Nestled in close to the southern coast of Sicily, the town of Agrigento is one of the most rewarding spots to visit for those with a passion for history and archaeology. Luckily, the The Vedura Resort provides the perfect venue for those who wish to see all the wonders and fascinating sites that Agrigento has to offer; while also allowing visitors to indulge in some of the resort’s luxurious delights.
There truly is a plethora of historic buildings and fascinating museums to visit while in this stunning part of the world; from Christian era cathedrals (11th Century) to ancient Greek temples. So with that in mind, we have put together this history buff’s guide to enjoying the very best of what Agrigento has to offer.
Valley of the temples
Considered one of the most important sites of ancient classical culture, the Valley of the Temples is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site that dates back to 500 BC. Consisting of a series of incredible Doric style temples, cemeteries, and tombs, this huge archaeological site (the largest in the world) is one of Sicily’s main attractions, a national monument of Italy, and an exceptional example of Greater Greek art and architecture.
We spoke to Elena Tchijov of the author of Traveling Bytes, who described her experience of the Valley of the Temples to us in a positively glowing manner.
“I would always remember the Valley of the Temples as I saw it for the first time. The road turns, and striking golden-coloured temples appear against bright blue skies. All scholarly research and historical data fade in comparison. If you still have strength in your legs after day-long excursion around those magnificent ruins, take a leisurely walk down to Strada Statale 640 leaving the Temple of Juno behind you. Soon, you hit an intersection, turn right and walk further. Around sunset, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable panorama of a land that hasn’t changed much in the past two and a half thousand years, crowned with a golden jewel of Greek temples.”
Valley of the Temple has a lot to offer and it can be overwhelming. To help you, we have broken it down into the best bits and key sites that this ruin contains.
Temple of Concordia
In the valley’s eastern group, three temples stand alongside one another and are gloriously illuminated in the evenings. The best preserved of the three is the Temple Concordia, which is ranked as one of the Greek world’s most perfect temples along with the Temple of Hera in Paestum, and the Hephaisteion in Athens. No other structure can convey the scale of these ancient buildings quite as well as Concordia, and being the best preserved Doric temple in Sicily, it’s an essential visit while in the area.
Built in around 425 BC with the classical Greek approach of six pillars at either end of the temple, and 13 either side, the temple was converted into a Christian church in the sixth century. It was later restored to its original temple appearance in 1748. The temple was named Concordia after the Roman goddess of harmony.
Temple of Juno
Also built in the 5th century, but burnt in 406 BC by Carthaginians in the Siege of Akragas, the Temple of Juno is another fascinating site that sits in the upper end of the eastern row of temples. 25 of the temples columns are still standing today, and it shares similar dimensions with its twin Concorida.
Also known as the Temple of Hera, after the Greek goddess of women and magic, the temple was restored after the fire that damaged it during Roman times, with substitution of marble tiles for ones of clay. The temple is 38.15 m long and 16.90m high.
Temple of Castor and Pollux
The symbol of modern Agrigento, the Temple of Castor and Pollux is located to the west of the site’s Olympieion fields. Found in the North West corner, the temple has just four of its pillars left today and a fragment of entablature that is mounted over the original temple.
The Temple of Castor and Pollux was rebuilt in the early 19th century and once had colonnades of 6 by 13 pillars which dated back to around the mid-5th century BC. Castor and Pollux according to legend, are twins, with one being the son of a Spartan king and the other the divine son of Zeus. It is said that Pollux asked his father Zeus to let him share his own immortality with his brother after Castor was killed.
Temple of Olympian Zeus
The main attraction of the valley’s Olympeion Fields is the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, known for being the largest Doric temple ever constructed. Sadly it was never completed and today lies in ruins. This enormous temple was shattered by an earthquake that spread its pillars and blocks over a 6,000 square meter radius.
The temple was built in 480 BC to commemorate Theron’s victory over Carthage, and in its prime stood at an intimidating 112 by 56 meters. In between the temple’s columns were giant stone atlases, a unique feature at the time. Remains of one of these colossal figures can be seen at Olympeion field today.
The Greek historian Polybius commented on the temple saying, “the other temples and porticoes which adorn the city are of great magnificence, the temple of Olympian Zeus being unfinished but second it seems to none in Greece in design and dimensions.”
Museo Archeologico Regionale
If you are looking for some respite from the Sicilian sun, the Museo Archeologico Regionale (the regional archaeological museum) at Contrada St. Nicola, Agrigento would be a perfect pit stop. One of the most modern museums in all of Sicily, this fascinating location hosts important archaeological discoveries from the area.
Among the collections found in the museum’s 18 rooms include items from the Neolithic, Bronze, and Iron Ages, and even includes one of the atlas figures from the Valley’s Temple of Olympian Zeus. There is in fact a whole two-story room dedicated to the Olympian Zeus which includes a model, reconstruction drawings of the temple – in case you were having trouble picturing it during its heyday.
Other highlights from the museum include capitals and lion headed gargoyles from different temples, the marble statue of an ephebe (a young man of 18-20 years undergoing military training) from about 480 BC, and a fifth century BC red-figured Greek crater from Gela which depicts an Amazon battle. In each room of the museum there is English and Italian panels to help guide visitors, giving information on the items displayed.
For a guided tour, ticket pricing, and further information regarding the museum, visit this Valley of the Temples resource.
Cathedral of St. Gerlando
Founded in the 11th century is the Cathedral of St. Gerlando, otherwise known as Agrigento Cathedral, and is located at Via Duomo. Dedicated to Saint Gerland – a bishop of Agrigento who was canonised in 1159 – this Roman Catholic cathedral was consecrated in 1099 as the seat of the restored bishop. The diocese has since been elevated now making the cathedral the seat of the Archbishop.
The site was built on the highest point of the ancient Acropolis by Normans, over where the Temple of Zeus Atabyrios once stood. The cathedral was extended in the 13th, 14th, and 17th centuries, altered to fit the Baroque style. The site’s massive bell-tower with ornate balcony truly is a sight to behold, as is the rather grand flight of stairs that leads up to the building’s main doorway.
An effort was made to recreate the nave’s medieval atmosphere after an earthquake damaged it in 1966. Of the previously mentioned alterations, the building has subsequently only retained its incredible wooden ceiling which dates back to 1518.
Inside the gothic style chapel, Saint Gerlando’s silver shrine can be found, and to the west of the cathedral itself one can find the bishop’s seminary. This is a 14th century palace that underwent restorations in both the 17th and 18th centuries.
On Sicily Card, who help visitors discover the most beautiful places in Sicily, spoke to us about the cathedral, telling us some interesting information about the site:
“The cathedral has a particular megaphone effect: Inside the presbytery one can hear everything that’s been said close to the entrance of the church, at a distance of 85 meters (but not the other way around).”
On Sicily Card also told us that “As an “ecclesia munita” (both church and fortress) the cathedral dominated and completed the fortified complex of the city of Agrigento.”
They also took the time to describe the different architectural styles the cathedral is composed of, calling it “a valuable example of different artistic expressions.”
On Sicily Card broke down the styles for us:
“Arab-Norman style: the original style which still can be recognized in the transept and the clock tower.
“Gothic Chiaramonte style: the style of the octagonal based columns supporting the pointed arches.
“Renaissance: the architectural motif, expressed in both the facade and the bell tower.
“Baroque: the decoration of the presbytery and the middle section of the church, which took six years to complete (1096-1102).”
Agrigento truly is a treasure trove of history for those looking for a step into the past during their next Sicilian holiday. Staying at Verdura resort is the perfect place from which to reach out and explore all that there is to see, and with Verdura’s six tennis courts, three championship golf courts, and private beach, one really couldn’t ask for anything more.