|Summary:||City of a Greek colony with well preserved city walls.|
The site of Gela occupied the top of a low sandy ridge running parallel and adjacent to the coast just W of the Gela river. The city's acropolis was at the E end of the ridge and the public and private buildings extended off to the W.
In 338 B.C. the new city of Timoleon was built on a grid plan that placed houses and public buildings on terraced terrain to the W and encroached upon the older acropolis area to the E. The rebuilt city was enclosed by new fortification walls (ca. 4 km in length) which encircled the entire ridge top.
The fortification walls at Gela were built in a standard 4th century B.C. manner. A stone wall of ca. 3.5 m in height was capped by an additional 2 m high section of mud brick walling. At Gela the drifting sands made it necessary to twice extend the height of the mud brick upper section of walls until a total height of over 8 m was reached. In the 3rd century B.C., when the city was abandoned, the sand drifts continued to rise until sections of the wall were completely buried. In WW II, naval bombardment exposed this rare example of ancient military architecture and the remains have since been excavated and conserved.
Gela, named for the river that runs beside it, was founded in 689 B.C. by colonists from Rhodes and Crete. Following a difficult struggle with the native inhabitants, the Greeks began to expand their control into western Sicily. By 582 B.C. the city was secure enough to establish a colony at Akragas and to gain political control over much of the western and central portion of the island. At the end of the 6th century the city had extended its control into SE Sicily, and, under the rule of Hippocrates (498-491 B.C.) Gela had reached the peak of its economical and political power.
In 480 B.C., under the rule of Gelon, the city defeated Carthage. Gelon, however, elected to move his seat of power and many of the Geloans to Syracuse. During the rest of the 5th century Gela declined in political importance, but it remained a prosperous cultural center. In 405 B.C. Gela was defeated and the city razed by the Carthaginians. The city was abandoned until the Corinthian Timoleon rebuilt and repopulated the site in 338 B.C.
In 310 B.C. Gela was conquered by Syracuse and was reduced to a military base occupying only the western part of the ridge top. At ca. 284 B.C. Phintias, the tyrant of Akragas, destroyed Gela and removed its inhabitants to the new city he had named after himself. Gela remained deserted until the medieval town of Terranova was built on the site in the 13th century.
There were some excavations at Gela in 1900 and new excavations were started in 1948 and continue to the present.