The Sicilian Expedition Travel Journal – Day 6

10th May 2015

Agrigento is Temple Central not just for Sicily but for pretty much the entirety of Magna Graecia. It’s not just the number of temples to be built here, it’s their remarkable state of preservation. Paestum is a close second, but Agrigento has a special magic all her own.

The ancient town of Akragas was built as a colony of Gela in 580BC along two ridges. The northern ridge is now covered by modern Agrigento and the southern ridge is a sprawling archaeological park bursting with ruins known as the Valley of the Temples.

I’m vaguely aware that the centre of Agrigento town is quite pretty with a few attractive old churches etc, but for a Classics nerd as myself I can’t bring myself to spend any time at all away from the lure of ancient temples. It’s a Sunday, so the Museo Archaeologico will close at lunch time. I set out early to head there first.

Unfortunately I’m staying in the ugly outskirts of the modern town (the owners of my hotel have worked wonders inside of their building, I feel for them that their surroundings aren’t as cared for!) and my guidebook map is not ideal. I take a wrong turning near the top of the hill and end up taking the most ridiculously circuitous route to the museum, getting hotter and more lost with each step. It’s a mercy that locals seem to be used to lost tourists, a shame that they don’t put up more signs to help us help ourselves!

Finally at the museum, my mood picks up again when I see ancient stones. There is an area of ruins belonging to the Hellenistic-Romano period of the city that looks tempting but is, unfortunately, closed. After nearly a week in Sicily I am growing sadly used to attractions being closed without notice or explanation. Not to be put off after the disaster of yesterday, I plough on to the museum entrance.

The Ekklesiasterion

The Ekklesiasterion

Statue of a Warrior circa 460BC

Statue of a Warrior circa 460BC

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The centrepiece of the museum is undoubtedly the reconstructed telamon from the Temple of Zeus. Telamons are male figures used as columns (caryatids are the female version, most famously used on the Athenian Acropolis,) and I’ve seen a fair few in my time. The ones at Agrigento are in a league of their own…

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A tourist resorts to lying on the floor in a futile attempt to capture the entire telamon in shot…

Helpfully, right next to the telamon is a model of the Temple of Zeus as it stood before it collapsed in various earthquakes. It is only when you see the tiny telamons in the model that the sheer scale of the temple hits you…

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I’m aware that little is left standing of this particular temple now, seismic activity taking a cruel toll and the rubble pillaged for recycling. It’s heartbreaking because this gargantuan temple is believed to be completely unique in design even if it was never completed. Still, I’m now VERY excited to see the ruins of it…

The artifacts in the museum show just how rich and prosperous Akragas became, any money they made from warfare and trade was ploughed into constructing beautiful buildings and creating gorgeous art. Fought over by Rome (who called it Agrigentum,) and Carthage in both Punic Wars, the city was evidently a valuable possession. It’s time to head to the ruins and see exactly why.

Temple of Concord (and Icarus!) @ Agrigento #sicily

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Temple of Concord @ Agrigento #sicily

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Temple of Hercules @ Agrigento #sicily

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Temple of the Dioscuri @ Agrigento #sicily

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The fallen remains of the Temple of Zeus/Jove @ Agrigento #sicily

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Telemon @ the Temple di Giove @ Agrigento #sicily

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Temple of Hera/Juno @ Agrigento #sicily

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The Temple of Zeus does cover a site as enormous as the mdoel in the museum suggests. It was 370 feet long, 185 feet wide and would have been 66 feet tall.

The Temple of Zeus does cover a site as enormous as the mdoel in the museum suggests. It was 370 feet long, 185 feet wide and would have been 66 feet tall.

Diodorus Siculus records that the temple was founded to commemorate the Battle of Himera in 480BC. Akragas and Syracuse teamed up to defeat the Carthaginians and Akragas celebrated their victory by constructing the ancient equivalent of an ultra modern, completely unique temple dedicated to Olympian Zeus. It was constructed by Carthaginian slaves and, had it been completed, would have dwarfed all other temples in Akragas. Ironically it was a Carthaginian attack on the city in 406BC that halted construction.

Diodorus Siculus records that the temple was founded to commemorate the Battle of Himera in 480BC.
Akragas and Syracuse teamed up to defeat the Carthaginians and Akragas celebrated their victory by constructing the ancient equivalent of an ultra modern, completely unique temple dedicated to Olympian Zeus.
It was constructed by Carthaginian slaves and, had it been completed, would have dwarfed all other temples in Akragas.
Ironically it was a Carthaginian attack on the city in 406BC that halted construction.

The ruins of Temple L are strewn in front of the Temple of the Dioscuri

The ruins of Temple L are strewn in front of the Temple of the Dioscuri

On the other side of the Temple of the Dioscuri is an archaic sanctuary with ancient shrines and altars. The upright columns of the Temple of the Dioscuri are actually a fictional 19thC reconstruction, with elements plundered from across the site. There was a 5thC BC temple underneath but little remains of it.

On the other side of the Temple of the Dioscuri is an archaic sanctuary with ancient shrines and altars.
The upright columns of the Temple of the Dioscuri are actually a fictional 19thC reconstruction, with elements plundered from across the site. There was a 5thC BC temple underneath but little remains of it.

First glimpse of the Temple of Heracles

First glimpse of the Temple of Heracles

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The Temple of Herakles is one of the oldest of the large temples in the Valley, dating to the late 6thC BC.

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The Temple of Hera dates to around 450BC.

The Temple of Hera dates to around 450BC.

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A huge altar stands before the Temple of Hera, now used mainly for people to get good shots with their cameras!

A huge altar stands before the Temple of Hera, now used mainly for people to get good shots with their cameras!

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When the city came under Byzantine rule the city walls were recycled into a cemetery…IMG_4167 IMG_4214

The most iconic and complete of the Agrigento temples is the Temple of Concordia. It was probably never dedicated to Concordia at all and was built circa 440-430BC.

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Like so many well preserved pagan temples, we have the conversion of the building into a church to thank for how much we have left.

Like so many well preserved pagan temples, we have the conversion of the building into a church to thank for how much we have left.

In the 6thC AD the temple became a Christian church and structural changes were made. You can see here that arches were cut into the walls of the cella, which became the nave. The gaps between the columns were walled up to create aisles on each side. Thankfully the walling has been removed, but the arches in the cella walls will have to remain.

In the 6thC AD the temple became a Christian church and structural changes were made. You can see here that arches were cut into the walls of the cella, which became the nave. The gaps between the columns were walled up to create aisles on each side. Thankfully the walling has been removed, but the arches in the cella walls will have to remain.

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I spent seven hours on the site (not including the two hours spent at the museum,) even then only reluctantly leaving because I was so tired. I fell in love with the Valley of the Temples, and will definitely be returning one day…

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