Friday, October 28, 2011

Entrepreneurs of the 8th Century BC: The Phoenicians of Motya

Amphoras from the Museo della Nave Punica.
These amphoras are representative
of those used by Phoenicians for the transportation of goods.

 The Phoenicians, who made their appearance in the Mediterranean around 1500 BCE, were one of the most influential and intelligent civilizations of the ancient world. They were, in my opinion, a modern people, recognizable to us today, assigned by fate to live and flourish in in a far off time. They were explorers and maritime traders--early entrepreneurs of sorts which surely must explain, at least in part, my fascination with them. It is known that Phoenicians, who originated in the area of modern day Lebanon, reached as far and Spain and England in search of silver, tin and other commodities. Some scholars believe they succeeded in circumnavigating Africa and possibly even reached America. 

They distinguished themselves not only as merchants and explorers, but through the spread of their written alphabet  which is believed to be a precursor of  the Greek, Roman, Aramaic and Hebrew alphabet.

Phoenician appeared on the western coast of Sicily sometime around 800 BCE  because of Sicily's strategic position. The Mediterranean in antiquity was at the very heart of known civilization and Sicily was located in the heart of the Mediterranean.

The island of Motya was an ideal Phoenician outpost because the surrounding lagoon of Lo Stagnone offered a protected area that could be easily defended

Today Motya is an important archeological site.  To visit Motya you can board a ferry for a short but very scenic 15 minute ride from  the Salt Museum of Ettore Infersa at Lo Stagnone.  Tickets are purchased at a stand adjacent to  Mama Caura, a charming espresso bar /restaurant where you can sit and savor a  gelato or granita  or a glass of local wine.  Above Mamma Caura, are apartments--bed and breakfast accommodations which can be booked on a weekly or daily basis.  I am told by reliable sources that they are pricey but the views are priceless. If you happen to be there on August 15, the feast of Ferragosto, you can dance and eat and watch fireworks from Mamma Caura.

Among the Phoenicians'  many legacies to the modern world, was their knowledge of viticulture or wine making which have survived to the present day. Several ancestral varieties of modern wine grapes in the Mediterranean are attributed to them. As you take your perch on the patio of Mamma Caura, to take in the natural beauty of the salt ponds and the lagoon,  you can lift your glass the the impresarios of centuries past.

Mamma Caura 
 where the "traghetto" or ferry to Motya departs.
In the background is the salt museum and Lo Stagnone lagoon.


Ciao a presto!

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