The island of Mozia is an ancient Phoenician colony on the island of San Pantaleo , located a few steps from the coast of Sicily, in the heart of the splendid lagoon of the salt pans of Marsala . This archaeological site , of world significance , is part of the Oriented Natural Reserve of the Stagnone , and is one of the most evocative attractions in Sicily.
Thanks to its strategic position, the island has always been a logistic center for the exchange of goods. The first to land on the island were the Phoenicians, in the eighth century BC, who transformed it into a thriving town. To defend itself from enemy attacks, high walls were built that made the island impregnable for a long time, resisting the attacks of the Greeks first and the Carthaginians later. In 397 BC the city of Mozia, however, was invaded and destroyed by the Syracusan troops led by the tyrant Dionysius the Elder. The inhabitants fled and took refuge on dry land and the island was abandoned for several centuries. In the 11th century AD, during the Norman domination, Mozia was donated to the Abbey of Santa Maria della Grotta in Marsala and became the seat of the Basilian monks of Palermo. It was the monks who gave the island the name of San Pantaleo, dedicating it to their own saint founder of the order. Mozia experienced a period of splendor when, in 1902, the English nobleman Joseph Whitaker, who had started a thriving export of Marsala wine in Sicily, decided to build his home here and brought to light the remains of the ancient Phoenician city, together to a vast series of finds now exhibited in the Withaker museum.
The city wall , about 2.5 km long, enclosed the whole island. It was founded on the soft limestone reef that just rose on the very short beach. The remains visible today, in the parts of south-east, east and north, are the result of different phases of construction and restoration, always on the same path, and are presented with masonry in splinters of rock or in squared blocks of various sizes or with other simpler techniques.
The entrance to the city consisted of the North Gate and was articulated through three successive gates, about 22 m from each other, each of which consisted of two side-by-side openings separated by a central wall. The best preserved structures are related to the outermost door, to which the sculptural group of two felines biting a bull, preserved in the Withaker museum, perhaps belonged as a crowning frieze.
An artificial road started from the North Gate which connected the island with the Birgi promontory on the mainland. The road, about 1.7 km long and about 7 m wide and flanked by low walls 45 cm high, is preserved only in parts and is currently completely submerged due to the rising sea level. The road was built around the middle of the sixth century BC. to connect the city with the new necropolis built in those same years on the promontory of Birgi.
Inside the walls, a short distance from the North Gate stands the sacred area of the Sanctuary of Cappiddazzu, a term that in Sicilian dialect indicates a wide-brimmed hair. The remains found in this site date back to four distinct phases: to the first phase, which dates back to the early 7th century BC, a series of pits dug into the rock and about 30 cm deep, arranged inside a larger pit, are dated; the second phase, attributed to the second half of the 7th century BC, dates back to a first building with stone walls and a well built in the same technique; to the third phase, dating back to the fifth century BC, belong the architectural fragments of Egyptian groove door capitals pertaining to a stone building that must have been destroyed in the siege of 397 BC. and whose materials were then reused in the foundations of the reconstructed building; to the fourth phase, which corresponds to the reconstruction of the fourth century BC, belongs a large building with a tripartite plan to the north, inserted in a large enclosure. The remains of a large oval cistern and traces of plasters and floors from different eras are also preserved.
The remains of some plants destined for production and processing .
North of the "sanctuary of Cappidazzu" develops a complex for the production of ceramics , partially excavated. The complex seems to have been established in the 6th century BC. and having undergone a restructuring in the 5th century BC, only to be destroyed during the Syracusan siege of 397 BC. It consisted of an open space with a small oven in the south-west corner, abandoned in a second phase and covered by a cobbled paving. A large container was inserted into the floor and there was also a quadrangular well dug into the rock, with notches in the walls for the descent, to which clay pipes are connected. To the south-east was a larger oven, with a poly-lobed plant, where a large stone basin with a drain spout was found upside down, probably used for clay processing. In the neighboring area, a circular well was found dug into the rock, subsequently abandoned and covered with a clay floor, which had to collect rainwater from the city walls by means of clay pipes and had to have been used in the first phase of the complex productive.
After the subsequent destruction of the city this area was covered with piles of debris, which included architectural elements and stones piled with various types of waste. The marble statue known as the Young of Motya was found here in 1979 and is currently kept in the museum.
A second production area , for the dyeing and perhaps for the tanning of the skins , was identified near the "archaic necropolis". This area remained in operation from the beginning of the 7th century BC. until the destruction of Motya at the beginning of the 4th century BC. It is an almost square surface (23.5 x 21.5 m), bordered by walls made up of small stones, and on the east side partly by unfired bricks. Within this space, about twenty pits, mostly elliptical and around 2 m deep, were dug out of the rather soft rock. Two water wells completed the ensemble. Piled in considerable quantities in various points of the area, remains of marine molluscs were found, especially murices, which provided the raw material for the dyeing of purple color, a Phoenician specialty: it was therefore assumed that the plant was intended for tanning and to the coloring of leathers and fabrics.
The Necropolis of the Archaic phase is located on the northern coast of the island. It is a large flattened rocky area, crossed by the walls, which leaves some tombs inside the city. The tombs are mainly for cremation and consist of small pits dug into the rock or earth that contain the cinerary and at the sides the objects of the funerary equipment.
The Tofet di Motya , that is the sanctuary is located on the northern coast, in the space between the sea and the walls. It probably remained in operation from the origins of the settlement, around the 7th century BC, until after the Syracusan siege, in the 3rd century BC. In these centuries three main phases followed one another. In the earliest phase, the sanctuary occupied a small area in the center. In a second phase, mid-sixth century BC, the sanctuary was renovated, and the sacred area was extended to the east, for the depositions, with terracing works, and to the west with the construction of a small rectangular temple. After the destruction due to the events of the short Syracusan conquest, the sanctuary was rearranged: the raising of the terracing walls incorporated the steles of the previous phases and architectural fragments. To the east and west of the sacred area, cobbled walkways were also built. On the natural rock bank there are seven superimposed layers of urns: in the seventh layer, the deepest, the urns were placed on the rock, in the next two layers the depositions thickened and began to be often enclosed by plates driven into the ground. The depositions of layers IV and III are numerous, with large stelae and cippi, with inscriptions and symbolic or anthropomorphic representations, which were reused in subsequent terracing works. In layers I and II, only the urns are present.
The central part of the island was occupied by the built-up area , with an orthogonal road network, of which only some sections have been brought to light. In the center you can see a stretch of a road oriented in the north-west / south-east direction, bounded by the front of several buildings. A stone placed vertically at an edge, which was to act as a curbstone, reveals the presence of an intersection with an orthogonal street, only partially visible. In the paving of the road there are four circular wells, dug into the rock and covered with dry stone, three of which are aligned which had the function of draining the water.
Along the south-eastern coast of the island there is a partially excavated building complex, called House of mosaics , built on two levels on the slope that slopes down to the sea. The floor of the peristyle was decorated with a mosaic of black, white and gray pebbles of which a short section is preserved in the north-east corner, with panels depicting animals, a lion attacking a bull, a griffin attacking a deer, and a lion and a deer on two panels, separated by a diamond pattern and delimited by a tripartite border.
Casermetta owes its name to a building leaning against the outside of a large tower of the walls, on the southern coast, between the House of mosaics and the South Gate. The building is divided into two parts placed on either side of an uncovered corridor, at the end of which a staircase leads to the upper floor above the defensive walls, where the remains of the floor of an uncovered environment are found. The walls are built with a frame technique: large blocks of sandstone of uniform sizes and placed at regular intervals form the backbone of the wall, while other similar blocks are used for the door jambs, which retain traces of the recesses for the wooden frames. The sections of masonry between the blocks consist of small stones with binder. The intended use of this building is unknown and the absence of stratigraphic data makes its dating problematic: the construction is in any case later than that of the great tower of the walls, while its destruction was due to a fire, perhaps in connection with the siege of 397 BC.
The kothon has been identified as a sacred pool connected with the adjacent temple. The tank, which was fed by a source of fresh water, through a series of seven limestone blocks inserted into the marly layer. The pool was connected by a canal built with the sacred well placed in the center of the Temple of the kothon. In correspondence with the kothon, a dry dock was built in the body of the city walls. The bottom of this installation was paved with limestone blocks and in the center there was a longitudinal groove, with a semicircular section. In this part of the canal it was to function as a shipyard for the repair of ships, whose keel slid on the groove obtained on the bottom leaning on the triangular structures and wooden elements inserted in the grooves of the quays. The entrance to the canal was subsequently closed at both ends by walls built over the layer of mud deposited on the bottom.
The island of Mozia can be toured on foot in about two hours through guided trails that indicate points of interest.