Our interest in going to Agrigento was primarily because it was close to the Valley of the Temples. The old town of this moderately-sized, southern Sicilian city has some interesting medieval streets and 13th century churches such as its Duomo, Santo Spirito and Santa Maria del Greci (the later of which was built on the remains of a 5th century BC temple). Its historical importance is primarily due to its being the successor to the 2,500 year-old city of Akragas, one of the oldest in Sicily and one of the most richest, and from historical accounts, one of the most beautiful of all the Mediterranean.
The remnants of this ancient civilization are just outside the current city in a site named the Valley of the Temples, despite its being located primarily on a ridge.
Valley of the Temples
Akragas one of the first, not to speak of the richest and one of the most powerful (along with Syracusa) of the ancient Sicilian civilizations. Founded in the 6th-century BC by settlers from Rhodes and Crete, it flourished largely on the basis of its Sulphur mining and processing and its role as a shipping hub between Sicily and Greece. Despite its strong defenses (see below), however, it eventually fell at the hands of the Carthaginians and later the Syracusans. They, combined with an earthquake, and eventually the Christians (who destroyed most of the remaining pagan temples) left most of the city in ruins. Even so, the site and the associated Anthropological Museum, provide much impressive evidence of a wealthy, advanced civilization.
Overall, it is largest, best-preserved collection of ancient (most built between the sixth and fifth centuries BC) Greek structures outside of Greece. Among its primary temples are:
- Concordia, one of the largest a by far, the best preserved of the Valley’s temples, it has 34 limestone, Doric columns and was originally covered in polychromatic stucco. The primary reason for its preservation is that it was the only temple that the Christians converted into a church, building walls between the columns and modifying the interior, including by adding a nave. The current structure has been restored to its original design.
- Olympian Zeus, the rubble of a huge temple which, while never quite completed, would have been one of the largest and most elaborate of any Grecian-design temple—about the same size (371×184 feet and an estimated 66 foot tall) as, and in some ways, even more elaborate than the Parthenon. The temple was, as suggested by some remnants at the site, but especially by explanations and reconstructions in the Archeological Museum, the first of the Greek-design temples to use structures called telamones (25 foot-tall, limestone representations of men as architectural supports. (These men, as seen from reconstructions of heads in the museum, were probably modeled after defeated Carthaginian soldiers ranging from very young, to quite old.) The ultimate structure, as portrayed in images and a cork model in the museum—especially after the painted stucco finish, would have been an amazing site.
- Juno, built high atop the ridge, for all to see, would have had 13 columns along each side and six along each end, still cuts an imposing figure, with its colonnade, and associated altar, still in place.
- Hercules, which was originally 15 columns in length by six on each end), is the oldest of six that have been excavated was probably significantly adapted by the Romans. The current structure contains only eight erect columns.
Although the site does have remnants of five additional, smaller, less excavated and reconstructed temples, it also has a number of additional interesting remnants of the great city. It, for example, still has significant sections of the city’s south walls, which in total, enclosed about 1,100 acres), which were built atop an already steep cliff face to provide extra security. Some of these walls also contain burial chambers. There are also a few examples of marble Togati sculptures of prominent citizens, a sanctuary, remnants of two of the city gates, a garden, several altars and some of the deep ruts that were created by the ancient carts that were used to carry the limestone slabs to their intended locations, and probably, later adapted for use as water channels.
Agrigento Archeological Museum
The HUGE museum is as impressive as the temples themselves. It traces the history of Akragas from the sixth through about the first century BC through a broad range of impressive artifacts, many of which were recovered from the city’s grottos, wells and cisterns. These include, in addition to the telamones and models of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, ceramic sculptures, glazed Greek-design pots and plates, mosaics, panels of painted walls, bronze helmets, wine amphorae recovered from sunken ships, painted terracotta building elements and some extraordinary carved marble pieced, especially two fifth century BC pieces: a sculpture of a young soldier and two sarcophagi, especially one for a young child.
Kaylo, a lovely restaurant where we managed to score a table on one of the flower-decked balconies overlooking a popular square. We began with grilled octopus on potato cake, followed by two entrees: cubes of lightly seared tuna with each crusted in different seeds (poppy and sesame) and nuts (pistachio) and medium rare, pistachio-crusted lamb cutlets. For a wine, we chose a 2012 Nero d’Alova and Syrah blend (Bagio Soria) from Santacostino.
· Hotel Exclusive Via Acrone15, 92100 Agrigento, Italy. The hotel only has 7 rooms but it has 2 apartments close by. We stayed in one of the apartments. No elevator. It was very spacious with a kitchen. The bathroom was a little odd. The sink rested on the low ledge around the tub. The mirrors were distorted. While it made one look skinny, it is hard to put on makeup or to see what you really looked like. Staff was excellent, offering a glass of wine and snacks at check in. No parking but there is a paid parking nearby. Other than the weird bathroom, the place was great.