In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Architecture of Sicily and Magna Graecia

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Urbanism
  • Modern Reception
  • Historic Preservation and Site Management

Architecture Planning and Preservation Architecture of Sicily and Magna Graecia
Celemente Marconi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 November 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922467-0050


Between the second half of the 8th and the beginning of the 6th century BCE, the Greeks expanded toward the West by settling at numerous sites in Sicily, southern Italy (the area of Greek colonization in this region being defined as Magna Graecia), and the south of France and Spain. The terms traditionally used to describe this process and its results, “colony” and “colonization,” are still convenient labels. However, both definitions are misleading given their strong “statist” associations, which are not appropriate for the settlement processes of the Archaic period, processes that were due more to the initiative of single individuals or groups than to city-states, and ultimately led to the foundation of new city-states independent from their mother cities. This expansion toward the West marks an important moment in the history of Greek architecture. New territories and foundations became available for the development of land division, urbanism, and construction. Moreover, within a few generations after their foundation, the successful settlements developed a particular interest in monumental building, which was critical, from the Archaic all the way down to the Hellenistic period, in asserting not only the wealth and power of these communities living away from home, but also in constructing and reinforcing their cultural identity. This process led to major construction and significant experimentation and innovation, first, in association with sacred architecture, in the 6th and 5th centuries BCE and later in the field of military architecture, when in the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE and before the advent of Rome in the latter century, the Greeks came under particular pressure from Carthage in Sicily and indigenous populations in southern Italy. Finally, not only did the Western Greeks play a critical role in the transmission of Greek architecture to the other populations of pre-Roman Italy, but also they had a significant effect on the development of Roman, particularly Republican, architecture. During the 18th and early 19th centuries, monumental architecture at critical sites, such as Poseidonia/Paestum and Acragas, played a major role in the rediscovery of ancient Greek architecture in Europe, particularly before the systematic development of archaeological research in Greece and Asia Minor. This renewed interest in monumental, particularly Doric temple architecture led to the first systematic excavations at ancient sites in both southern Italy and Sicily, starting in the early 19th century. These excavations were mainly focused on sacred architecture and its design, and only in the second half of the 20th century did the interest of scholars start to shift toward political, domestic, and military architecture. As well, only in recent years has interest in sacred architecture moved from a focus on design to a larger archaeological and anthropological approach. Site conservation has played a major role since the rediscovery of monumental architecture, including in the anastylosis or partial reconstruction of buildings, especially temples, at critical sites like Acragas and Selinus between the late 18th century and the mid-20th century. Today, in the age of mass tourism, site conservation and site management have become particularly critical issues, especially with respect to the presentation and preservation of architecture.

General Overviews

General overviews of Greek architecture in Sicily and Magna Graecia include handbooks of Greek architecture and more or less detailed general treatments focused on one or both regions in either the Archaic and the Classical or the Late Classical and the Hellenistic periods. Most handbooks are now outdated in consideration of the significant progress of scholarship in the past forty years: among the most up-to-date works is Lippolis, et al. 2007. As for general treatments focused on Sicily and Magna Graecia or both regions, Mertens 2006 represents the standard discussion, while Gullini 1983 and Gullini 1985 are still useful. Minà 2005 is the only general treatment of Sicily covering the full span from the Archaic period to the Hellenistic period.

  • Gullini, Giorgio. “Urbanistica e architettura.” In Megale Hellas: Storia e civiltà della Magna Grecia. By Giorgio Gullini, 205–328. Milan: Credito Italiano, 1983.

    A discussion of the urbanism and monumental architecture of the Greek centers of Magna Graecia from the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE, with a particular focus on the sixth and fifth centuries and on Locri Epizephyrii, Poseidonia/Paestum, and Metapontum. Now partly outdated, but richly illustrated, including both drawings and color photographs.

  • Gullini, Giorgio. “L’architettura.” In Sikanie: Storia e civiltà della Sicilia greca. By Giorgio Gullini, 414–491. Milan: Credito Italiano, 1985.

    A discussion of the monumental architecture of Greek centers in Sicily from the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE, with a particular focus on the 6th and 5th centuries and on Selinus, Syracuse, and Acragas. Now partly outdated, but richly illustrated, including both drawings and color photographs.

  • Lippolis, Enzo, Monica Livadiotti, and Giorgio Rocco. Architettura greca: Storia e monumenti del mondo della polis dalle origini al V secolo. Milan: B. Mondadori, 2007.

    Offering a chronological survey of architecture in the Greek world from the 11th to the late 5th centuries BCE, this volume includes a thoughtful commentary on the sociohistorical context of monumental architecture in Sicily and Magna Graecia, together with a catalogue, mainly of sacred and political buildings, arranged by region and site.

  • Mertens, Dieter. Städte und Bauten der Westgriechen: Von der Kolonisationszeit bis zur Krise um 400 vor Christus. Munich: Hirmer, 2006.

    Lavishly illustrated, with both drawings and black-and-white and color photographs, this volume represents the standard discussion of urbanism and architecture in the Greek centers of Sicily and Magna Graecia from the 8th to the late 5th centuries BCE. Available in Italian: Dieter Mertens, Città e monumenti dei Greci d’Occidente: Dalla colonizzazione alla crisi di fine V secolo a.C. (Rome: “L’Erma” di Bretschneider, 2006).

  • Minà, Patrizia, ed. Urbanistica e architettura nella Sicilia Greca. Palermo, Italy: Regione Siciliana, 2005.

    This volume started life in association with an exhibition held in Agrigento in 2004–2005. It features numerous essays that offer the most extensive discussion of the urbanism and architecture at Greek, Phoenician/Punic, and indigenous centers on the island from the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE.

  • Pugliese Carratelli, Giovanni, ed. The Western Greeks. London: Thames and Hudson, 1996.

    Catalogue of a major exhibition on the Western Greeks held in Venice in 1996. It includes a series of essays by leading experts on the history, culture, and art of the Greeks in Magna Graecia and Sicily, including urbanism and architecture from the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE.

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