A region steeped in history, today there’s a host of incredible Greek ruins to visit in Sicily – the Mediterranean’s largest island. Sicily has been inhabited since 12,000 BC and around 750 BC was host to Phoenician and Greek colonies who left behind a wealth of archaeological treasures to explore. Among these notable remains are the awe-inspiring Valley of the Temples, fantastically well-preserved Segesta and the shadow of the formerly grand city, Selinunte.
Dotted around the island, we’ve handpicked the most incredible Ancient Greek sites to explore with our top five ancient places to check out in Sicily.
What are the best Ancient Greek ruins in Sicily?
1. Valley of the Temples
The Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) is a famous archaeological site in Agrigento, Sicily, housing some of the best-preserved Ancient Greek ruins in the world outside of Greece.
More a ridge than a valley, the Valley of the Temples mainly comprises the beautiful ruins of 9 ancient sacred temples. Beyond the temples, the Valley of the Temples boasts numerous other archaeological sites, including the 1st century AD Tomb of Theron and several sanctuaries, the oldest of which was built around the 6th century BC.
Most famous for the incredible Temple of Segesta, Segesta is an archaeological site in north-western Sicily. This 5th century BC temple was started by the Elymian people between 426 BC and 416 BC but was never completed.
Nevertheless, with over 30 intact Doric columns and a clear structure, the unfinished Temple of Segesta is so well-preserved that it is considered to be one of Sicily’s most important historic sites: only the roof and interior are missing.
The origins of Segesta are tied up with those of Troy, and the city is believed to have been founded by Aeneas. The site was important for the Elimi people, later strongly influenced by Greek culture who came into conflict with Selinus (another Greek city in Sicily) in the 6th century BC.
Selinunte is an Ancient Greek archaeological site in southern Sicily containing the ruins of an acropolis surrounded by 5 historic temples, mostly dating to the 6th to 5th centuries BC. The sites at Selinunte are relatively meagre when considering that this would once have been a great city of Magna Graecia; founded in the mid-7th century BC yet largely destroyed by the Carthaginians in the 5th century BC.
Upon entering the site, the first building – known simply as Temple E – is the grandest. The large Doric temple was restored in the 1950s and stands grandly on a rise. Unusually, visitors are allowed to climb inside the temple.
4. Syracuse Archaeological Site
Syracuse Archaeological Site contains the impressive remains of the ancient city of Syracuse dating as far back as the 8th century BC.
The city of Syracuse was founded by Greek colonists – heralding from Corinth – in 734 BC. At its height, Syracuse was the most powerful city in Sicily and according to Cicero, was the ‘most beautiful’ of all Greek cities. By the 5th to 4th century BC, Syracuse controlled Sicily, especially during the reign of Dionysus the Elder (405BC-367BC).
In the 3rd century BC, the Romans laid siege to Syracuse and after 3 bitter years, it came under Roman rule in 212 BC as a province. One of the most famous residents of Syracuse, the mathematician Archimedes, died during this attack.
5. Taormina Amphitheatre
Taormina Amphitheatre in Sicily was initially built by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC before being rebuilt and enlarged by the Romans. While known as an amphitheatre, the site is actually an ancient theatre – not the gladiatorial arena normally meant by the term.
Today, over 2 millennia later, the Taormina Amphitheatre remains a social space for watching performances. The entertainment offered includes theatre, concerts, symphonies, operas, ballets and the David di Donatell awards have all been held within the ancient auditorium.
The modern seating has had a mixed response, but allows this fantastic site that has weathered the ravages of time to continue functioning as was originally intended.