This tiny island just off the coast north of Marsala was once the home of the Phoenician colony that was expelled in 379 BC and founded Lilibeo (Marsala). The island’s role in the events of Sicily’s early Phoenician period (before 600 BC) far transcended its diminutive size. The Phoenicians were a seafaring Semitic people from what is now Syria and Lebanon; they founded Carthage and other Mediterranean coastal communities, such as Motia. Therefore, it was only natural that Motia, and then Lilibeo, should side with Carthage in the wars against the Greeks. Ironically, the Greeks themselves owed much, including a great deal of their language and alphabet, to the early Phoenicians, despite their later political differences with the Carthaginians.
The island of Mozia, which is owned and operated by a foundation established by the winemaking Whitaker family (who built the Anglican Church and Villa Malfitano in Palermo), has a remarkable museum and the ruins of an equally remarkable civilization, complete with a harbor and cemetery. Some of the finds on display in the museum have a distinctly Egyptian influence, while others seem almost Hellenic. Though certain of these items were brought to Motia from Asia Minor, others were made locally, based on “foreign” influences. Mozia and its unique museum provide the visitor with a rare unspoiled glimpse into Sicily’s Phoenician past.
Mothia itself was founded before 700 BC on the island now known as San Pantaleo in a large lagoon (“Stagnone”). Mothia emerged as one of the most prosperous colonies of the Phoenicians’ loose Mediterranean confederation. The more noteworthy features are the fortifications, a submerged road that used to link the island to the mainland, near Birgi, the cothon (or drainage basin and harbour) and the main sanctuaries, in particular the tophet, where the burnt remains of offerings and sacrifices in honour of the god Baal Hammon were collected. Thousands of carved steles where discovered here, and these are the most convincing evidence of Punic sculpture. The most ancient part of old Mozia’s industrial area includes several semicircular furnaces, identical in construction to the more ancient pottery furnaces used in Phoenicia.
Historians generally agree that the most more violent attacks of the Syracusan army probably occurred near the northern gate, ending in defeat and plunder in 397 BC.