2,500 years ago the tiny island of Motya (or Mozia), just off the south-west coast of Sicily, was an important Phoenician city. All that can now be seen are the excavated foundations of a few buildings, traces of the old stone harbour and an ancient now-submerged causeway. The site is best known today for the Motya Charioteer, a marble statue which was discovered here in 1979.
The island, which is also known as San Pantaleo, is only 850 m long and 750 m wide and lies about 1 km from the mainland of Sicily. In ancient times it was joined to the mainland by a causeway, over which chariots with large wheels could drive to reach the town. The city is thought to have been founded as a colony by the Phoenicians and probably dates from the 8th century BC. The site was naturally defended by a lagoon as well as high defensive walls, and became one of the most affluent cities of its time. Ancient windmills and salt pans were used for evaporating, grinding and refining the salt, as well as for maintaining the condition of the lagoon and island itself. The mills and salt pans (called the Ettore Infersa) have been restored and are now open to the public.
The beautiful marble statue of the Motya Charioteer was found in 1979 and is now on display at the local Giuseppe Whitaker museum. The statue, measuring 180 x 40 cm, was found built into Phoenician fortifications which were quickly erected in 397 BC before Dionysios I of Syracuse invaded and sacked Motya. The sculpture is a rare example of a victor of a chariot race. Its superb quality suggests that it was made by a leading Greek artist, but its style is unlike any other of the period. It was probably looted and brought here from a Greek city conquered by Carthage in 409-405 BC.
In March 2006, archaeologists uncovered the remains of a house near one of the town walls and discovered cooking pans, Phoenician-style vases, altars and looms. These objects show that the town had a thriving population long after it was commonly believed to have been destroyed by the Ancient Greeks.
Text Alun Harvey