath (inside the grounds of a mental hospital) and the scant remains of temples, houses and shops.

IMERA** Known as Himera in ancient Greek times. Its Temple of Victory was built to celebrate one of the greatest battles of the ancient world - the Greek victory over the Carthaginians near the town in 480 BC. See also the excavated remnants of part of the town - and the new museum.

LOCRI* Excellent museum. See also the remnants of the Temple of Aphrodite, whose priests were sacred pimps in charge of a bevy of temple prostitutes who, for a small fee, gave pilgrims the opportunity to enjoy paying their respects to the Goddess of Love.

METAPONTO* Here Pythagoras set up his philosophical school in the sixth century BC. The building itself was later converted into a temple - but no trace of it has ever been found. The great man's tomb has also long vanished. But visitors can see the scanty remains of temples and a fourth-century BC Greek theatre. Nearby are the sixth-century BC remains of the Temple of Hera (the so- called Palatine Tables).

PAESTUM*** One of the world's most important archaeological sites. Its three graceful 2,600-year-old temples turn pink every day among the oleander in the late afternoon sun. See also the city walls and streets, tomb paintings, citizens' houses - and the museum.

POLICORO** Remains of the fourth-century BC town of Heraclea. See also the museum.

REGGIO CALABRIA* The ancient Greek city is no longer to be seen - except for parts of the city wall. However, the museum is of international importance. Its exhibits include two spectacular bronze statues, discovered under the sea at Riace, probably the work of the sculptor Pheidias, who designed the Parthenon's Elgin Marbles, now in the British Museum.

SEGESTA*** Perhaps the most beautiful classical site in the whole of Magna Graecia and Sicily. Said to have been founded by refugees from the Trojan War - indeed by the Trojan prince Aeneas himself - the city is located among woods and fields in the shadow of the rocky cliffs of a nearby mountain. Its magnificent 61m- long temple was constructed around 416 BC. See also the second-century BC theatre - built during the Roman period.

SELINUNTE** See traces of the sixth-century BC walls and street plan of the ancient city of Selinus (meaning 'wild celery'). In the mid-fifth century BC, the Greek philosopher Empedocles saved the city from malaria by organising the draining of nearby marshes. However, neither sage nor city met with a happy end. Empedocles is said to have committed suicide by throwing himself into the active volcanic crater of Sicily's Mount Etna. And in 409 BC the city was destroyed by the Carthaginians under Hannibal.

SYRACUSE*** One of the ancient world's greatest political, cultural and commercial centres, it was home to that most famous of ancient Greek inventors, Archimedes, and a host of other scientists, philosophers and poets. In ancient times, with a population of up to 50,000, Syracuse was the third- largest metropolis in the Greek world. See the remains of three temples (one incorporated into the cathedral), the ancient Greek fortress, and the massive stone quarries once used to house Athenian PoWs. See also the third-century BC Greek theatre - and the medieval and modern town on the site of the ancient Greek city and causeway, built in the eighth century BC by the Corinthian founders.

SIBARI* Site of the ancient city of Sybaris, and subsequently of Thurii. The remains of sixth- century BC Sybaris are scant and overgrown. The city - famed for its eponymous sybaritic living - was destroyed in 510 BC by a neighbouring town, which is said to have diverted a river to flood the place. Archaeologists discovered the remains under 3m of river silt. Its successor, Thurii (444 BC), was laid out by Hippodamus, the town planner who designed Piraeus, the port of Athens.

TINDARI** See the Greek and Roman ruins, second-century BC Greek-style, Roman period theatre, and the city wall.

VELIA* All that remains of ancient Elea - home of a famous philosophical school - is the original fourth-century BC 9m- high arched city gate and parts of the city walls. D K

*** spectacular ** very interesting * interesting

FURTHER READING: The Archaeology of Ancient Sicily, R Holloway (Routledge pounds 45); The Greeks Overseas, John Boardman (Thames & Hudson pounds 9.95); Paestum: Greeks and Romans in Southern Italy, J Pedley (Thames & Hudson pounds 20); Red Figure Vases of South Italy and Sicily, A Trendall (Thames & Hudson pounds 6.95); Rough Guides to Italy and Sicily ( pounds 9.99 and pounds 5.95); The Greeks, H D F Kitto (Penguin pounds 5.99); The Oxford History of Greece and the Hellenistic World, ed John Boardman (OUP pounds 8.99) - covering the period from the emergence of the Greek city states in the eighth century to the era of expansion ushered in by the conquests of Alexander the Great; The Hellenistic World, F W Walkbank (Fontana pounds 6.99), a history of the Greek-speaking world from Alexander's death to its incorporation into the Roman Empire; Blue Guides offer unrivalled historical, architectural and artistic background to places of interest - Southern Italy (A & C Black pounds 12.95), Sicily ( pounds 9.95), Greece ( pounds 14.95).

Available from good bookshops, and by mail order from Daunt Books, 83 Marylebone High Street, London W1M 3DE (071-224 2295).-

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