Selinunte: Malophóros Sanctuary…a hundred years later

Malophóros a hundred years later

Last year an exhibition, entitled “Malophóros a hundred years later”, has inaugurated the museum area of the “Florio Baglio” inside the Selinunte archaeological park.

Baglio Florio Museum

It displayed some hundreds of finds recovered in almost a century from the Gaggera area and from the eastern necropolis of Selinunte. Many of them never exhibited such as some findings from the excavation campaign led by Caterina Greco in the years 2014-2015.

The exhibition displaied finds from excavation campaigns carried out from 1888 to the present day. Ettore Gabrici led seven excavation campaigns in that area from 1915 to 1923. His book from 1925 still remains the point of reference for the scholars of this sector.

The project “Mission Malophoros” started in 1983 by Vincenzo and Sebastiano Tusa led to the discovery of Hera Temple, dated 6th century. B.C

Lex sacra selinuntina

The exhibition displayed also the “Lex sacra selinuntina “.
This plumbea lamina dates back to the middle of the fifth century BC. This sacred text gave prescriptions  for some rites to be done to cancel a contamination caused by a murder. It is a kind of purification rite.

The murderer would be persecuted by the avenging spirits, alastor, demons hurled by the victim in his pursuit. To stop the persecution and achieve purification, the guilty party should make the sacrifices and rites indicated in the lex sacra.

Until 1992 it was  inside J. Paul Getty museum that returned it to the Italian government after it was recognized the provenance.

It is also possible to know through it gods worshipped in the western hill of the Archaic-classical Selinunte.

Gaggera fountain

Gaggera and MalophórosDescending the valley of the Selinos river, today called Modione, we come to cross the river through a bridge. Here in ancient times there was the largest river port of Selinunte.

We meet a sandy hill, called Gaggera, oriented parallel to the acropolis and Manuzza area, about a kilometer from the acropolis. This hill takes its name from a source from which still today limpid and fresh water flows.

In this place Selinunte inhabitants built a series of sanctuaries.

The most famous of them is the Sanctuary to Demeter Malophóros (bearer of pomegranate), as attested by an epigraph found here.

Demeter Malophóros Sanctuary

The sacred area was discovered during the excavations  by Cavallari and Patricolo in 1818 and by Salinas in 1903-1905.
After, Gabrici systematically investigated it between 1915 and 1926 .
He found a great amount of archaeological material, currently preserved in the Regional Archaeological Museum of Palermo.

the Sanctuary

This Sanctuary consists of a quadrangular enclosure. You can access to it through a square propylaeum in antis. A small staircase and a circular structure come before it.

Outside the enclosure wall, to the right of the propylaeum, there are the remains of a long portico. It has seats to allow people stopping during the funeral processions. In front of the portico there are several altars.
Inside the témenos, placed at the centre, there is a great altar. Archeologists found it full of ashes, animal bones and other remains of sacrifices.

To the north-west there are the remains of an archaic altar, and a square well placed in the direction of the temple.

Malophóros plant

Between the altar and the temple there is also a stone channel that, coming from the north, crosses the whole area bringing the water from the nearby spring to the sanctuary.

Malophóros TempleAdjacent to the propylaeum there is a small quadrangular enclosure dedicated to Hecate, the lunar and the otherworld goddess, linked to Demeter.

The Demeter Malophoros Temple

Beyond the canal there is the Demetra Malophóros Temple.
It stands on an ancient mégaron without any base and columns, provided with a pronaos, a cella and an adyton.

To the left of the mégaron there are a quadrangular building and the remains of a second structure divided into two narrow and long rooms.
To the north of the temple  another two-room structure communicates with both the interior and the exterior of the sacred enclosure. It is perhaps a secondary entrance to the témenos, remodeled in the late era.

The Zeus Meilichios Shrine

A short distance from the témenos, to the north, there is the shrine of Zeus Meilichios and Pasikràteia (Zeus “sweet as honey” and Persephone).

It consists of a sacred enclosure bordered on two sides by columns. They are sometimes fluted, sometimes they are not.
Inside there is also a small temple. It is a prostyle-distile, characterized by the fusion of Doric and Ionic styles. Some archeologists think it was a Punic-era building.

Finds in the sanctuaries

Finds of various kinds have been found in the Malaphóros Shrine. They are kept at the Regional Archaeological Museum in Palermo.
For example about 12,000 terracotta votive statuettes and masks reproduces the bust or the entire female figure of a deity, probably Demeter. Most of them are a good local production. Alongside the classic figures, with the idealized figure, there are others with less harmonious and more individualized forms.

Corinthian vases and Proto Corinthians have also come to light, as well as a bas-relief depicting the abduction of Persephone by Pluto-Hades.
twin steleAlso there is a series of twin stele, ending in the upper part with two heads, one male and one female. They depict perhaps the divine couple Zeus-Pasikráteia, deities linked to the cult of the dead. Some steles have a Punic style.
Other finds are numerous oil lamps, testifying to a Christian settlement between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD.

Manicalunga Necropolis

To the west of the Malophóros Sanctuary there is Selinunte’s largest necropolis, in the places whose names are Pipio, Manicalunga and Timpone Nero.
After Cavallari and Gabrici’ studies archeologists thought that funeral processions which accompanied the deceased to the necropolis of Manicalunga stopped at the Malaphoros Shrine.

The sacred area seems to have been a meeting point between indigenous, Greek and Panhellenic peoples. Some hypothesize a Pansican sanctuary, others a Mycenaean presence. In this place different ethnic groups overlapped since ancient times.

Demeter myth

Considering the clay and terracotta production found here, the sanctuary was probably an important center of Demeter cult.
A myth firmly rooted in Greek Sicily tells of the rapture of Core-Persephone by the god Hades, king of the underworld, the mother-daughter bond between Demeter and Core, the union of the latter with Hades.
Generally Greek population would build sanctuaries of Demeter and Core outside the walls and with typical architectural features. They combined the cult of the dead  with that of fertility, sometimes with exclusively female practices.
The position of the sanctuary outside the walls on a hill near the water has similarities with other “tesmofória”. These are sanctuaries in honour of “Demetra Tesmofóra”, or legislator, goddess of marriages and agriculture.

N Temple

In the so-called Triolo area, from the name of the family that owned a building in the area, there are some remains of a wall structure. It lies about 140 m southeast of the Malaphóros sanctuary. The wall is long and in the first section has a rectilinear course.

Inside are the remains of an archaic-style temple, called N temple, or also Triolo building. There was a large altar in it, in honour ofo a female deity, Hera. Made of marine arenite, it has a plant divided into pronaos, cell and adyton.

As we can see by the traces on the temple’s inner walls, they were plastered with very fine ivory-white stucco .

A perfect restoration rebuilt the north and south sides of the building. They collapsed probably due to an earthquake that took place during an unspecified period. Surely Carthaginians  reused the building after the destruction of the city (409 BC).
The excavation brought to light interesting statuettes depicting a kourotrophos and also many ceramic objects. For this reason archeologists think the temple was in honour of a female deity (Hera).

Kourotrophós (plural kourotrophói) is a class of Mycenaean terracotta figurines depicting women carrying children.

M temple

A few meters to the north from the Gaggera fount, there are the remains of the M temple. Of it only the foundation blocks and almost the whole east wall remain They were originally eight meters high, but collapsed.

The structure has the form of an archaic bipartite mégaron with a pronaos and a cell, preceded by a flight of steps and a paved area. Among the ruins there are various elements of the Doric frieze with smooth métopes.
The assumptions about this construction are varied. One of them is that the building was a monumental fountain fed by the Gaggera spring. Probably it dates back to the era of tyrannies. It could be similar to the fountain at Megara Nisea at the time of  tyrant Teagene, around the end of the seventh century a. C.