SCAVI DEL MONTE JATO - SAN CIPIRELLO
Supposed to have been founded by the Elymians or, possibly, by the Sicans, as early as the 1st millenium BC, the city of Iaitas (then Ietas in Roman times and Giato in the Middle Ages), was subjected to influences from the Greek world in the mid-6th century BC. It enjoyed its highest prosperity (evidence is provided by several public buildings) from the 4th century BC onwards, and became a stipendiary city of the Empire (that is liable for tax). In the 13th century the Arabs rising against Frederick II barricated themselves in the town causing it to be subjected to a long siege that ended in 1246, with Giato being razed to the ground and its population being deported to Lucera in Puglia.
Turn off the Palermo-Sciacca road at San Cipirello and take the road signposted Corleone and Tagliavia. A turning on the left a short distance further on is marked with yellow signs for Scavi di Monte Jato. The road winds uphill for 5km (the asphalt gradually peters out into a dirt track that is fairly badly rutted in parts). A short, final section must be undertaken on foot. The city extended over a large 40ha site at an altitude of 852m asl.
A striking feature of these archeological remains is the contrasting solidity of the Greek-Roman walls, built with perfectly dressed and well-ordered stones, and the provisional aspect of the
medieval walls, built in a very approximate, undisciplined manner at a time when Monte Jato was a temporary refuge rather than a permanent settlement.
The houses erected during Swabian times occupy large sections of the Greek-Roman settlement (note in particular those in the area around the cavea of the theatre), contributing, in many cases, to their ultimate destruction especially as building materials were systematically pillaged from those surviving constructions that, until then, had borne the test of time.
Agorà – The market place dates from the 4th century BC: on the west side stands its stoà (portico), with its double row of columns. Off the west side sits the semicircular bouleuterion, a council chamber with a capacity of 200 people; between the two doorways, the orator would stand to address the assembly.
Among the other buildings that flanked the western edge, all erected in Roman times, there was also a temple, possibly dedicated to Jupiter (only the ruins remain). Traces of paving along the south-western side of the agorà are all that remains of what was once the town’s high street. On the south side of this axis stood a temple from the 4th century BC: judging from its style of construction, this is thought to be of Punic origin.
Theatre – The theatre dates from the late 4th-early 3rd century BC. It would have been lined with 35 tiers of seats, enough for a capacity audience of 4,400; the three lower rows of seats (including one with backrests) were reserved for dignitaries.
The stage consisted of a long rectangular platform (skene) with two wings (parascenia) projecting forward.
Casa a peristilio – The house with the peristyle is one of the largest noble houses known to have survived from Hellenistic times. It is built over two storeys, around a porticoed courtyard, with Doric columns on the ground floor and Ionic columns above. The north range of the peristyle is distinctively arranged with three reception rooms. The position of the doorways, offset from the central axis (so as to accommodate the couches they used when eating), implies they were dining or banqueting rooms.
One preserves its original opus signinum floor, complete with the inlaid inscription of thanks and farewell that a departing guest might intone after a banquet. In the north-western corner of the peristyle is the bathroom, equipped with bath (note the drainage channel) and, in the servant’s quarters behind it, traces of the fireplace that would have been used to heat the water. Next to the bathroom there is a service courtyard with a bread oven (now covered with earth).
The south-western range of the peristyle is lined with rooms that suggest they were used as a fullonica (for dyeing cloth).
Tempio di Afrodite – The temple stands opposite the south side of the house, on the far side of the paved street. The Temple of Aphrodite was erected in about 550 BC, according to architectural standards that are characteristically Greek, and as such, is considered an expressive
statement from the earliest cultural exchanges between the indigenous population and the Greek world. The various Hellenistic buildings south of the temple would have accommodated shops. Some 110m west of the first house, excavation has begun of a second, smaller one, also with a peristyle.
ALSO IN THE AREA
San Cipirello – The Museo Civico (320 Via Roma) displays the artefacts recovered from the archaeological excavations at Monte Jato. The most significant pieces are undoubtedly the sculptures that adorned the theatre: two maenads and two satyrs, followers of Dionysus, god of the theatre, and a crouching lion. Furthermore, the history of the town may be traced through the pottery found there: indigenous pottery with incised decoration, hellenistic black-figure ware, Roman red-gloss terra sigillata or Samian ware, and glazed ceramics from the Middle Ages. At one end of the room, the roof from the building erected on the stage of the theatre (skene) has been in part reconstructed with tiles bearing the inscription ΦEΛTPOY (translating as ‘of the theatre’).