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Mozia

the island of Mozia near Trapani, Sicily

Mozia was an ancient Phoenician city, located on the island of San Pantaleo, in the Stagnone di Marsala. The island is located in front of the western coast of Sicily, between the Big Island and the mainland, and belongs to the Whitaker Foundation.

Ancient age of Mozia

Mozia was probably interested in the explorations of Phoenician merchants-navigators, who went into the western Mediterranean Sea, starting from the end of the 12th century BC: it had to represent a landing place and a morphologically very similar commercial base to the Phoenician city of Tire. The ancient name in Phoenician was Mtw, Mtw or Hmtw, as shown by the monetary legends; the name reported in Greek, Motye, Μοτύη, is also mentioned by Thucydides and by Diodorus Siculus. Around the middle of the 8th century BC, with the beginning of Greek colonization in Sicily, Thucydides reports that the Phoenicians retreated to the western part of the island, more precisely in the three cities of their foundation: Motya, Solunto and Palermo. Archaeologically, a settlement of the end of the 8th century BC is witnessed, preceded by a sporadic and rather modest proto-historic phase. The fortifications surrounding the island may perhaps be related to the Greek expeditions to western Sicily of Pentatlo and Dorieo in the 6th century BC

ruins of Mozia
The Ruins of Mozia in front of Castellammare del Golfo

In 400 BC Dionysius of Syracuse took and destroyed the city at the beginning of his campaign to conquer the elite and Punic cities of western Sicily; the following year Mozia was taken over by the Carthaginians, but lost importance due to the foundation of Lilibeo. After the battle of the Egadi Islands in 241 BC all of Sicily passed under Roman rule, with the exception of Syracuse: Mozia had to be almost completely abandoned, since only very few traces of new frequentation were found there, usually single villas from the Hellenistic or Roman period.

Middle Ages and the Modern Age

In the XI century the island was donated by the Normans to the abbey of Santa Maria della Grotta di Marsala and the Basilian monks of Palermo settled there, who then gave themselves the name San Pantaleo to the island, dedicating it to the holy founder of the order. In the second half of the sixteenth century, together with the monasteries of Palermo and Marsala, it passed to the Jesuits. The first identification of the island with the ancient Mozia dates back to the German traveler and scholar Filippo Cluverio in the seventeenth century and news of the archaeological remains on the island are found in the texts of various scholars of the eighteenth century. In 1792 it was given as a fief to the Notary Rosario Alagna of Mozia with the title of Baron of Mothia. Under his patronage the first archaeological excavations began, following the authorization of the Prince of Torremuzza and then of Monsignor Alfonso Airoldi, custodians of the antiquities of western Sicily. The Baron was appointed superintendent of the antiquities of the territory of Trapani and directed some excavations by order of Monsignor Airoldi, finding in 1793 a sculptural group reproducing two lions biting a bull; the archaeological finds are now preserved and exhibited at the island’s Whitaker museum. In 1806 it passed into the hands of small owners who mainly cultivated it as a vineyard, cultivation still active today. Poorly documented archaeological research was conducted in 1865, 1869 and 1872 and he also excavated Heinrich Schliemann in October 1875 without results; in 1883 Innocenzo Coglitore definitively identified the site with the ancient Mozia.

Mozia – today

From 2002 to 2012 the Sapienza excavations completely revolutionized the knowledge of the ancient Motya. The excavations, directed by Lorenzo Nigro were conducted in six different areas of the island: Zone C, corresponding to the so-called “Kothon” which turned out to be the sacred pool of a temple dedicated to the god Baal ‘Addir, where they were reached the first levels of the Phoenician occupation of Mozia dating back to the first half of the 8th century BC and a series of three overlapping temples (Temple C5, C1 and C2), and, within a Temenos Circular other cult installations; the Zone D, on the western slopes of the Acropolis, where two residences have been brought to light, the “Casa del Sacello domestica” and the “Casa del Corno di Tritone”, due to interesting discoveries carried out within them, including a shell horn; Zone B, on the eastern slopes of the Acropolis, where a large building with a series of wells was brought to light, which returned an arula with a winged sphinx; Zone F, where the West Gate and the annexed Western Fortress were dug; a chapel dedicated to the goddess Astarte had been incorporated into the westernmost sector of the Fortress; in it two statues of the goddess and several arule have been found; the Tofet where the investigations, resumed in 2009 thanks to an intervention by the Superintendency of Trapani, of restoration and enhancement of the area, directed by Rossella Giglio, led to the identification of the entrance to the sanctuary where the children were sacrificed and to the discovery of a cultural environment connected to it.

mozia harbor
Mozia harbor, in the salt marshes of marsala, Sicily, Italy

The Sapienza excavations led to the identification of the fresh water springs that fed the “Kothon” basin and the adjacent sacred area of ​​the Temple of Baal. Furthermore, in the 2012 campaign the possible name of the statue known as the Young of Mozia was identified: it would be a Homeric hero, the Myrmidon Alcimedon, the occasional charioteer of Achilles ‘chariot during the battle for the recovery of Patroclus’ body under the walls of Troy (Iliad XVII).

Kothon of Mozia

The Kothon has been identified as a sacred pool connected with the adjacent Temple discovered and excavated by the Mission of Wisdom from 2002 to 2010. The tank, which was fed by a fresh water spring, through a series of seven blocks of calcarenite inserted in the marly layer, but in contact with the water table, was closed towards the Stagnone di Marsala, having been – only later – after the abandonment of Mozia, transformed into a fish basin and then into saline. On the other hand, the ancient interpretation of the swimming pool as a port installation is also disavowed by studies on the ancient water level, which was about 1 m lower than the current one (as the famous submerged road indicates). The pool was connected by a canal built with the sacred well at the center of the Kothon Temple and was compared to that of the sanctuary called “Maabed” of Amrit in Syria, a coeval Phoenician place of worship in the Kothon of Mozia (6th century BC ).

kothon of mozia
Kothon of Mozia

Mozia as UNESCO HERITAGE

Mozia is the candidate with the island of Lilibeo to become part of UNESCO’s protected heritage. As evidence of the Phoenician past and of the civilization that previously inhabited the coasts of Sicily, and as a rare testimony of some buildings of that era.

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