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Valley of the Temples

The first time I went to the Valley of the Temples was a strange feeling. I was in my car and immediately I felt like stepping back in time. Every kilometer I walked toward the valley I imagined how the Ancient Greeks had built so much magnificence. Nowadays, with the available technologies, it would be difficult to repeat this type of construction.

The complexity of the terrain, the hills that rise above the new city of Agrigento, make the understanding of these buildings even more complex. Named a UNESCO heritage site in 1997, it remains one of the greatest examples of Greek architecture with the Parthenon of Athens. It is considered with good reason one of the main monuments of Sicily and in general of Italy.

The History

Most of the excavations and discoveries were the work of the Duke of Serradifalco – Domenico Antonio Lo Faso di Pietrasanta, who promoted and completed most of the excavations between 1809 and 1812. The term valley is a little misleading as most of the 1,300 hectares – the largest archaeological site in the world – stand on a ridge of the hills around Agrigento. The birth of the “Polis” agrigentina is closely linked to that of the “Polis” of Gela. The city was in fact founded in 581 B.C. from some inhabitants of Gela, originating from the islands of Crete and Rhodes, and took the name of Ἀκράγας – Akragas.

The expansionism of Akragas had great development with the tyranny of Terone (488-473 B.C.) and the victory over the Carthaginians, followed by a period of strong rivalry with the other very important Greek colony in Sicily: Syracuse.

After the sacking by the Carthaginians, in 406 B.C., a period of decadence of the city followed, which however was rebuilt. From 262 B.C. Agrigento entered the Roman domain, but remained an important city. From the seventh century the city became impoverished and depopulated and the urban center was reduced to the acropolis hill alone, thus leaving both the urban area and the temple area.

The Temples

Temple of Hera Lacinia

Or Temple of Juno, was built in the fifth century BC and burned in 406 by the Carthaginians. It was the temple where the wedding was usually celebrated.

Temple of Concordia

Whose name derives from a Latin inscription found near the temple itself, also built in the 5th century. Currently it is probably the best preserved, thanks also to the fact that it was transformed into a Christian temple in the 6th century AD.

Temple of Heracles

Or temple of Hercules, whose cult was very important in ancient Akragas. It is one of the oldest buildings. Destroyed by an earthquake, today eight columns remain standing.

Temple of Olympian Zeus

Built after Himera’s victory over the Carthaginians (480-479) to honor Zeus. It was the largest temple in the whole of the ancient and unique West in the architecture of its kind. It was characterized by the presence of telamons, immense sculptures seven and a half meters high, depictions of Atlas supporting the celestial vault. One of these is still on the site, while another Telamone dell’Olympeion is located in the archaeological museum of Agrigento.

Temple of the Dioscuri

Or temple of Castor and Pollux. In reality, the temple rises within the sanctuary of the chthonic deities and is therefore likely to have been built in honor of the deities of the earth (Demeter, Persephone, Dionysus) and not the Dioscuri.

Temple of Hephaestus or Vulcan

Temple of Athena

Built far from the real valley. It is located in the historic center of the city of Agrigento. On the basis of the temple stands today the medieval church of Santa Maria dei Greci.

Temple L

It was discovered by recent excavations [March 23, 2017] and is a completely destroyed building already in the classical era.

Temple of Asclepius

Or temple of Aesculapius, part of an extra-urban sanctuary built far from the city walls, a place of pilgrimage for the sick in search of healing.

Temple of Demeter

And rock sanctuary of Demeter. The temple is located in the eastern part of the city, on the side of the slope with which the Atenea Rupe ends in the valley of the river Akragas. From the terrace of the temple of Demeter, through a staircase carved into the rock, you reach the underlying sanctuary completely dug into the hill.

Temple of Isis

It is located within the museum complex of San Nicola.

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