Gela, the most influential city in the Greek world

June 16, 2021 By Bellarome Travel

Gela is an Italian town of 73.348 inhabitants of the free municipal consortium of Caltanissetta in Sicily.

Gela is one of the oldest Sicilian cities and the first settlements in the area date back to the 5th millennium BC. The name of the city is historically linked to that of the Doric colony founded in the seventh century BC. which came to extend its dominion over the whole of Greek Sicily. Of no less importance is the Federician period which saw the foundation of a new city on the ruins of the Hellenic metropolis: Terranova.


Between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries the city went through alternating events far from the glories of the past. With the first allied landing in 1943, the memorable archaeological discovery of the Greek fortifications of Capo Soprano in 1948 and with the discovery of the oil fields in 1956, it seems that the spotlights rekindled on the city restoring its fame and notoriety at the national level. The most recent events, those of the last decades, have contributed in a strongly negative way to mark the image of Gela.

The city, from which the vast surrounding plain takes its name and the wide gulf it overlooks, is an important agricultural, industrial and seaside resort. Rich in evidence of what was one of the most influential póleis in the Greek world.

Of Greek origin, Gela was founded in 689-687 BC. 45 years after the foundation of Syracuse and 108 years before the foundation of Agrigento. The toponym Gela derives from the river at whose mouth the colonists had settled.

Let’s start our visit in this amazing city, one of the very first colonies founded by the Greeks!


Church of Santa Maria Assunta

The mother church of Gela or church of Santa Maria Assunta, derived from the primitive church of Santa Maria de ‘Platea, is an example of neoclassical style which stands out in the historic center of the gulf town. The external façade is interesting, as is the interior rich in works of art.

The Cathedral of Maria SS. Assunta in Cielo turns out to be one of the most beautiful and interesting historical churches in Sicily.

It was founded, according to tradition, in 1233 with the name of Santa Maria della Platea, a name probably linked to its position along the main street of the city. Recent excavations have revealed the presence of numerous stone blocks that are probably part of an ancient Greek building, a sign that the builders used a pre-existing base belonging to an ancient public building, if not a temple.

Over the centuries, the Church has undergone numerous transformations that characterize its current appearance. The Latin cross layout consists of three naves, with numerous side altars decorated with magnificent altarpieces from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, some of which are from Tresca and Paladino.

The neo-classical facade was built in 1844 by Di Bartolo-Morselli in two orders, Doric and Ionic. Metopes, Triglyphs and acrotera in the top part recall the ancient splendour of the Greek city of Gela. The imposing bell tower was built in the second half of the 18th century on the north side.

Among the most known and remembered historical events there is that concerning the kidnapping of the Bishop of Syracuse Tommaso de Hermes. In 1393 the Barbary pirates, attracted by the possibility of loot, attacked the city and kidnapped the bishop who was at the time at the cathedral. He was redeemed a few years later under payment of a large ransom.

Its exterior features statues and columns, two religious’ inscriptions, a main entrance and two other secondary ones on the sides while inside there are large naves, a large organ, various works of art and golden ornaments on the ceiling.

Inside the Cathedral, there is also an icon of medieval origin depicting a Madonna and Child. According to tradition, the icon would come from the Holy Land, brought to Sicily by the Teutonic Knights and therefore called S. Maria d’Alemanna or Santa Maria degli Alemanni.

According to another version, it would be dedicated to the Madonna della Manna and she was responsible for the salvation of the city on the occasion of the great earthquake that shocked eastern Sicily at the end of the 1600s.


The Timoleontee Walls

The Greek fortifications of Caposoprano, discovered between 1948 and 1954, can be considered one of the most extraordinary and best preserved examples of ancient military architecture. The boundary wall extends for about 300 meters, marginalizing the western end of the hill of Gela and enclosing the Greek city in the period between the fourth and third centuries. B.C. , perhaps starting from the moment of its recolonization by Timoleonte until the moment of its destruction by the Agrigento tyrant Phintias.

Some scholars believed that they could date the construction of the wall as early as the end of the 5th century. B.C. shortly before the capture of Gela by the Carthaginians; in Timoleontea, however, only the raw brick superelevation should be attributed. The wall construction technique is particular: the lower part, with a thickness of m. 2.80, is made of sandstone blocks and consists of a double curtain of chained square blocks and filled with raw bricks, stones and earth; the upper part is made of clay bricks baked in the sun. The original phase consists of the base in sandstone ashlars, on which a layer of raw bricks is superimposed which at the time of the discovery appeared greenish in color. The surviving height of the wall of this phase is 2 meters on the southern side and 3 meters on the northern side. In the Agatochlea age, following a rapid cover-up, a raw brick superstructure was built with battlements on the outside and walkway inside: the bricks of this second phase are lighter in color.

A period of the spur wall, which extends to the south and which originally had to reach the overhang of the hill, towards the sea, to prevent access to the city from this side is also to be referred to this period. A further cover-up, which occurred shortly before the destruction of the city by Phintias, caused a concealment of the structure and the consequent addition of other rows of raw bricks, smaller in size and darker in color; a stretch supported by modern concrete pillars is visible from this last phase.

Along the boundary walls, at the foundation level, the channels for the drainage of the water are obtained while in the southern tract, behind a corner of the curtain, a false acute-arch postern opens, which was occluded with raw bricks in the Agatochlea age ; when a quadrangular turret was built near the aforementioned postern, also in raw bricks, the base of which remains against the curtain. The extreme western part of the wall, which develops in a NE-SW direction and in which a door obstructed with stone material originally opened between 311 and 310 BC, was defended by two square towers in raw brick, which they replaced identical structures of an older age, built in limestone blocks, but destroyed.


Church of San Giacomo Maggiore

The new Church of San Giacomo Maggiore stands in the garden space of the old medieval church. It was a country church, when Gela, Terranova di Sicilia, did not extend beyond the walls of the Porta Licata.

Its architecture is very simple, both inside and outside, but immediately gives visitors a positive, pleasant and artistic impact. Inside it dominates modern art in a bright environment, while its exterior is defined as almost bare as the structure has been raised for several meters but poorly decorated and the few decorations present have been implemented in a very fine and delicate way to seem non-existent.

By Episcopal decree of 28 March 1912, it was erected as an autonomous parish. In 1940-42 it extended from via Bastione, to the entire territory of Gela towards the west, that is, even beyond the railway station of Butera. But the Church was too small and run down.

A new, larger Church was needed; and it was built, hopes the Hon. Salvatore Aldisio. His Excellency Monsignor Antonio Catarella blessed its foundation stone and on May 27, 1951 it was opened for worship. On October 30, 1954 the same Mons. Catarella consecrated it.

The inauguration of the Centenary Plaque was held on 28/03/2012.


Pignatelli Palace

The history of a city is often described in that of its buildings. This is also the case for Palazzo Pignatelli in Gela, which has always been a place intended for public use, with great historical value.

In 1842, precisely on September 24, Mrs. Anna Maria Pignatelli, princess of Roviano, nominated Cardinal Sisto Riario Sforza, Archbishop of Naples, as her universal heir. This event gives a substantial income to the Sicilian Jesuit fathers, who by the will of the princess build this “boarding school for the religious and civil education of young boys”. In this testament, drawn up by the notary Vincenzo d’Ambrosio di Caivano, Mrs. Pignatelli also specifies the conditions of the bequest. In fact, land assets are included whose annual income has the value of 3600 Neapolitan ducats, and a sum of 5400 ducats for the expenses relating to the first building site.

The construction, however, was not so easy. For various events, construction was started in 1877 on a project by the engineer Giuseppe Mazzarella. His appointment was made official on October 28, 1876. But the difficulties did not end there. In fact, the entrepreneurs deserted the first tender, that of December 3, 1876, because they considered the figure of 32,438.87 lire set by the Commission too low. Because of this, it was decided to improve the amount of the auction by 10%, which was awarded by Mr. Angelo di Bartolo. On February 28, 1877, the contract was officially awarded.

The building shows a severe neoclassical layout and has a square plan with an internal courtyard. The main facade, which overlooks Corso Salvatore Aldisio, is very simple, characterized by the use of pilasters and pilasters to embellish the facade. The other three elevations, on the other hand, have rigorous majesty and no decorative elements.

In addition to its original use, the building has always had a public use. After use as a boarding school, in fact, he was a royal high school gymnasium. Not only. Always linked to education, it also hosted other schools of all levels, public and private, including the Salesians in 1905. In the 1950s the Municipality of Gela temporarily moved its headquarters to this building during the construction of the current town hall.

But what is there in Palazzo Pignatelli Roviano today? In the area of ​​the former boarding school, various voluntary associations operated, which has now been fractured for the transfer of the school in via Feace and the operators of the Employment Center, still present. Furthermore, from time to time various cultural events take place such as exhibitions and concerts inside the complex. What is related to this building is a hot topic for the city of Gela. The rental of the complex, in fact, consisting of over two hundred thousand euros per year, has become too expensive for the coffers of the Municipality, which seemed determined to move its offices.


Acropolis of Gela

The Acropolis of Gela is located on the hill of Molino a Vento, east of the city, in a predominant position. Until 405 BC it housed the most important sacred buildings in Gela, many of whose ornaments are now preserved in the city museum. Following the rise to power of Timoleonte, who rebuilt the city walls in 338 BC The Acropolis was filled with houses arranged on the sides of the hill. There were houses and even shops, as evidenced by archaeological finds. The excavations also discovered protohistoric findings dating back to the Bronze and Copper Age under the Greek archaic plane.

Gela was founded between 689 and 688 BC. by Greek colonists from the cities of Crete and Rhodes. For their settlement they chose the northern slope of the Molino a Vento extending for over 400 meters towards the west up to the Castelluccio.

Over time this area, the Acropolis of Gela, underwent several transformations: according to archaeological finds it would have been occupied both during the Copper Age, in the fourth millennium BC, and during the Bronze Age, in the second millennium BC.

Later, in the seventh century BC, the Temple of Athena Lindia, protector of the city, was built over the protohistoric remains. This was then incorporated into a second temple dating back to the 6th century, always dedicated to Athena.

Until 405 BC, when the city was destroyed by the Carthaginians, the Acropolis housed the sacred buildings of the city from which the architectural decorations and stone ornaments preserved in the Gela Museum originate.

Inside the Acropolis, in the so-called Park of Remembrances, the remains of a Doric-style temple have been found, the simplest Greek architectural order, characterized by six columns on the short sides and eleven on the long ones.

Further west, in a place already inhabited and a place of worship in the pre-Greek era, a beautiful Doric temple dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess of science, was discovered.


The Regional Archaeological Museum

The Regional Archaeological Museum of Gela is an archaeological museum located in Gela.

The museum tells all the history of the very powerful Gela.

At the entrance of the museum, the statue of one of the most illustrious citizens of ancient Gela is on display: Aeschylus, born in Eleusis but lived for a long time and died in Gela.

Prehistory participates in the event, among others, with: decoration pottery engraved in the style of S. Cono, Piano Notaro and decoration pottery painted in the style of S. Ippolito (both of the III millennium BC); a very particular cult vase containing seven clay horns (2500 BC); pottery and protohistoric bronzes (1200-700 BC).

The Greek age clearly presents a very rich and varied collection documented by the extraordinary importance of Gela in those days.

The museum stands next to the acropolis and was built in 1955 by the Ministry of Public Works on a project by the architect Luigi Pasquarelli, with funds from the Cassa del Mezzogiorno. The inauguration was on September 21, 1958.

In 1984, the Museum was the subject of expansion works which became necessary following the new finds to be exhibited by the architect Franco Minissi. The exhibition and didactic paths were entirely renewed in 1995. The last interventions carried out starting from 1995 have entirely renewed it in the exhibition paths and in the didactic and didactic apparatuses.

The museum is divided into two floors, in which, through ceramic, bronze and numismatic finds, it traces the history of ancient Gela and the surrounding area from prehistoric to medieval times. It contains about 4200 chronologically distributed finds from prehistory to the medieval age.

The collections relating to Greek Gela with materials from the acropolis, the area of ​​Capo Soprano, the emporium of Bosco Littorio and the necropolis are very extensive.


Oriented Natural Reserve Biviere di Gela

Between the city of Gela and the mouth of the Dirillo river, immersed in the last dunes overlooking the Sicilian Channel, lies Lake Biviere, the largest coastal lake in Sicily. The body of water is located within an Oriented Natural Reserve, established in 1997 and entrusted to LIPU for management, with the aim of protecting one of the most important wetlands of Sicily, where migratory birdlife stops during movements from Africa to Northern Europe and vice versa.

The area on which the reserve stands was, until the sixteenth century, a marshy brackish environment. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, Duke Giovanni di Aragona transformed it into a freshwater lake by connecting it with an underground channel to the Dirillo river. Until the mid-twentieth century the lake was a hunting and fishing reserve. In 1991 it was declared a wetland of international importance recognized by the Ramsar Convention.

The reserve includes the area strictly surrounding Lake Biviere, a wreck lake nestled in the dunes of the Gulf of Gela, just one and a half kilometers from the sea, from which, in the past, it was largely fed. It is located entirely in the territory of the municipality of Gela.

The vegetation surrounding the lake is characterized by several hydrophilic species such as Potamogeton pectinatus, Ceratophyllum demersum, Scirpus maritimus, Scirpus lacustris and Phragmites australis.

The surrounding meadows host species such as thyme and rosemary as well as, in spring, several wild orchids including the Ophrys oxyrrhynchos, a rare Sicilian endemism.

In the dune belt that separates the lake from the sea, white broom (Retama raetam), the cornflower of the beaches (Centaurea sphaerocephala) and the rare Leopoldia gussonei flourish, a point endemism of the coast of the Gulf of Gela.

Here, many migratory bird species stop and overwinter before returning to northern Europe. In fact, the body of water houses over 200 species of birds which constitute the most naturalistic element of the Reserve.

Among the ducks we find the wigeon, the pintail, the shoveler, the marzaiola and the pochard. There are also numerous species of waders present including the knight of Italy, the godwit, the curlew and the small courier. It is not uncommon to encounter numerous species of herons including the gray heron, the great white heron and, more sporadically, the rare red heron

The Reserve is also the ideal place to do some trekking in the open air and relax away from the chaos of the city. Visitors can request information about the routes to follow at the gazebo created by LIPU inside the protected area, or stop in one of the three observation huts for birdlife. Those who wish can also organize a picnic in the specially equipped area. The reserve is accessible to all, even for the disabled.


Leave a Reply

Note: Comments on the web site reflect the views of their authors, and not necessarily the views of the bookyourtravel internet portal. Requested to refrain from insults, swearing and vulgar expression. We reserve the right to delete any comment without notice explanations.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are signed with *