In the saltpans of Marsala, you will find evidence of the oldest Phoenician settlement in the Mediterranean. In front of the saltpans, there is the museum-island of Mozia. It is well worth exploring and will remain among the best memories of your journey in western Sicily.
The protected area includes the four islands of San Pantaleo, Isola Grande, Schola and Santa Maria, and the coastal saltpans of San Teodoro, Genna and Ettore Infersa. To visit the Stagnone Islands, you have to leave from the historic Imbarcadero di Mozia, about 30 km from Trapani.
The ancient town of Mothia is on the island of San Pantaleo. You can arrive by boat, enjoying a short trip around the lagoon. Once there, you can start your visit by following either the left or the right side of the ancient walls.
Since ancient times, this place was a very important commercial centre for trade between East and West.The Phoenicians were aware of its strategic position.
Mozia probably had four gates. At either end of the island are the North and South Gates. At low tide, you can still see the ancient road on the shallow, marshy seabed. This road connected the small island with the cape of Birgi on the mainland.
Entering the town through the north gate, visitors find the remains of the monumental sanctuary called Cappiddazzu. The name perhaps derives from the presence of a scarecrow that identified the site. Not far away from here, near a pottery kiln, was found the statue of the Giovane (Young Man) of Mozia. Nowadays, the sculpture is on display in the local Museum. Proceeding westwards, we come to the Archaic Necropolis with its cinerary tombs. Further on is the Tophet: a huge triangular-shaped sacred enclosure where the Phoenicians prayed to their deities.
Heading west and then east, passing by the walls or crossing the lanes through the fields, one reaches the southern part of the island. Here you will find the South Gate and the Kothon. It is an artificial harbour with a rectangular shape, almost like a dock. The bottom is carved from smooth, natural rock, while flat, square blocks compose the edges. It was built according to the typical techniques of the Phoenician-Punic world, and it dates back to the 6th century. Seawater enters the basin through a narrow longitudinal channel built to pull ships over dry land. The lateral quays were used for mooring the boats and for their upkeep.
From the Kothon, you can continue eastwards to the House of Mosaics. This magnificent place once had a peristyle characterised by Doric columns. Today it shows a fine mosaic made of marine pebbles, with animals and decorative bands depicted.
A few steps away from the House is the Island small Museum, the Whitaker Museum. Here is the famous statue of the Young Man of Mozia (or Auriga di Mozia). It is a marble statue, probably from the middle of the 5th century BC. C. Its origin, artistic style and symbolic representation are unknown. That is why scholars call it the statue of mysteries. It could represent a charioteer ( the one who drove the war chariots), a victorious athlete, a magistrate, or even a God. The Museum exhibits materials found on the island, from the earliest to the most recent excavations. Of particular interest is a sculptural group depicting two lions fighting a bull. There are also numerous examples of stelae from the Tophet, grave goods, ceramics and glass jars for perfumes and ointments. Between the Greek and Punic civilisations, there were deep cultural contacts. The presence of Greek artefacts in a Carthaginian province proves it. The Young Charioteer himself, with his “ very thin pleated tunic that gently veils his body”, has both Punic and Hellenic features.
An amusing fact: you might see beachgoers walking in the middle of the sea, between the Sicilian coast and the island of Mozia. They walk with half their torso out of the water. That is possible thanks to the shoals in the lagoon waters.
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