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Agrigento is one of the most important cities in Sicily, and is situated on the southern coast of the island. It is particularly well known and visited because of the ancient temple complex of Agrigento. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A short history of Agrigento is useful when you visit, to help bring the temples and monuments to life and set them in context.
Recent excavations have shown that the Agrigento area was inhabited from the Neolithic age and that the Greeks, coming perhaps from nearby Gela, who lived in close contact with the Sicilians until the 7th century BC.
The Greek colony of Akràgas was then founded in the first half of the 6th century (according to tradition it was in 580) by the inhabitants of Gela and it had a great importance. Following the victory of Imera against the Carthaginians in the 5th century it became the second largest city in Sicily after Syracuse.
The name, Akràgas, perhaps derives from the river surrounding the city to the south (now San Biagio), which joins the Ipsas River (today 'Drogo').
Thousands of prisoners were used in the construction of public works and in particular the great Temple of Olympian Zeus, of dimensions roughly equal to that of Selinunte (112.70 and 56.30 metres). But the temple remained unfinished and was heavily damaged by the Carthaginians in 406 BC.
The historical events of Agrigento then follow those of Sicily. In 210 BC it came under Roman rule (under the name Agrigentum), then it was conquered by the Vandals, Goths and Byzantines and, in 827 it was conquered by the Arabs and finally by Roger Guiscard (1031-1101). In the 18th century the city was under Bourbon control, then became part of the kingdom of Italy with the Unification of 1860.
The Valley of the Temples
Together with Selinunte, Agrigento is the richest city for temples in Sicily, one of these, the Temple of Concord is the best preserved of all the temples of Sicily.
Other temples here include the temple of Hercules (late 6th century BC), Demeter and Athena on the Acropolis (early 5th century), that of Licinia (second half of the 5th century BC), and finally, the most recent Vulcan, Castor and Pollux and Aesculapius (late fifth century BC).
Your visit to Agrigento starts in the Valley of the Temples with the best preserved temple of all, the so-called Temple of Concord.
The temple was (incorrectly) named after a Latin inscription that was actually added much later, probably in the age of Augustus (63 B.C.-14 A.D.) or Trajan (53-117 A.D.), and was found near the temple that referred to a monument erected to Concord.
It is said that the temple was by Theron (535-472 B.C.), and is more than 40 metres long and 20 metres wide. The lintel of the temple is intact and supported by tapered columns, with friezes of triglyphs and metopes.
Via a step about 50 cm high, you enter the cell where the statue of the god was held, on the sides of which there are two spiral ladders leading to the lintel, from where you can admire the countryside and sea.
Also very beautiful and striking is the Temple of Hera Licinia (the goddess Juno). It is almost as big as the Temple of Concordia, with the same number of tapered columns, but of which only 25 out of 34 are standing.
This temple was severely damaged by the Carthaginians, who burned it and then it was again rebuilt, but it suffered very serious injuries after an earthquake in the Middle Ages.
Near the so-called Golden Gate (Porta Aurea) you can see the ruins of the Temple of Hercules, of which only a single column remains, without capitals - originally it was even bigger than the Temples of Concord and Juno at 64 meters long and about 28 wide and it had 15 columns on either side,with two steps leading to the cell of God, with two sides of staircases leading to the lintel.
Inside the cell, according to the testimony of Cicero (106-43 B.C.), there was a bronze statue of Hercules, and formerly there was also a painting of Zeus.
Across from the Golden Gate was the Temple of Olympian Jupiter, the plan of which was made up of two squares. Not for nothing was it called The Palace of the Giants - 'giants' (statues) stood in the temple with raised arms to support the roof. One of these figures can be seen on the ground next to the temple and one has been reassembled in the Agrigento Archaeology Museum.
Of the Temple of Castor and Pollux little remains but it was once a remarkable temple, although now just four columns and one lintel are left.
Not much remains of the other two temples, including that of Aesculapius, where, according to Cicero, there was once a beautiful statue of Apollo.
The statue of Apollo was by Myron (480-440 B.C.). It was stolen by the Carthaginians, then returned and again stolen by Verres (120-43 B.C.) when he was proconsul in Sicily (he also tried, according to some evidences, to steal the bronze statue of Hercules).
Also very suggestive is the so-called sepulchre of Theron at more than nine meters high, and of great importance is the Oratory of Phalaris near the San Nicola church.
Agrigento Archaeology Museum
After the Valley of the Temples, visit the Agrigento Regional Archaeological Museum, which has a truly outstanding collection of exhibits. Among them the very important statue of the Agrigento Ephebe stands out, but the findings preserved are all of an exceptional historical importance: the civilization indigenous of the 7th-6th century BC. are represented with potterries, terracotta, metals (bronze figures, instruments and a small bull in bronze).
Elsewhere in Agrigento
In the modern city of Agrigento you can visit the Norman Cathedral which has artistic contributions from many ages: Arabic, Gothic, Renaissance (bell tower) and Baroque (sanctuary). The church is in the form of a Latin cross, 100 metres long and 40 metres wide.
The Cathedral Museum is also rich in precious materials with artefacts ranging from the 12th to the 19th century, and a collection of paintings ranging from Mannerism to Baroque, Naturalism and Classicism. Among these note the San Carlo Borromeo in Prayer by Pietro D'Asaro (1579-1647), and the Adoration of the Child probably by Pompeo Buttafuoco (1578-1645).
Places to visit near Agrigento and local cuisine
From a tourist point of view, Agrigento is not just the Valley of the Temples, but also the beach of San Leone and the island of Lampedusa, both of which have many attractions and attract many visitors. Ferries to Lampedusa (one of the Pelagian Islands) leave from Agrigento.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Sicily guide.