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The Valley of Temples

Italy, Agrigent
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On the tracks of the "Grand Tour"
The rediscovery of Akragas was set going towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the first European travellers came here. They ventured into Sicily discovering unexpected and immense artistic and archaeological riches, despite those who thought that, on the island, there was nothing interesting, apart from the villainous activity of the inquisition.
Agrigento, Valley of Temples, Temple of Castor and Pollux
Akragas - Built for Eternity
What the travellers observed more than two centuries ago is still offered to the eyes of  today"s visitors, and their descriptions are in many respects still topical: Today as then, the temples are lined up on the crest of a hill, and are the most evident symbol of a city, once among the most powerful in the world, whose richness and beauty were described by the greatest poets of the 5th century.

Indeed, that was the period of greatest splendour for Akragas, which was founded in 528 BC by settlers from Gela and in about a century became one of the richest and most powerful cities in the Mediterranean, a cradle for arts and science, a city whose citizens, according to the philosopher Empedocles" happy definition, lived as if they were going to die the next day and built as if they were going to live forever.

The temples, built in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, are the most evident monumental expression of this constructive fervour, unfortunately, little remaining of the Greek city, destroyed by the Carthaginians in 406 BC.

From the Ancient Cultural Centre to today"s Provincial Town

Although Agrigento enjoyed other moments of ephemeral splendour, it never again returned to the ancient splendours and gradually became a provincial town like so many others - if it were not, precisely, for the temples.

They offer an extraordinary sight, enchanting every visitor, especially at sunset, when the sinking sun seems to set them on fire and really very little is required to return with the imagination to the splendid city described by Pindar.
Agrigento, Valley of Temples, Temple of Hercules

Proclaimed World Heritage by the UNESCO in 1997, you will find the temples below the modern city, which still reminds very much the medieval way of building and offers the possibility to have a first quality walk on archaeological traces.

To the right of the „Porta Aurea“, which opened up towards the south and the sea, a path will lead you to the imposing ruins of the Temple of the Olympic Zeus, which, together with the Temple G in Selinunt, was the biggest in the Western world (the basic surface covers an area of nearly 7000 square meters, and thus is bigger than St. Peter’s in Rome).

From the Temple to the Quarry
The construction started in 480 BC is characterized by the presence of the Telamons, huge statues of about 8 meters, which represent the forces of nature subjugated by Zeus and which stood upright between the columns, with which they supported the roof. They all were destroyed apart from one, which can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Agrigento (the statue in the remains of the temple is a cast).

Agrigento, Valley of Temples, Telamon
Ruined because of abandonment, bad weather and earthquakes, the temple became a sort of quarry during the Sixteenth Century: Agrigento workmen used the gigantic tufa blocks among others for the construction of a dock at Porto Empedocle.

From the Ancient Scenery to the UNESCO World Heritage
Next to the temple there was a gigantic altar for sacrifices, on which up to one hundred oxen could be sacrificed in one time; the area offered space for two thousand people.

Around the temple of Zeus, there is a big sacred area; it was built in the Sixth Century and included many sacred buildings, but also residences and shops. In this area, there were four temples; the only one visible to everybody is the temple of Castor and Pollux with its four remaining columns at the corners (they were rebuilt in 1836) and offer a real picturesque view; in fact, this temple (480 - 460 BC) is used as a the symbol of Agrigento.

In  a depression to the north, there has been identified the Kolymbetra, a swimming pool the waters of which made it possible to irrigate the most fertile garden in the valley. The area, entrusted to the Italian Environmental Fund in 2001, has been restored with regard to the vegetation and fitted out with explanatory panels.

From the Temple of Hercules to the one of Concordia
In the opposite direction, on the ridge of  a low hill, three temples stand in a line.
The Temple of Hercules is believed to be the oldest (6th century BC); it has nine
columns standing, on some of which the purple plaster with which the temple was painted is still visible.
Agrigento, Valley of Temples, Temple of Concordia

Further on, there it is: The Temple of Concordia in all its beauty, one of the
most perfect from the stylistic point of view in the whole Greek world, “inexpressibly beautiful and picturesque” (F. Münther).

From Pagan Temple to Christian Church
The temple, which is the best preserved in the Greek world together with the Theseion in Athens and the Posidonion at Paestum, owes its integrity to a fortunate circumstance: Unlike the other pagan temples more or less demolished by the Christians, this one was converted into a church in the 6th century. So the structure remained intact and in 1748 the temple, which was exquisitely built in the 5th century in the Doric manner, was restored in its original forms (apart from some arches in the walls of the cell).

The road of temples - flanked by Christian-Byzantine hypogea - goes to
the Temple of Hera Lacinia or Juno, at the extremity of the ridge, in a charming
position. It looks like the temple of Concordia: it was built more or less at the same time as the latter, and is just a little smaller. On the walls of the cell, it is remarkable that you can still see traces of the fire that was started in the building by the Carthaginians in 406, during the sack of Akragas.

East of the temple, the remains of the usual altar for sacrifices are found and a stretch of street deeply furrowed by carts.

Some more Highlights of Agrigento
If these are the essential stages of the visit, there are also a great many other remains of the ancient city to be seen: From the Temple of Aesculapius to the tomb of Theron and the Hellenistic-Roman district with the oratory of Phalaris, the ekklesiasterion and the bouleuterion, and finally the interesting Archaeological Museum at which precious items from Akragas are kept, like the lion"s head gutters that adorned some of the temples to the splendidly painted vases, but also panels and models that give a more precise idea of the city and its monuments.

The Valley of the Temples in World Literature
Girgenti (...) affords the most stupendous set of temples that one could ever admire. On the crest of a long ridge, stony, entirely bare and red, a burning red, without a blade of grass, without a bush and with the sea, the beach and the harbour dominant, three superb temples are delineated that, seen from below, stand out with their enormous outlines of stone against the blue sky of warm countries. They seem to be built in the air, amid a magnificent and desolate landscape.

Guy de Maupassant, Sicily

Beyond the hill of Minerva, you reach that line of temples that are at the southern edge of the walls of the city. The sight of them against the background of the Libyan sea, when the ardent sun illuminates their yellow stones and makes the powerful columns shine, still today is enchanting; and it makes you think how stupendous it must have been in antiquity.

Ferdinando Gregorovius, Walks through Italy



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"Italy" (; ), officially the "Italian Republic" (), a country located in south-central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia along the Alps. To the south it consts of the entirety of the
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