If you happen to be in Agrigento, you can’t miss the opportunity to pay a visit to the Valle dei Templi (Valley of Temples).
The Valley is the most famous archaeological site in Sicily, and owes its fame to the exceptional state in which the temples are: most of them are almost intact, like time hasn’t passed at all over them. The site has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1997, and it corresponds to the ancient city of Akragas, founded in 581 BC. I’m not going to tire you out with details on the various rulers, battles and so on; the only thing that I’m going to note is that Akragas had been one of the most important greek colonies in Sicily and that we are lucky to have still so much that has remained standing and that we can see, study and admire. Akragas was destroyed in 406 BC after a war against the Carthaginians and then rebuilt, but the city didn’t have the same power anymore, and its destiny was tied to the struggle between Rome and Carthage over the Mediterranean.
The Valley presents the remains of several Doric temples:
- The Temple of Hera Lacinia (or Juno), built in the middle of the fifth century BC. It was destroyed by a fire during the Siege of Akragas in 406 BC, and then restored. The current remains consist of the front colonnade with parts of the architrave, while there are only fragments of the other three sides.
- The Temple of Concordia, which is the largest and best-preserved Doric temple in Sicily. It was build around 440-430 BC. The exterior and the interior of the temple were covered by polychrome stucco. It was converted into a Christian basilica in the 6th century: the entrance was moved to the rear, and the rear wall of the cella was destroyed, the spaces between the columns were closed. It was restored to its original form in the 1700s.
- The Temple of Heralces, the most ancient of the Akragantine temples, built in the final years of the 6th century BC.
- The Temple of Olympian Zeus, built probably around 480 BC, to commemorate the Battle of Himera, in which Akragas and Syracuse defeated the Carthaginians. According to the legend, it was built using Carthaginians slaves, probably soldiers captured after the battle.
- The Temple of Hephaestus, known also as the Temple of Vulcan (it is uncertain who is the exact deity to which it is dedicated), built around the fifth century BC, one of the largest temples of the area.
- The Temple of Demeter, in the eastern part of the city.
- Apart from the temples, it is possible to admire the Olympeion field. Here, there is the temple of Olympian Zeus and various sanctuaries.
On the western side of the city, it is possible to see the remains of two of the city gates – Gates VI and VII. To the northern side, instead, there are the remains of Gates VIII and IX.
In the Valley it is possible to see, also, various necropolis, tombs and catacombs, of which the most famous are the so-called Grotte Fragapane, that date back to the the IV century.
At the center of the Valley, there is the Regional Archaeological Museum, in which are gathered various collections of archaeological remains, both from the ancient cities of Akragas and Agrigentum and the surrounding territories.
Scattered around the area of the Valley, are the remains of various altars and temples yet to be identified, but that prove the importance of religion and deities in ancient times.
So… take your time, explore the Valley (it might sound obvious but: wear comfortable shoes!), get transported back in time to Magna Graecia (Greater Greece), feel the heat of the braziers, the voices of the crowds during festivities and sacrifices. Become one with History and splendor, with Time itself. Take the time to feel small against the imposing architectures, monuments, statues scattered in the area. Walk through the gates thinking about ancient times and those that were walking on the same streets as you with their hopes, their burdens, their prayers. I assure you that you won’t regret it.
Born in 1994, passionate about photography, sport, music and cinema.
Giovanni is the web-master and marketing manager for SorrentoMagazine and Di Nocera Service.
He also writes articles about trekking and adventure on this blog!