The Valley of the Temples

The archaeological area of Agrigento, in Sicily, was included in 1997 in the UNESCO World Heritage List. The impressive Doric temples constitute one of the most important testaments to Greek culture and art, and they tell us about the thousand-year old history which began in the Sixth century B.C. with the founding of the ancient colony of Akragas. The city reached its greatest splendour in the Fifth century B.C.: the construction of the most important temples, located along the city walls, dates back to this era. In its expansion towards the Tyrrhenian coast of Sicily, Akragas clashed with the Cathaginians, defeating them in the battle of Himera in 480 B.C. Approximately seventy years later, Carthage got its revenge, destroying the rival city. Two centuries later, the city was conquered by the Romans, who renamed it Agrigentum and gave it a new era of splendour.


Temple of Castor and Pollux
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The Temple of Castor and Pollux (Temple of the Dioscuri), symbol of the city of Agrigento, today retains only four columns which hold up one corner of the trabeation. In actuality, it is a Nineteenth-century reconstruction, carried out with pieces of different eras discovered in the area.


Temple of Olympian Zeus, remains of one atlas in the Olympieion field
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Its impressive foundations and the monumental altar of the Temple of Olympian Zeus are testimony to the greatest Doric temple of all of the West. Erected to celebrate the victory in the battle of Himera, it was 30 metres in height. Lying down next to the ruins you will see a telamon, one of the 38 gigantic statues (almost 8 metres tall) originally placed between the columns of the temple. They most likely represented the Carthaginian prisoners captured following the triumph of Akragas. What you see in the Valley of the Temples, though, is a copy: the original is kept in the Regional Archaeological Museum “Pietro Griffo” of Agrigento. You should not miss the extraordinary collection of artefacts, among which the statue of Ephebo, masterpiece of Greek sculpture.


Temple of Heracles - Photo by: poludziber / Shutterstock.com
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The Temple of Heracles, built in the late Sixth century B.C., is the most ancient of Akragas. From the 38 original columns only nine remain, reconstructed by putting together, element by element, the original pieces discovered in the area.


Temple of Concordia
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The Temple of Concordia has maintained all of its ancient charm intact: together with the Parthenon, it is considered the best kept Doric temple in the world. In the eyes of the contemporary visitor the columns, the pediment, the tympanum are in a beautiful okra colour. In actuality, the temple was originally white, except for the superior part, painted blue and red. The other temples of the valley were left to fall into ruin, damaged by time and plundered in order to reuse the materials with which they were built. The Temple of Concordia was saved because in the Sixth century A.D. it was converted into a Christian church.


Temple of Hera Lacinia
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The Temple of Hera Lacinia or Juno Lacinia, very similar to the Temple of Concordia, has 30 columns, of which some with a capital on top. It was set on fire by the Cathaginians in 406 B.C.: traces of the fire are still visible on the walls of the structure. The area of the agora of Greek and Roman era is very beautiful, structured over several terraces and centre of public life, where the Bouleuterion (the “Council House”) and the Oratory of Phalaris stand out. The Valley of the Temples also has a rich area of Greek, Roman and Paleochristian necropolises right outside the ancient city, as well as the tomb of Theron, monumental sepulchre erroneously attributed to the old tyrant of Akragas. Lastly, the ingenious aqueducts, the surviving mosaics of the floors of the Hellenic and Roman residential areas and the Paleochristian Basilicas of the subsequent era, among these “Villa Athena” a short distance away from the Temple of Concordia, are surely worthy of attention

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