Trail Of The Unexpected: The Greeks in Sicily

'Colossal Doric temples stand on a ridge staring out to sea'

I had a brush with an ancient Greek legend in the cobalt waters off Eraclea Minoa in south-west Sicily: I was stung by una medusa - or so the barman in the beach café told me, as he wrapped some ice cubes in a tea towel and pressed them onto the raised tentacle marks on my forearm. What the British call a jellyfish (how harmlessly wobbly that now sounds), the Italians compare to the snake-haired gorgon of Greek myth: far more poetic - and accurate, I thought, as I clutched ice to my reddening limb.

This was the not the only encounter I was to have with the ancient Greeks in Sicily. It was, however, the only unpleasant one. For high on a ridge above the pine forests and chalk cliffs that back the sweep of soft sand at Eraclea Minoa presides one of the many Hellenic ruins that make the Sicilian landscape so irresistibly photogenic.

From the eroded seats of the ancient horseshoe-shaped theatre above the beach you can imagine the dramas playing out in the blazing heat. According to the Greek historian Diodorus, the city was originally named plain Minoa after the Cretan King Minos, who pursued the proto-aeronaut Daedalus from Crete to Sicily, and founded a city there. The Greeks, who arrived around the 6th century BC, added Eraclea to the name.

The city was regularly caught up in border disputes between the cities of Akragas (now Agrigento, 40km to the east) and Selinus (now Selinunte, 60km to the west); what's left dates from about the 4th century BC. A tour of the site costs €2.10 (£1.50); the opening hours are 9am to one hour before sunset daily.

Pretty though it is, Eraclea Minoa is the least dramatic of the ancient sites in Western Sicily - although I admit that my scrape with the medusa may have had something to do with my desire to push on.

As you approach Agrigento from Eraclea Minoa, you pass through badly planned suburbs tumbling down to the sea, criss-crossed with concrete flyovers. But where you are headed is two-and-a-half millennia (if only a couple of kilometres) away: the Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) is the most extensive and impressive Hellenic site outside Greece.

Founded by Rhodian and Cretan colonists from nearby Gela in 581 BC, this series of colossal Doric temples stands on a ridge below modern Agrigento, staring out to sea, its structures in varying degrees of disrepair. Tempio della Concordia (in the eastern zone; free entry) is the best preserved, thanks largely to the fact that it was used as a Christian church in the 6th century AD. Meanwhile, the western zone, (open 8am-7pm daily, €4.20/£3, or €6.20/£4.40 for a joint ticket with the site's archaeological museum), contains the flattened rubble of the largest Doric temple ever found: the Tempio di Giove Olimpico.

If you decide to stay on in Agrigento, make sure you secure a view of the Valle dei Templi come nightfall; the temples are floodlit from 9pm-11pm October to March; 9.30pm-11.30pm April to September.

We decided to skip the light show and head back west along the coast road to Selinunte, where our hosts at Villa Bua (01943 830 443; were preparing an epic meal. They had more in mind than just food: after dinner we were whisked back down the coast road to Sciacca, halfway between Selinunte and Eraclea Minoa, where a beach party was in full swing. The Greeks, too, once revelled here: Sciacca was established as a spa town for Selinus, famed for its springs and mud baths. No mud was bathed in that night, but the party continued long enough for us to take respite on Selinunte's beach the next day.

The sands at Selinunte are backed by bars and restaurants on a clifftop. From your reclined position on your towel, follow your eye along the bars to a tangle of Doric columns. It wasn't long before curiosity beat the hangover, and a stroll via one of the bars (for an ice-cold drink) led us to the gates of ancient Selinus. For €4.50 (£3.20), you gain access to two groups of temples, all of which were brought to their knees by earthquakes. Some of them have been reconstructed, and the result is dazzling against the turquoise sea. The most complete is "Temple E" (each ruin is labelled A to G, and O). Unlike Agrigento's Tempio della Concordia, which is fenced off, Temple E allows you to explore from within, along with the birds which nest high in its capitals.

A 20-minute walk down a winding road takes you to the acropolis, which dangles right over the sea. Scramble over the vast stepped walls, which were constructed after 409 BC to protect the city from the Carthaginians (North Africa is just a short sail away). Lizards scurry around the fields of rubble here, and above them rise 14 reconstructed columns - what remains of the temple of Apollo.

Selinus (open 9am-7pm daily; last entry at 6pm) was the most westerly of the ancient Greek colonies in Sicily, and a bitter rival of Segesta to the north, where a tribe called the Elymians (who claimed descent from Trojan refugees) were based, .

Segesta is a bucolic delight amid the green hills just off the main A29 autostrada from Selinunte to Palermo, comprising an exquisite, unfinished temple on the crown of a hill, and a steep, semi-circular theatre overlooking the countryside. The site is open 9am to one hour before sunset daily; entry €4.20 (£3).

While strictly speaking this is a mock-Greek site (the Elymians borrowed the style to lend elegance to their city in 424 BC), it brings a tour of Hellenic Western Sicily to a shining climax before you hop on the plane at nearby Palermo. Just make sure you've got enough photographs (and, if you're unlucky some medusa scars) to remind yourself of an epic Greek adventure.

The writer flew to Palermo from Stansted with Ryanair (, and hired a car through Holidayautos (

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Alexis Sanchez has completed a £35m move to Arsenal, the club have confirmed
sportGunners complete £35m signing of Barcelona forward
Poor teachers should be fearful of not getting pay rises or losing their job if they fail to perform, Steve Fairclough, headteacher of Abbotsholme School, suggested
voicesChris Sloggett explains why it has become an impossible career path
world cup 2014
Popes current and former won't be watching the football together
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Wayne’s estate faces a claim for alleged copyright breaches
newsJohn Wayne's heirs duke it out with university over use of the late film star's nickname
Arts and Entertainment
Celebrated children’s author Allan Ahlberg, best known for Each Peach Pear Plum
peopleIndian actress known as the 'Grand Old Lady of Bollywood' was 102
Mick Jagger performing at Glastonbury
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Germany's Andre Greipel crosses the finish line to win the sixth stage of the Tour de France cycling race over 194 kilometers (120.5 miles) with start in Arras and finish in Reims, France
tour de franceGerman champion achieves sixth Tour stage win in Reims
Life and Style
beautyBelgian fan lands L'Oreal campaign after being spotted at World Cup
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Corporate Events Sales Manager, Marlow,Buckinghamshire

    £30K- £40K pa + Commision £10K + Benefits: Charter Selection: Rapidly expandin...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice
    Hollywood targets Asian audiences as US films enjoy record-breaking run at Chinese box office

    Hollywood targets Asian audiences

    The world's second biggest movie market is fast becoming the Hollywood studios' most crucial
    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app - and my mum keeps trying to hook me up!'

    Grindr founder Joel Simkhai: 'I've found love on my dating app'

    Five years on from its launch and Grindr is the world's most popular dating app for gay men. Its founder Joel Simkhai answers his critics, describes his isolation as a child