The Cave di Cusa and how Selinunte was built


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About 10km west of Selinunte is one of the Mediterranean's great archaeological secret: the Cave di Cusa.

It was 409BC when some unnerving news arrived at the stone quarry of Cusa: an immense Carthaginian fleet had been sighted sailing towards nearby Selinunte. War was certain.

The workers downed tools and fled, not knowing if they would ever return to complete their work. Both history and the quarries themselves tell us they didn't. Half-cut column sections remain attached to the mother stone, others lie strewn amongst the grass or in the surrounding olive orchards, awaiting in vain to be consigned.

All has remained exactly as it was on that fateful day in 409BC, making the Cave di Cusa one of the most fascinating spots in Sicily. Don't miss it and don't forget to take a picnic! 

About 10km west of Selinunte is one of the Mediterranean's great secret archaeological wonders: the Cave di Cusa.

How the columns were extracted

Thanks to the dozens of column sections that still pepper the quarries (in various stages of completion), the Cave di Cusa provide us with a tangible idea of how the temples at Selinunte (and presumably elsewhere) were built, and how the local craftsmen and engineers set about fashioning their masterpeices.

Here's a brief description of the process, with some illustrations in the photo slideshow at the top of the page:

1. a circle of a specified diameter was traced on top of the stone mass.

2. the quarriers began chiselling downwards around the circumference until they reached a depth of up to around 2.5m (the height of the columns sections varied). The result was a perfect cylinder surrounded by a gap in the stone of about 45-60cm wide.

3. using metal tools, the base of the cylinder was chipped away at until it could be levered from the mother stone underneath.

4. now the column section was ready to be taken to the construction site (pulled by oxen) where it would be refined, adjusted, embellished and hoisted into position. 

The result was one of Magna Graecia's most impressive collection of temples.

Greek and other archaeological sites in Sicily:

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