Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples
Interest in this city is focused on the remarkable ruins of Akragas , the " most beautiful city of mortals " according to Pindar, located 2 km below. Arranged in a row along a ridge by the sea, its Doric temples are the most fascinating and evocative Greek ruins in Sicily , unique outside Greece.
In 581 BC, settlers from nearby Gela and Rhodes founded the city of Akragas between the Hypsas and Akragas rivers. It was the final event of an expansion process that had seen Gela expand west along the highest points of their trade routes, subduing and Hellenizing indigenous peoples as they advanced.
The settlers surrounded Akragas with mighty walls, formed in part by a higher ridge where they built the acropolis (where the modern city is today). The southern boundary of the ancient city consisted of a second lower hill, and it was here, in the so-called Valley of the Temples , that in the 5th century BC the city's architects erected their sacred buildings.
These Temples are exceptionally beautiful and extremely scenic , reflecting the opulence and luxury of Ancient Agrigento: "Athens with improvements!" Henry Adams wrote in 1899. But, as often happens, the Hellenic supremacy of Agrigento could do nothing against the cruel course of the history of Sicily.
Conquered and sacked by successive waves of Carthaginians, Romans, Saracens and Normans, the ancient city lost its status and many of its finest treasures.
If you arrive by public transport you will find yourself directly in the city center. At this point you have two options: jump directly on the bus that takes you to the archaeological park , the Valley of the Temples, for a one-day visit to the monuments or visit the city .
Trains arrive at the Central Station, on the edge of the old city, where there is a magnificent garden and a left-luggage office.
The old city extends west of the three main squares connected to each other: Piazza Marconi, Aldo Moro and Vittorio Emanuele , the main artery of Agrigento is Via Atenea, which heads west from Piazza Aldo Moro
Modern Agrigento boasts an entirely medieval historic center . Unlike the modest main streets of some Sicilian cities, the long central thoroughfare, Via Atenea , is something of a revelation, boasting a number of fine shops, jewelers, boutiques, bookstores and patisseries, and it's really a pleasure to look at its shop windows. , especially in the late afternoon, when it is closed to traffic.
The streets that branch off from Via Atenea are of a completely different kind: in fact, dilapidated buildings and tiny courtyards overlook them that make it pleasant to wander aimlessly, even if it is worth dwelling on a couple of buildings in particular.
Abbey of Santo Spirito
North of Via Atenea, the ancient, noteworthy Abbey of Santo Spirito , at the end of Via Foderà, was built for the Cistercian nuns in 1290 but was later heavily handled. Inside, the elaborate and imaginative monochromatic stuccoes by Serpotta, from the early eighteenth century, adorn the walls and the ceiling and dome.
Upstairs, just before the entrance to the small folklore museum , some decorative nineteenth-century paintings of angels and saints inlaid with mother-of-pearl are exhibited, while the museum itself contains local artifacts, including strange jugs and the shape of a little man with a tricorn temples.
The oldest area ... and the Duomo ...
Via Atenea runs through the oldest part of the city, the most grandiose buildings of which are located at the western end, around the Town Hall in Piazza Sinatra , housed in a seventeenth-century convent. From here very narrow and very steep streets go up the hill, passing the church of Santa Maria dei Greci , built over a Greek temple of the fifth century BC
In the nave the smooth columns of the temple are recognizable, while on the outside you can see, from an underground tunnel in the courtyard full of flowers, the columns incorporated into the foundations of the church, inside you can see Byzantine frescoes.
Via Duomo leads to the imposing Duomo , located on a terrace on top of the hill and overlooking a large square below. The Cathedral was originally built in the 11th century, but was enlarged in the 12th-14th century and subsequently remodeled several times.
Along the side you can see the remains of the oldest structures; the bell tower, with single lancet windows and an Arab-Norman balcony in Gothic-Catalan style.
Valley of the Temples (Agrigento)
A winding road winds its way down from Agrigento to the wonderful Valley of the Temples, a complex of temples and walls of the ancient city of Akragas, one of the major attractions in all of Sicily. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it alone is a valid motivation to visit the Mediterranean coast of the island.
The five Doric temples are not located in a valley but on a ridge, built to be visible from all sides and serve as a reference for incoming ships. Even if their state of conservation is not homogeneous, the monuments give an idea of what one of the richest cities of Magna Graecia must have looked like. The visit to the site inspired the words with lyrical overtones: “Never again in our life will we have the opportunity to experience a joy similar to that aroused by the stupendous panorama of this splendid valley. The best time to fully appreciate the enchantment of the place is between February and March, when all the almond trees in the valley are in bloom.
The archaeological area is divided into an eastern and a western area by the SS118 that reaches the site from Agrigento. Near the entrances to the two areas are the parking and the main ticket office, where you can ask for information on guided tours or rent an autoguide. Chaotic and crowded, the Piazzale dei Templi occupies, not surprisingly, the space where the agora once stood. The best entrance is the one overlooking Via Panoramica near the Tempio di Giunone Lacinia . To visit the Temples it takes about a whole day , in the late afternoon the temples are dressed in an amber light from any perspective you observe them.
For further information see: www.lavalledeitempli.it
What to see in the Valley of the Temples
The Archaeological museum
About halfway between the Valley of the Temples and the city is the Archaeological Museum , which houses a large and well-illustrated collection of artifacts found during excavations. Room 1 offers an archaeological plan of ancient Akragas, very useful for getting an idea of the proportions of the city. Room 3 presents a rich collection of black and red ceramics ranging from the sixth to the third century BC, among which a valuable red ceramic crater stands out.
In room 6 you can admire one of the highlights of the collection, a telamon 7.75 m high and the heads of three others, as well as an excellent reconstruction of the imposing temple of which the statues were part. Room 9 houses an ephebe carved in white marble dating back to 470 BC. The last rooms contain finds from other areas of the province, among which the magnificent ceramic bowls and bronze helmets are noteworthy.
The museum also includes the Church of San Nicola , a 13th century Cistercian church with a Gothic portal and, inside, a Roman sarcophagus decorated with an admirable relief depicting the myth of Phaedra. In the churchyard there is an ancient theater-shaped assembly cavea, built in the 3rd century BC for public gatherings. Next to it stands the Oratory of Falaride, a temple dating back to the 1st century BC transformed into an oratory in medieval times.
The medieval village
After a day spent among the temples, it can be relaxing to stroll through the narrow and steep streets of the medieval village. On the top of a winding staircase north of Via Atenea stands the Abbey of Santo Spirito founded around 1290 by the Cistercians. Upstairs is the small Civic Museum, miscellaneous of illustrated objects. East of Via Duomo is the small Church of Santa Maria dei Greci accessible through a lovely garden of palm trees and cypresses. About 300 meters north - west of the church stands the magnificent Cathedral of Agrigento built in the year 1000 and dedicated to the first archbishop of the city.
Parties, events and entertainment in the Valley of the Temples
Almond Blossom Festival : the most important festival of the year celebrated when the Valley of the Temples is a riot of almond blossoms (first Sunday in February, excluding unforeseen variations).
Feast of San Calogero : On the occasion of this festival, which lasts for a week, the statue of San Calogero, who saved Agrigento from the plague, is carried in procession through the city, while spectators throw votive loaves as it passes by (first Sunday of July, excluding unforeseen changes)
Pirandello Theater : The Agrigento theater dedicates ample space to the works of its most illustrious citizen, Luigi Pirandello. The season runs from October to March. For more information, contact the tourist offices or consult the official website of the theater