Gela was founded by Rhodian and Cretan colonists in the late 7th century BC. It prospered and expanded westwards, and founded the city of Agrigento that would soon pass it in importance. It reached its greatest splendor under the rule of tyrants Hippocrates and Gelon, the latter deciding to move into Syracuse. The city gradually lost its political importance although it still played a major cultural role. Indeed, Aeschylus, the great Greek playwright, decided to spend here his last years. Destroyed and rebuilt many times, Gela was ultimately reconstructed by Frederick II in 1230. In July 1943, the city witnessed the landings of the American troops.
The city’s surrounding plains are among the most fertile areas in all Sicily. Several pockets of oil supplying a refinery and a petrolchemical plant are a major resource for the city’s economy.
THE GREEK GELA
The Regional Archaeological Museum – It is situated on Corso Vittorio Emanuele, at the Eastern end of the city. Arranged in the several rooms of the building is a precious collection displayed in both chronological and topical order. A kylix bearing the inscription of the city founder, Antiphemus, opens the collection. An array of antefixes, some of which bearing the features of the gorgons, was recovered from the acropolis area (6th and 5th century BC). Artefacts of the 5th century belonging to a valuable cargo were recovered from a wrecked ship. On top floor are relics from shrines and other sites in the city surrounding area. Ancient iron farming tools were found near the Santuario di Bitalemi, in a votive pit. The last room, on the ground floor, displays a fine collection of archaic and attic vases recovered from the necropolises of Navarra and Nocera and their collections.
The Acropolis – Next to the museum is the acropolis. The plateia (standing for ‘main street’) divides the city into two sides: to the South is the sacred area, with two temples (only a standing column of the C temple – built in the 5th century BC following the victory at Himera – surviving); to the north were houses and shops.
Fortifications – Located West of the city, in the area of Capo Soprano. Here, excavations brought to light well-preserved fragments of Greek fortifications. The walls, about 300m long, date from a period between the 4th and the 3rd century BC, when Timoleon restored democracy and undertook the reconstruction of the city that Chartaginian had razed to the ground in 405 BC.
The wall consists of two sections: the lower, older section is composed of regular and well-made sandstone blocks. The southern section of the wall continues to the sea. Further along is a circular kiln of the Medieval age. To the North are remains of buildings, houses and barracks.
The thermal complex – It is located not very far from the fortifications, near the almshouse. It dates from the Hellenistic age and is divided into two rooms. The first is divided into two areas: one contains small tubs arranged in a circle; in the second are tubs set in a horse-shoe shape. The second room is a hypocaust (with under-floor heating), and was probably used as a sauna. The baths were largely ravaged by a fire at the end of the 3rd century BC.
THE CITY SURROUNDINGS
Licata – 31km Eastward. At the heart of the city is Piazza Progresso. There begin Via Roma and Corso Vittorio Emanuele, the main streets, accommodating the city’s most attractive buildings, most of which are from the 18th century. On Via Roma are the church and the cloister of S. Domenico and the church of the Carmine. The latter hosts the Frangipane Palace, with its unusual corbels, and the churches of S. Francesco and S. Maria la Nova (the Mother Church).