The historic island of Mozia
The Stagnone Nature Reserve lagoon, lying midway between Trapani and Marsala on Sicily’s west coast, is home to a most peculiar mini archipelago, the centrepiece of which is the small island of Mozia (Mothya).
It was here, about 2,700 years ago, that the Carthaginians built a trade outpost and flourishing commercial town, which, along with present day Erice and Palermo, soon became one of their most important and thriving settlements.
Looking at the island today, one wonders if, at just 45 hectares, there was enough room for a fully-blown town. Archaeological research and the accounts of Diodorus of Sicily, however, have shown that the streets were narrow and the housing built relatively high, thus making the most of the limited space. The town was surrounded by strong defensive walls to ward off attacks from its Greek rivals in Sicily and a small artificial port, or cothon, accessed by a man-made canal, was constructed in the southern-most part of the island.
Most ingeniously of all, however, was the creation of an underwater causeway bedded into the shallow lagoon. This connected the north gate of the town to the mainland and allowed large-wheeled carts and horses to seemingly glide across the water. This causeway, a stunning feat of engineering, can just be made out on satellite photos.
After several hundred years of prosperity, in 397BC Mozia was besieged by Dionysius, the Greek Tyrant of Siracusa. After a long and difficult battle, in which the local populace defended their island with no little determination, the Greeks triumphed, sacked the town and put most of its residents to the sword. A year later, Himilco, the Carthaginian general, retook Mozia back but opted to build a new city, Lilibeo (now Marsala), on the mainland. Mozia continued to be inhabited by a few farmers, but its day was done.
Archaeological remains, many of which were discovered by Pip "Giuseppe" Whitaker of the the Marsala-making family who owned the island, include the “Cappidazzu”, a place for religious sacrifice, parts of the defensive walls, including the northern gate, a necropolis with several tombstones and the outlines of some wonderful villas, complete with splendid examples of extremely old mosaics made using black and white pebbles. A small but fascinating museum in the Villa Whitaker contains many artefacts of both North African (Carthaginian) and Greek origin, including a marvellous statue of a charioteer