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Salvatore La Rosa
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PERSEPHONEION, THE SANCTUARY OF PERSEPHONE
     
 

Pinax - Persefone apre la Cesta Mistica
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)


MYTHOLOGY

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 Avernus.
 
Demeter desperately searched for her everywhere until, thanks to Helios, she discovered the name of the abductor.
 
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.
 
Therefore Demeter, 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 hell, also 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).

A 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 Proserpine"
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 ruins of Casa Marafioti 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.

Therefore the 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 Sanctuary.

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.

 
     
     
 

 

 

 

 

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