Agrigento: the valley of the temples
On the southern coast of Sicily a couple of hours far from Palermo, travelling by car, we find the city of Agrigento. The first settlers gave life to the city during the 6th century B.C. and during its long history it went through several dominations of whom nowadays we can still admire the evidences. During the centuries the city changed its name more than once, it was Akragas for the Greeks, Agrigentum for the Romans, Kerkent for the Arabs and Girgenti during the reign of the Normans. And, Girgenti was its name until 1927 when during the fascism the italian form of the latin name Agrigentum, the actual Agrigento, was chosen. However it is the ancient Akragas that still today attracts a great number of visitors as it did in the past: the Greek Polis in fact, with its temples, built in the doric style, is one of the most appreciated archeological sites of the world, also thanks to its exceptional state of conservation. Since 1997 together with many other sites in the Sicilian territory, the Valley of the temples was declared part of the world’s heritage list by UNESCO: it is situated not far from the modern city of Agrigento that unfortunately was victim in the last forty years of an aggressive building speculation. Somehow the speculation was not enough to undermine the magnificence and the incomparable beauty of the ancient greek buildings that lie carelessly of what happened around them over the last two thousand years: their charm is actually eternal as well as the one that wraps the Giza pyramids, today almost choking amidst the suburbs of Cairo.
The archeological area of the Valley of the temples is huge, the visit, especially during summer could be challenging: the long promenade and the relentless sun could be too much for elder people or children, that is why in July and August the opening hours extend till late in the evening and thanks to the wonderful lighting the visit is even more suggestive. Those who are not willing to walk can take electric cars going back and forth in the park for additional three Euros, in the price is included a short description of the temples given by the guide. A few meters after the main entrance the visitor immediately breath the beauty of the place: the path is dotted with almond trees of different varieties and millennial olive trees among which stand the huge honey coloured limestone columns of the temples.
The temple of Juno
The very first visual impact is the temple of Juno, situated to the east, it lies on a small hill and has a dominating position, we suggest to walk up to have a look to its structure surrounded by wonderful trees, from there you will have a view from the hill of the temples to the coast of agrigento and the sea. From the temple of Giunone a long straight boulevard that goes through the archeological area, literally dotted with gardens, ancient walls, sanctuaries, temples, graves, altars, the more one walks through them the more he travels with fantasy to an ancient world, thinking of who, man or woman was there before him, to their lifestyle and habits. Another time warp offered by Sicily that never stops stunning visitors! The promenade is really pleasant even if long and we suggest to go on foot ( electric cars are comfortable but in our opinion a little bit out of context) to be wrapped by the magic atmosphere of the place.
The temple of Concordia
Several hundred meters ahead there is the temple of Concordia that thanks to its incredible state of conservation is considered to be one of the most important examples of holy building from the classic age and obviously it is the main attraction for visitors, some sort of superstar here!
In 2011 in this archeological area took place the exhibition of the sculptural works of Igor Mitoraj who pointed the finger to the decay of art and carelessness about it in Italy: his statue called “Fallen Icarus” is still present before the temple of Concordia and gives even to amateur photographers like us the possibility to take very special pics.
The archeological promenade takes to the temple of Heracles, the most ancient, it was built during the 6th century B.C. on his side a monumental altar.
Still going west what is left of the colossal temple of the Olympian Zeus with its Telamones (atlantes for the Greeks) that were huge male figures used as columns, nowadays lying on the ground as sleeping giants.
Then, the sanctuary of the chthonic Gods and the temple of the Dioscuri of which only a few columns are left.
If you started the visit in the afternoon by now it should be sunset and you have to walk back to the entrance, this is the best moment, the sun, going down behind you, make the colour of the limestone turn even warmer and casts long shadows before you.