A Greek city founded in 689 B.C. by colonists from Rhodes and Crete led by Antiphemos and Entimos. It occupied part of a long and low sandy hill parallel to the seashore, which was already inhabited by Early Bronze Age Sikanian villagers during the second millennium B.C. The city acropolis developed near the source of the river Gelas after which the new colony was named. After long struggles against the indigenous populations to secure possession of the fertile inland plain, the Geloans began a policy of commercial and political penetration along the coast and toward the interior of the island. In 582 B.C. they founded Akragas and extended their domination to a large part of central and S Sicily. Under the tyrant Hippokrates, at the beginning of the 5th c. B.C., Gela's power reached also into E Sicily, up to the straits of Messina. Hippokrates was succeeded by Gelon, who moved to Syracuse in 483 B.C. and defeated the Carthaginian army in the battle of Himera in 480 B.C. Under the rule of Gelon's successors, the Deinomenids, Gela's political importance declined although it remained an artistic and cultural center. The tragic poet Aeschylos spent his last years in Gela, dying there in 456 B.C. And in 424 B.C. was convened there the peace congress in which the Syracusan Hermokrates, in the face of the threatening Athenian power, proclaimed the autonomy of the Sicilian colonies. In 405 B.C., despite the help of Dionysios of Syracuse, Gela was conquered and completely destroyed by the Carthaginian army led by Himilco. The city remained uninhabited for many years. It was rebuilt and repopulated with new colonists after 338 B.C. by the Corinthian Timoleon, who restored peace and democracy in Sicily. After a period of prosperous tranquility Gela was again conquered by the new tyrant of Syracuse, Agathokles, who in 311-310 B.C. used Gela as his military base against the Carthaginians. After 310 B.C. the city shrank to the W part of the hill, and at an undetermined date between 285 and 282 B.C. was destroyed by the Akragan tyrant Phintias, who transferred its population into the new city of Phintias (Licata). The hill of Gela remained deserted until 1233, when Frederik II of Swabia built on the ancient ruins the fortified city that was first called Herakleia and later Terranova until 1927, when the original name was restored.
Excavations in 1900 brought to light large sections of the Greek necropoleis and the remains of two temples on the acropolis. In 1948 the accidental discovery of fortifications in the area of Capo Soprano inspired a new series of systematic excavations still in progress.
A section of the archaic and Classical acropolis antedating the destruction of 405 B.C. has been uncovered on the modern hill of Molino a Vento where, according to Thucydides, were built the first fortifications, which the colonists called Lindioi. On the S side of the acropolis one can see the foundations of the archaic Temple of Athena, famous for its architectural terracottas (at present in the Syracuse Museum), and the foundations of a second Doric temple of the 5th c. B.C., of which remain some blocks for the underpinning of the cella and one of the columns of the opisthodomos. On the N side excavation has uncovered a section of living quarters of the 4th c. B.C. (the age of Timoleon), with ruins of houses and shops on terraces built over the remains of the earlier sanctuaries and the archaic fortifications destroyed by the Carthaginians. The area of the ancient town to the W of the acropolis is now totally occupied by the modern city. But architectural, votive, and domestic finds of great importance and aesthetic appeal have been made almost everywhere, and a Sanctuary of Hera has been identified in the area of the present City Hall. Numerous sanctuaries outside the town have been excavated around the hill; most of them were dedicated to Demeter and Kore. The Sanctuary of Demeter Thesmophoros on the small Bitalemi hill, at the mouth of the river Gelas, has yielded thousands of votive objects perfectly stratified. Another sanctuary, near the present railway station, contained a splendid hoard of over a thousand archaic silver coins.
Before 405 B.C. the polis ended at the level of the present Pasqualello valley, where the necropoleis began, and filled the entire W section of the hill. When Gela was rebuilt by Timoleon shortly after 338 B.C., habitation expanded over the necropolis area; and the entire hill, over 4 km long, was enclosed by a new circuit of walls. The Capo Soprano walls, excavated and restored between 1948 and 1954, represent the W end of these fortifications and are among the most perfect examples of Greek walls. They were built in two media, the lower part of elegant ashlar blocks of sandstone, the upper part of unbaked mud bricks, by use of a technique widely diffused in the Graeco-Oriental world. In the preserved section one should note a postern gate with a false pointed arch, a gate for wheeled traffic, remains of towers and stairways. These fortifications were soon covered by sand and the Geloans were forced to raise them at least twice in 50 years, probably at the time of Agathokles and again when they were finally conquered by Phintias. These superimposed layers are clearly visible in the best-preserved section of the walls which, through these additions, reach at some points a height of 8 m. In order to protect the unbaked mud bricks, an expensive covering with tempered glass panes and plastic roofing has been devised. Inside the walls test excavations have uncovered houses and military quarters of the time of Agathokles; the structures, built of unbaked bricks, have been temporarily covered over.
Throughout the W section of the city, foundations of houses and shops were found with evident traces of destruction and fire. These are the houses that, according to Diodorus Siculus, the Akragan tyrant Phintias razed to the ground together with the walls. Among the preserved monuments of this last period (338-282 B.C.) one should note public baths, with two groups of tubs and the furnaces for heating the water. It is the oldest public bath found in Italy thus far. It was originally built with terracotta tubs which were in the process of being replaced with cement troughs at the time of the final destruction.
All the archaeological finds from the new excavations are now in the National Museum, next to the acropolis area. They are displayed with the material coming from excavations and soundings in the interior (Manfria, Butera, Monte Bubbonia, Sofiana, etc.). The Museum also houses a local collection of Greek vases, especially Attic (Navarra collection). The material from the 1900-6 excavation is in the National Museum of Syracuse. (P. ORLANDINI) Wikidata ID: Q58008539
Info: Princeton Encyclopedia
(Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, from Perseus Project)