PERSEPHONEION, THE SANCTUARY OF PERSEPHONE
PERSEPHONE OPENS THE MYSTIC BASKET
(Image source: G. Incorpora -
Locri Antica e Gerace,
Ponte Nuovo Editrice, Bologna 1980 - II Edizione
- pag. 47)
"Καὶ γὰρ ἐπιφανέστατον τῶν κατὰ
τὴν ᾽Ιταλίαν ἱερῶν τοῦτ᾽ εἶναι λέγεται [...]"
And indeed it is said that it was the most
renowned sanctuary in
the whole of Italy
(Diodoro Siculo, Biblioteca Historica, Fragmenta Libri XXVII, 4 19-21)
Persephone is the daughter of
Zeus and Demeter.
Hades felt in love with her and, during an absence of
Demeter, he kidnapped her while she was picking up
some flowers nearby Pergus lake, and took her to the
desperately searched for her everywhere
until, thanks to Helios, she
discovered the name of the
Then, angry, she spoke to
Zeus to get her
daughter back but, since Persephone,
by eating some pomegranate grains, had broken the fasting
which would have allowed her to go back to the Earth,
her request wasn't complied.
goddess of the harvest, threatened to make the
earth unfruitful and Zeus, worried
about the situation, made possible an agreement by which
Persephone had to
remain for six months (autumn and winter) in the
Avernus and for six months (spring and summer) with
her mother. (According to a different version of the
myth: for a third of the year with
Hades and for
two third with Demeter).
Since her abduction
Persephone became the goddess of
called by the Greek Kore (hence the name of the feasts
dedicated to her and called Koreies).
The Romans called her Proserpine.
The place where the
ruins of the Sanctuary of Persephone were brought to light is located at
the foot of the Mannella hill, near the walls (upstream side) of the
polis, and it is accessible via a path that, starting from Casa Marzano's
Tower, moves down from Mannella towards the Saitta-Abbadessa deep valley.
Thanks to the finds that have been retrieved and to the studies
carried on, it has been possible to date its use to a period between the
VII century b.C. and the III century. B.C.
Its discovery and the resulting identification with the renowned
Persephoneion were made by archaeologist Paolo Orsi who, between 1908 and
1911, carried out a meticulous series of excavations and explorations in
the area which allowed him to dispel any possible doubt about the real
origin of the structures and of the extraordinary finds unearthed
(including the famous Pinakes).
Locri il massimo santuario era il "celebratissimum illud Proserpinae",
di cui è mia ferma convinzione di aver scoperto gli avanzi e la stipe.
In Locri the main sanctuary was the "most renowned one of
of which it is my firm belief of having discovered the
ruins and the artefacts.
(Paolo Orsi, Notizie degli scavi di antichità,
Serie V, Vol. XI - Supplemento 1913 - Roma 1914, Pag. 143)
Such doubts existed
because up to then, on the basis of the artefacts unearthed in the
territory of the ancient polis and on the accounts of ancient and modern
travelers, had been proposed several areas that could be assumed as
identifiable with the famous Sanctuary of the antiquity (among them the
and the Sanctuary area of Marasà).
All of this was due to the fact that the idea of discovering the precise
location of the ancient Persephoneion fascinated for centuries all of
those that approached the history of the ancient Locri (because of their
profession, as a subject of study or, simply, for passion). And the reason is
that the Sanctuary was described by the ancient historians as known and
revered throughout the ancient world and, precisely thanks to such a
situation, it could count on a vast richness that throughout history were
often the object of the appetites of foreign sovereigns or common
criminals (see Livy, Ab Urbe
Condita, XXIX 8, 9 and XXXI 12, 1-4, passages quoted in
History - Greek Age, Chapter VI e
Roman Age, Chapter IV),
or even, as in the case of Pleminius (see
History - Roman Age, Chapter III),
of regents pro tempore of the city.
identification made by Paolo Orsi marked the final word on the
centuries-old search for the Sanctuary of Persephone.
From the excavations
carried on, the archaeologist from Rovereto brought to light some
impressive retaining walls made out of a sandstone known as ammollis (term derived from the vulgarization
of the Byzantine Greek word ammolithos, that literally means "stone made of sand": ammos = sand and
lithos = stone), a stone
typical of this area; walls that, very likely, also marked the boundaries
of the Sanctuary area consecrated to the deity (temenos).
Within these boundaries Orsi found a structure, located immediately at the
base of the hill, built with limestone blocks of excellent quality and not
with ammollis; a precise choice made, probably, to emphasize the
importance of the monumental structure built with such a valuable stone.
The structure was built around a square pit that, although nowadays
devoted of the monumental structures that in the antiquity stood above it,
was interpreted by the archaeologist as a thesauros of the
The exploration of the area has led to the conclusion that the Sanctuary
was not characterized by the presence of a temple (which, moreover, is not
the key element of Greek sanctuaries), but its monumental shape was
ensured by the impressive retaining walls that also had the function to
define, in the limited space provided by the natural gorge formed by the
two hills of Mannella and Abbadessa, a narrow and dimly lit path of access
to the consecrated area; path that, combined with the peculiar
characteristics of the place, doubtless provided the ancient visitor a
real feeling of being in an otherworldly place ruled by Persephone,
goddess of the underworld.
Nowadays the visit of the site is
difficult due to the thick vegetation covering the area, and the visible
structures, identifiable as walls, are few; but the charm that the place
evokes is still intact and easily allows to understand one of the reasons
why this Sanctuary, the Persephoneion, was well-known and renowned during
the ancient age.