Agrigento, Sicily: and the fascinating Valley of the Temples

Photo of Agrigento in South-West Sicily

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Visit Agrigento

Agrigento is an important Sicilian city, and the capital of the Sicilian province of the same name. It is located on southern coast of the island.

It was one of the most important centers of civilization for the Greek colonists on Sicily, which can clearly be witnessed through the archaeological sites in the city. Agrigento has a long history of occupation and has changed hands several times during its 2600 year life.

Explore the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples of Agrigento

The most famous archaeological attraction, which has raised Agrigento to worldwide recognition, is the Valle dei Temple, or the Valley of the Temples, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was constructed from the 6th century BC onwards.

Valley of the Temples, Sicily

Built in the manner of the great Acropolis in the Athens, the complex of the Valley of the Temples is built on a high ridge facing the sea. The size and beauty of the temples is amazing and the walk along the ridge is absolutely fascinating and not to be missed.

Temple of Juno in Valley of the Temples

The temples run in an almost straight line along a road with the most complete temples in the Eastern zone. Starting at the Eastern end the first temple you get to is the Temple of Juno which is the second most preserved after the Temple of Concord. The Temple of Juno was built about 450 BC and has many intact columns. 

The road then leads past a stretch of wall between the Temple of Juno and the Temple of Concord. In this wall you can see a number of tombs called arcosolia because of the arched shape of these niches. They would originally have been closed with stone slabs but have long since been ransacked.

The most spectacular of all the temples in the complex is the Temple of Concord, which was built in 430 BC and is the best preserved.  This is because it was converted to be used as a church in the 6th century AD, and thus avoided the damage done by Christians to many of the temples here on the basis they were pagan monuments. Interestingly this temple is the inspiration for the UNESCO logo!

A huge bronze statue of Icarus lies at the foot of the Temple of Concord. Icarus was the son of Daedalus who created wings of wax and feathers for himself and his son to escape King Minos. He warned his son not to fly too close to the sun which would melt his wings but Icarus forgot in his excitement to be flying and fell to the sea and drowned.

The Temple of Hercules is the next along the path and this is the oldest temple in the Valley of the Gods having been built in the 6th century BC.

After these three temples the remaining temples in the Western zone are less complete but non the less well worth exploring.

Telamone in the Temple of Zeus, Agrigento

The Temple of Olympian Zeus was the biggest Doric temple ever to be built. It was started in about 480 BC though was not finished before it was attacked by the Carthaginians. The Temple of Olympian Jupiter is interesting for the giant stone statues that once stood between the columns. These have long since fallen but one can be seen on the floor next to the temple and one has been reassembled in the Agrigneto Archaeology Museum.

The remaining temples include the Temple of Castor and Pollux, and the Temple of Vulcan and Temple of Asclepius.

As well as the temples there is the Tomb of Theron which is a 1st century Roman tomb and the Villa Aurea which is used for creative workshops.

All in all the Valley of the Temples is a beautiful and awe-inspiring site with much for visitors to explore. It is the key archaological site on the island of Sicily (though we personally prefered the smaller but more beautiful site of the Selinunte temples).

If you still have some energy you can explore the Kolymbethra garden though this is more of a citrus grove through a valley below the temples and we were rather disappointed. You have to pay extra for the garden ticket at the entrance to the Archaeological park.

Practical information

The main car park and entrance is at Porta V on the southwestern corner near the Western zone with another entrance near the Eastern zone.

If you arrive at the main Porta V car park the easiest way to see the park is to take one of the shared taxis which will drive you straight to the Eastern entrance and leave you to walk through the park and back to your car. Otherwise as the main temples are at the Eastern zone you will need to walk right through the park and back again which can be hot work!

Temple of Hercules

Modern Agrigento

The modern city of Agrigento is surrounded by unnattractive tower blocks and motorways but it does have an interesting medieval centre that is pleasant to explore. Attractions in the town of Agrigento like the Cathedral, Via Atena and the Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Greci are all noteworthy.

There is also a Regional Museum of Archaeology that features many artefacts that have been unearthed during excavations in and around the Valley of the Temples and elsewhere in the region.

Modern Agrigento on the site of the ancient Greek town of Akragas was once a rival to Siracusa as the main city of Sicily at the time. However in 406 BC it was destroyed by the Cathaginians and although rebuilt it never regained its original status.

Whats in a name?

The original Greek name for the town was Akragas. After falling to the Carthaginians it was the Romans, who occupied the region from 210 BC, that gave it the name of Agrigentum.

With the Arab occupation of the 9th century the name changed to Kerkent, which subsequently became Girgenti. it wasn't until 1927 that the current name, Agrigento, was bestowed upon the town by Mussolini.

Agrigento beaches

When you tire of all the history that surrounds you, relax by visiting some beautiful beaches near the town. The beaches near Agrigento include Scala dei Turchi, San Leone and Torre Salsa. San Leone beach in particular is very popular and as well as the beach there are some great fish restaurants and a lively night scene.

Places to Visit Nearby

Nearby Realmonte is home to the Scal dei Turchi beach with spectacular white cliff backdrops. The beach is something of an instagram senstation.

Regular boat trips leave Agrigneto for Lampedusa, one of the Pelagian Islands.

See also:

Photos of Agrigento

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Map of Agrigento and places to visit

Agrigento places to visit