Agrigento is a hilltop city on Sicily's southwest shore. It's known for the Valley of the Temples, a vast archaeological site with well-preserved Greek temples and the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas. On the modern city's outskirts is the Museo Archeologico Regionale Agrigento, with artifacts and a telamon (huge male statue). West lies Scala dei Turchi, an unusual stepped white cliff overlooking sandy beaches.
Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century B.C., Agrigento became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world. Its supremacy and pride are demonstrated by the remains of the magnificent Doric temples that dominate the ancient town, much of which still lies intact under today's fields and orchards. Selected excavated areas throw light on the later Hellenistic and Roman town and the burial practices of its early Christian inhabitants.
Agrigento has a special place among classical sites in the history of the ancient world because of the way in which its original site, typical of Greek colonial settlements, has been preserved, as well as the substantial remains of a group of buildings from an early period that were not overlain by later structures or converted to suit later tastes and cults.
This splendid archaeological park consists of eight temples (and various other remains) built between about 510 BC and 430 BC: the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Heracles, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Hephaestos, the Temple of Demeter, and the Temple of Asclepius (the God of Medicine). Apart from this latter, which is to be found on the banks of the Akragas river, all are situated in the same area on rocky crests south of modern day Agrigento (not really in a Valley at all!).
- Temple of Concordia, whose name comes from a Latin inscription found nearby, and which was built in the 5th century BC. Turned into a church in the 6th century AD, it is now one of the best preserved in the Valley.
From 2011 onwards in front of the temple is the bronze statue of Icarus, made by the Polish artist Igor MitorajThe temple was transformed in a catholic church in 597 and so it underwent a radical transformation. For example the main entrance was moved to the rear, the rear cella wall was destroyed and 12 arched apertures were opened in order to obtain a basilica with one central nave and two lateral aisles.
In 1748 the church returned to be a temple and thanks to these modifications the Temple of Concordia survived so well over the centuries.
The peristasis, the collonade, is made of 6x13 columns with a base of four steps. Each column is 6,75m high and is in fact a vertical cylinder that is slightly wider at the bottom. It consists of four drums with the typical doric broad flutes. The columns also have the entasis, the application of a convex curve, an art of swelling, in their lower third in order to correct the optical illusion of the column's concavity
- Temple of Juno, also built in the 5th century BC. It was burnt in 406 BC by the Carthaginians.
- Temple of Heracles, who was one of the most venerated deities in the ancient Akragas. It is the most ancient in the Valley: destroyed by an earthquake, it consists today of only eight columns.
- Temple of Olympian Zeus, built in 480 BC to celebrate the city-state's victory over Carthage. It is characterized by the use of large scale atlases.
Two Telamons - supporting statue from the Temple of Zeus are in the areaThe telamon, which lies on the ground, was originally used to support the Temple of Olympian Zeus (Jupiter).
- Temple of Castor and Pollux. Despite its remains including only four columns, it is now the symbol of modern Agrigento.
- Temple of Vulcan, also dating from the 5th century BC. It is thought to have been one of the most imposing constructions in the valley; it is now however one of the most eroded.
- Temple of Asclepius, located far from the ancient town's walls; it was the goal of pilgrims seeking cures for illness.
Modern Agrigento used to be the Greek city of Akragas, a colony of settlers mainly from Rhodes and Crete who, having initially settled in Gela, decided to move west, partly in an attempt to stem the ambitious advances of Selinunte and partly because the land in the area was ideal for cultivating olives, grapes and cereal. The city, supposedly founded in 582 BC, soon became prosperous and, in its glory days, was one of the most important and most culturally-advanced Greek cities in the Mediterranean.
However, as it grew more and more successful, so did its rivalries with other Greek colonies, especially that of Siracusa. In 406 BC Hannibal and the Carthaginians, working in cahoots with Dionysius of Siracusa, laid siege to the city. After holding out for eight months, Akagras finally fell and its citizens were removed to Gela. Later, they were allowed to return but were prohibited from fortifying their town and had to pay taxes to Carthage.
After a relatively peaceful (if undistinguished period), Akagras was thrown into the First Punic War (264 BC) on the side of the Carthaginians and defeated by the Romans in 210 BC.
Agrigento was a wealthy ancient city founded about 581 bc by Greek colonists from Gela. It was ruled 570–554 bc by the notorious tyrant Phalaris, who was reputed to have had men roasted alive in a brazen bull, and it reached its peak in 480 when the tyrant Theron, in alliance with Syracuse, won the decisive Battle of Himera over the Carthaginians.
In 470 the tyranny was replaced by a democracy. Agrigento was the birthplace of the philosopher-politician Empedocles. Under the tyranny it was a considerable centre of the arts.
The city was neutral in the struggle between Athens and Syracuse but was ravaged by the Carthaginians in 406 bc, a disaster from which it never really recovered. Refounded by the Greek general and statesman Timoleon in 338, it achieved some local importance in the early 3rd century bc but was sacked by the Romans (262) and the Carthaginians (255) before falling finally to Rome in 210 bc.
Under Roman rule its agricultural wealth and the exploitation of the nearby sulfur mines ensured a modest prosperity. In late antiquity its inhabitants withdrew to the relative security of the medieval hilltop town of Girgenti, the nucleus of modern Agrigento.
Occupied and colonized by the Saracens in 828, Girgenti was captured in 1087 by the Norman conqueror of Sicily, Count Roger I, who established a Latin bishopric.
The plateau site of the ancient city is extraordinarily rich in Greek remains. A wall, with remnants of eight gates, can be traced from the two northern peaks (the Rock of Athena and the hill of Girgenti) to the ridge that carried the south line of the city’s defenses. An almost continuous sacred area along this ridge has been excavated to reveal Agrigento’s most famous remains, its seven Doric temples.
The best preserved are two very similar peripteral, hexastyle temples conventionally, though wrongly, attributed to the goddesses Hera and Concordia; the latter temple, which lacks little but the roof, owes its remarkable preservation to having been converted into a church in ad 597.
The Temple of Zeus, in front of which stood a huge altar, was one of the largest and most original of all Doric buildings; it was still unfinished in 406 bc. Its ruins were quarried in 1749–63 to build the jetties of Porto Empedocle, and very little is now standing.
The Sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone (formerly known as the Temple of Castor and Pollux) is notable for many remains of archaic cult buildings. There is a pre-Hellenic cave sanctuary at the foot of the cliffs where the Temple of Demeter, underlying the Church of San Biagio, is found.
There are also ruined temples of Hephaestus and Asclepius (Aesculapius); the “tomb of Theron,” a late Hellenistic funerary monument; and the “Oratory of Phalaris,” a heroon (“heroic shrine”) of the 1st century ad adjoining the 13th-century Church of San Nicola.
A short distance to the east of the latter a considerable quarter of the Greek and Roman town has been excavated, but, apart from extensive remains of aqueducts and cisterns, little is known of the Greek civil or domestic architecture. Earlier classical cemeteries lie beyond the walls.
Agrigento’s economy is based on sulfur and potash mining, agriculture, and tourism. It is served by Porto Empedocle, 9 miles (15 km) southwest, the best harbour on the southwest coast of Sicily and Italy’s principal sulfur port.
The olive trees here in Agrigento are among the oldest in Sicily” ..