Segesta was the political center of the Elymians who were indigenous people from the west of Sicily who built the city in an alliance with Ionian Greeks. It flourished for over five hundred years until gradually it was abandoned as the inhabitants moved away from the mountains and down to the coastal areas for trading purposes.
On this site is a fifth century unfinished Doric temple which remains one of the best preserved of its type principally because no one ever found it convenient to dismantle it to provide materials for alternative construction projects. Its thirty six columns soared imperiously into a deep blue sky and we were lucky to find the place tranquil and calming. The reason it was never finished is that the Elymians were continuously distracted by war with the nearby city of Selinus as they squabbled for commercial supremacy of this part of Sicily.
The other main site at Segesta is a Greek theatre about two kilometres away and with two options for getting there, walk or bus, it looked a tough walk and it was very hot so we chose the bus and waited for the departure time in a shady outside terrace.
Here we witnessed an interesting disagreement between an elderly American couple that bickered over the drinks order and how much of their budget they could spare for refreshments. She wanted a beer but that would not have left enough change from a €5 note to allow him to have his choice of a coca-cola. They both accused each other of being selfish and they taunted each other in those raised whispered voices that people use when they would prefer to shout but don’t want to draw attention to themselves.
“Shall we have a drink?” (inviting) “I want a large beer” (demanding) “but if you have a large beer I can’t afford a coca-cola” (spiteful) “you are so damned selfish” (reproachful) “OK you take the money and get yourself a beer” (resigned) “No, you have your coca-cola, I’m not thirsty now’ (martyrdom) “Ok I’ll just go back to the car and get my own money” (concessionary) “You’ll do no such thing, we can’t afford it” (authoritarian)
I had begun to lose track who was being the most difficult or selfish and I think they spotted us sniggering and came to a sensible compromise. She snatched the note from his fingers and went inside and came back with a small beer and a coca-cola. They both drank and avoided eye contact in that sulky silence that follows a minor disagreement between people.
Then the bus arrived and took us the short drive up the winding track to the site of the Greek theatre. And it was well worth the wait and the trip. The theatre is in a beautiful place, at the top of a mountain and from which there is a vast and scenic panorama to the north over the Tyrrhenian Sea. The theatre itself takes in this magnificent view which must have formed a spectacular backdrop to the Greek drama that was performed there. I could have stayed there much longer but the return bus shuttle timetable didn’t allow it and reluctantly we had to return to the visitor centre. This had been a most unexpected find, I had no idea that there were so many ancient places to see in Sicily.
It was very hot now and we returned to the car to drive to the seaside town of Castellammare del Golfo. This was a long and confusing drive not helped at all by the Sicilian joke of first under estimating distances between towns and then over compensating later to make the correction. First it was five kilometres, and then twelve, then seven, somebody with a sense of humour erected these sign and distance posts.
Once we arrived there we wished immediately that we hadn’t. It was packed and the beachfront resembled Blackpool or Skegness on one of its less cultured days. It was cheap and tacky with a long sea front full of beach shops and scruffy bars with loud music and hardly any available space on the congested sand. And there was a terrifying traffic queue that went on for ages with cars emerging from all directions and not one of the drivers having any regard to the fact that I was driving a brand new car only recently out of the factory and as yet with none of the dents and scratches that are a feature of Italian and Sicilian motor cars.
I was seriously concerned about the car (lucky I had fully comprehensive insurance). So far this had been a comfortable little drive but now I had my first encounter with the testosterone fuelled Italian drivers with absolutely zero patience or regard of the basic rules of road courtesy. They drove towards us in the middle of the road which inevitably forced me slow down which only further infuriated the homicidal maniac behind who was trying to join us in the back seat of our pristine new car by attempting vehicle copulation by driving his twenty year old Fiat (full of dents and scratches) a metre or so from our rear bumper.
It was a mistake to come here, we didn’t like it at all, I had had it in mind to discover a nice beach side restaurant for a final Sicilian meal but when we finally found somewhere to park we had to make do with an inadequate pizza in an Italian Rah kiddies bar. We moved on quickly, complete with pizza indigestion and drove back along the attractive coast road and back to the airport where we returned the car a little early but gratefully fully intact. A company man greeted us and inspected it for damage and being genuinely surprised to find that it was in the same perfect condition as when we drove it away, signed the paperwork to confirm it and released us from our contract.