MARSALA, THE ANCIENT LILYBEUM
The Phoenicians from the isle of Motya who were compelled to leave their homeland because it was destroyed by tyrant Denis from Syracuse in 397 B.C., settled on the promontory at the farthest western part of Sicily, Boeo Cape. They were the first inhabitants of the town of Marsala, the ancient Lilybeum (there are, however, traces of previous settlements).
Diodorus refers that the town name derives from an ancient water source at the farthest western area, Lilybeum. Other hypotheses indicate its geographical position facing Libya ( ad Libiam).
The name of Lilybeum disappears in the 8th century A.D. while that of Marsala appears in 1040.
Its root comes from Arabic, Ali’s Port, and not Allah’s Port, as commonly said.
Who this Ali was, it is not known.
He is said to be Mohammed’s son-in-law, his daughter Fatima’s husband, who started the sect of Fatimites or Shiites to whom the Sicilian Islam referred.
“The frequent citations regarding the port confirm Lilybeum’s importance as the bridgehead towards Africa.”
The port existence and the accounts thereof are contained in an inscription where a certain “actor portus Lilybitani” (operator of the Lilybeum port) is cited.
Lilybeum occupied a wide square area protected by a deep moat and a strong wall belt strengthened by towers. Beyond the moat there was a large necropolis. The town was crossed by a decumanus maximus (the main street) , today Via 11 Maggio, and other small ones parallel to it. The urban plan does not seem to have changed after the Roman conquest.
Lilybeum, nowadays Marsala, of Punic-Phoenician origins, presents Greek, Roman, Christian, Arab, Norman, Swabian, and Angevin influences. Cicero described it as …splendidissima civitas Lilybetana.
In the 16th century Marsala became a Town, and was allowed to name itself antica (ancient). Viceroy Giovanni Lanuca on July 23rd, 1505 in Palermo accepted its request and bestowed on it such merit with the following words: “distinct and adorned with many large churches, monasteries of different religious orders, soldiers, barons, and other noblemen, important curial representatives, and active people…”
Today, Marsala is a town of 80,000 people including its surrounding territory.
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