One of the things we’ve bemoaned in Sicily is that, outside Palermo, they don’t make it easy for tourists to see their treasures. The major ones are well advertised in guide books but, unless you are with a guided tour or you have a car, it can be extremely difficult to visit them. The public transit systems are efficient but difficult to figure out, many websites are either outdated, nonexistent or in Italian only, and even the provincial or city websites are incomplete or inscrutable. If you are long-stay travellers like us (one month or more), which means that the cost of renting a car becomes prohibitive, then there are gorgeous places that are extremely difficult to get to.
Unless you’re very motivated, which was the case for us and Solunto.
We had tried to get there last year, but had learned that the train didn’t stop at the closest station anymore, couldn’t figure out the bus system, and that there were no taxis in the closest town, Bagheria. This year, we wanted to really try to get there.
What is Solunto? It is the oldest archeological site in Sicily, a Greek settlement that was built upon Punic ruins, then taken over by the Romans. Not interesting for everyone, granted, but we are both fascinated by the way constructions from Antiquity have endured for millennia, and by the genius, the ability, the ingeniousness and the sheer mental capacity of these people to create something we can still see or guess at some 2,000 years later. Temples, houses, baths, theatres, latrines, etc, all were built from stone and local materials without even a calculator or an abacus; they were adorned with sculptures, mosaics, and paint that have withstood time, weather, pillagers, thieves… and tourists.
Solunto, or Soluntum as it was called, was first built by the Phoenicians (along with Panormus, today’s Palermo). Set 373-meter high on top of Monte Catalfano and looking down over Cape Zafferano, the city was founded by the Carthaginians in 4th century BC and was abandoned at the end of the 2nd century AD. It passed from the Greek to the Romans – as with many towns in Sicily- and was sacked by the Saracens after that.
It is set in the traditional style, with an immense street leading to the theatre and the Agora (public square) with side stairs at a ninety degree angles going up the mountain with blocks of buildings (houses, baths, gymnasium, temples, etc.). Everywhere the insulae were dotted with cisterns that gathered rain water. The builders used the steep grade of the hill to erect their structures, which resulted in a staggered set of buildings.
Most of the city is gone except for one of the temples, with its six Doric columns, which is still partly standing. In some cases, you can still see the painted plaster they used to cover the rocky walls. The roads were incredibly steep (I can imagine they all had calves of iron) but the view in absolutely amazing.
It is very hot up there, especially when there is no wind, and one can imagine the hardships in summer when the sun came down on their heads. Despite the strong winds, it must have been incredibly hot. Then in winter, with that incessant wind running up the mountain from the ocean, the cold must have been brutal. (Would they have worn socks with their sandals? They would have to, wouldn’t they?)
As for our trip there and back, I can’t say anything good about it. Naively, I believed a Trip Advisor review that said it was only a 20-minute walk to the site. I don’t know how they could’ve managed 4.2km that fast (I looked up the distance //after// we went there). The station at Bagheria is nothing but a structure with a ticket booth in it — there’s not even a vending machine for water. The trip to Bagheria, though is a ten-minute ride by train.
Nevertheless, it was worth the hike (a lot of it uphill) to find yourself at the top of the world, alone, with the weight of time and the wind whistling in the pines.