Ancient Palermo: the Antonino Salinas Museum

Ancient Palermo: the Antonino Salinas Museum

Sicily is home to an astounding variety of ancient buildings and attractions that are situated in an equally astounding range of natural environments, but also home to the famous Antonino Salinas Museum in Palermo. A visit is essential for anyone with an interest in Mediterranean archaeology. Along with its wines, Sicilian cuisine has panache that sets it apart from Italian cuisine on the mainland.

There are top-notch museums on the island that display the items from centuries of digs. After being shuttered for ten years, the Antonino Salinas Museum in Palermo, which bears the name of the early 20th-century numismatist and archaeologist, reopened in 2017. One of the attractions of the new galleries, which also include valuable Phoenician antiquities from Selinunte, a significant Greek colony on the south coast, are stunning metopes and pediments from the temples.

The recently renovated Antonino Salinas Museum features a number of the metopes and pediments from Selinunte, a significant Greek colony on Sicily’s south coast. The “temple of Hera” (temple E, as indicated below) is one of the colony’s temples, and it is located in Selinunte’s exterior eastern sanctuary.

In the midst of its forest of shrines, Selinunte, the ancient Selinus, was home to one of the grandest temples in the Greek world. After being demolished by the Carthaginians in 409 BC, its rows of columns collapsed centuries later and were reconstructed within the previous 200 years. What astounding discoveries these are! The temple decorations were discovered in Palermo’s newly refurbished gallery, on the other side of the island.

Metopes on display in the museum are from Selinunte’s suitably called “temple of the little metopes” (temple Y). Second from the left is the scene with Europa and the Bull.

The triglyphs were positioned high on the frieze between the metopes of a Greek temple, and they were designed to resemble the three-notch ends of archaic timber constructions. They had the appropriate designs painted or carved into them, creating a visual calendar of what a temple was all about.

Zeus and Hera’s union as shown on a metope from temple E.

In Palermo, there are metopes from three significant shrines: temple Y on the city’s acropolis (whose dedications are unknown), which houses a lovely collection of Archaic images; temple C nearby, which may be Hercules-dedicated; and temple E from the substantial external eastern sanctuary, which may have been Hera-dedicated. All were begun in the sixth century, even if “Hera” was still being built a century later. Previously brilliantly painted stone statues can now be clearly seen.

Sicilian Sculptures Antonino Salinas Museum Palermo

In this metope from temple C, the demi-god Hercules transports the Cercopes that resembles a Smurf.

These are seen in three situations. From temple Y, we witness the promiscuous Zeus taking the naive Phoenician princess Europa and transporting her to Cyprus across the water. This kidnapping served as the inspiration for a wide variety of “Greek” legends.

The movie “Hercules” had a stunning scene involving the demi-god and the Cercopes, the creatures that looked like Smurfs and were apprehended after attempting to take his club. As they were pulled away upside down, they had a clear view of Hercules’ exposed behind and reacted properly. Once his sense of humor returned, he laughed at this and let them go.

We have a later sculpture of “Hera” that was made approximately 470 BC, despite the fact that both of these are in the Archaic style. The use of two stones—exquisite Greek marble for the flesh and local limestone for the main figure—and its rather non-classical form are only a few of the qualities Sicilian artists would later perfect. Here, we are in attendance for Hera and Zeus’ nuptials. The sister of the god weds her brother after succumbing to his lusts. Zeus greedily grabs Hera’s arm and plays footsie with her as she removes her veil while she is dressed as a beautiful bride.

The museum is located in a former monastery that comes replete with an ornate fountain and enormous terrapins in the courtyard outside the entrance.

The collection is nicely displayed. There is a plethora of further knowledge hidden beyond the towering facade of the former convent that now serves as their home, past the ornamental fountain and its giant terrapin inhabitants, and inside the chilly courtyard and gallery. A room containing Phoenician artifacts is dedicated to the memory of Khaled al-Asaad, a Syrian archaeologist who passed unexpectedly after refusing to reveal the whereabouts of Palmyra’s wealth to ISIS. If you’re in Palermo, go ahead and pay tribute to both historic and contemporary heroes.

About the Antonino Salinas Regional Archaeological Museum:

Address: Piazza Olivella 24, 90133 Palermo PA, Sicily

Open: 9am-6pm Tuesday-Saturday; 9am-1.30pm Sundays and holidays. Closed on Monday.

Admission: Normally €6, it is now only €3 while the ground-floor galleries are only accessible. For those under 18 and on the first Sunday of each month, admission is free.


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