Valley of the Temples, Agrigento Valle dei Templi
Following the Passeggiata Archeologica downhill from the Archeological Museum, a parking lot is reached from which it is possible to visit the temples in the Valley of Temples (Valle dei Templi). There are two groups of temples to visit, the first one being the eastern group which consists of three buildings from the years 500, 425 and 450 B.C. That they carry the names Hercules (Heracles), Concordia and Juno (Hera) Lacinia is more or less arbitrary.In ancient times the southern city wall of Akrágas ran round the edge of a steep precipice. Close to this wall, which was linked to the natural "fortification" of the rock-face and the remains of which are still visible, these temples are situated in a line and, by virtue of their superb position, form a group of buildings of outstanding beauty (illuminated in the evenings).
Valley of the Temples Map
Opening hours: 8:30am-7pm
Entrance fee in EUR: Adult €8.00, Concession or reduced rate €4.00
Valley of the Temples Highlights
Temple of Hercules
The first of the temples, which like all the buildings of worship in Akrágas follows the Doric order, is known as the Temple of Hercules (Heracles). It is a circular temple (peripteros), which was built about 500 B.C. With a stylobate of from 25.28m/83ft to 67.04m/220ft it has a considerable size and with 6x15 pillars an extensive ground plan. This can be explained by the fact that inside the temple the pronaos is followed by a cella, which had to be especially long to take into account the tripartite adyton (adytum=most holy place) at the back. Finally beyond the cella there is another opisthodom, analogous to the entrance hall with two columns between the walls. The temple was destroyed by the Carthaginians in 406 B.C., rebuilt by the Romans and subsequently destroyed once more by an earthquake. Even in the ruins it is still possible to see that behind the entrance to the cella there were staircases on both sides, which gave access to the roof story. That eight pillars of the south ambulatory are still standing is due to the Englishman Alexander Herdenstel, who in 1923 directed restoration work at his own expense. Incidentally it is worth mentioning that the original dedicatee of the temple is not known; in Roman times it was - according to Cicero - dedicated to Hercules (Heracles), whose statue of worship had a particular attraction for the religious.
If the footpath is followed uphill from the Temple of Hercules, the Villa Aurea is passed, standing in its luxuriant garden with the remains of necropolises from Roman and Christian times. Graves can also be made out in the rocks further up along the city wall. Then the so-called Temple of Concordia comes into view.
Tempio di Concordia
Together with the Hephaisteion in Athens and the classical Temple of Hera in Paestum, the Temple of Concordia in Agrigento ranks among the most perfect temples in the Greek world and is the best preserved Doric temple in Sicily. It conveys, therefore, an excellent impression of the scale of such an ancient sacred building.Architectural historyThe temple was built around 425 B.C., to designs that had already been superseded back in the Greek motherland. With a stylobate of 16.92m/56ft by 39.42m/129ft it is appreciably smaller than the Temple of Hercules. With its 6x13 columns it has classical proportions. Even its interior is conceived in the style that was the norm in Greece: pronaos, cella, opisthodom - without the adytum which was usually to be found in Sicily behind the cella. Here again there are staircases to the left and right of the cella entrance leading to the roof truss. The building is preserved right up to the roof. That the building does not now make the impression that it would have done in its original condition is to be accounted for primarily by the fact that its appearance is today determined by its oxidized red sandstone, whereas it would originally have been colored and covered with stucco both inside and out, like all temples not made of marble. Its good state of preservation is attributable to the fact that in the sixth century it was turned into a Christian church under Pope Gregory the Great. The cella thereby served as a central aisle, the columns were walled up so that the ambulatories could function as side aisles, and round-arched openings in the cella walls provided access between the central and side aisles (just as is the case in the cathedral at Siracuse, which was previously a temple to Athene). Here in Agrigento, however, its use as a church was abandoned in 1748 and the building has been restored as a temple.
Temple of Juno Lacinia
The Temple of Juno (in Greek Hera) Lacinia, situated at the upper end of the row of temples, has almost the same base measurements as well as a circular hall of 6x13 columns. Of its columns 25 are still upright. The cella was a room without inner columns. It was given its marble floor later, probably in Roman times. The foundation of its religious symbolism is no longer extant, indeed there is no indication which deity was worshipped here. The temple was destroyed by the Carthaginians and, on being rebuilt by the Romans, was given a ramp leading up to the eastern entrance side. In front of this the notable remains of a large sacrificial altar can be observed.
This group of buildings can claim the visitor's interest for various reasons: the Temple of Zeus is exceptional by virtue of its huge dimensions, while those buildings connected with the worship of the chthonian gods are indicative of the close connection which has existed from pre-Greek times between ancient Sicily and the gods of the underworld, especially Demeter, Hades and Persephone.
Temple of the Olympian Zeus
The Temple of the Olympian Zeus (Olympieion, Tempio di Giove Olimpico) is today an enormous mass of shattered stone blocks and pillars which an earthquake has scattered over an area of 6,000sq.m/6,800sq.yd. It is difficult without plans or the suggested reconstruction supplied by the Archeological Museum to form a picture of the building in its original state, which in its measurements apparently surpassed any other temple.The tyrant Theron had the Olympieion designed to commemorate his victory over Carthage in the Battle of Himera in 480 B.C. It is a building of which it is only possible to talk in superlatives, for it is the largest of all Doric temples (it was even supposed to have surpassed the Temple G of Selinunte), and "it is the most original, but also the most unfathomable creation of the Greek world" (G. Gruben).The foundations occupy a rectangle of 56.30m/185ft by 113.45m/372ft (ratio 1:2), on which rests the stylobate (52.74m/173ft by 110.10m/361ft) which supports seven columns on each of the narrow sides and 14 on the longer sides. These columns had an (estimated) height of about 18.20m/60ft and a correspondingly large base diameter of 4.05m/13ft. Goethe noted during his Italian journey of 1787: "It will give you an idea of the size of the fluting on the columns if I tell you that when I was standing there, I only managed to occupy the space of the fluting, which was like a small niche, by pressing outwards with both shoulders. It would take twenty-two men, standing next to one another in a circle, to form the circumference of one of these columns." Regarding what is "original" and "unfathomable" about the building, it departs completely from what is the norm of a Greek temple. The spaces between the columns were walled in, something which can still be deduced from remains of the southern longer side of the temple which can be seen on the site: the fragments of the wall have half-columns jutting out on the outside, and on the inside flat pilasters. The square wall came a good halfway up the height of the column. Over this niches were inserted, in which fully three-dimensional Atlantes stood. These gigantic figures were 7.65m/25ft high (one of them is to be found in the Archeological Museum, a copy stands on the temple site) and the number of them has been put at 38. They supported the entablature with pediments, the reliefs of which must have reached a height of 6m/19.5ft; according to Diodor, they dealt with the battle of the gods with the giants (on the east side) and the conquest of Troy (on the west side). The total height of the temple is estimated at approximately 40m/131ft. The walling-up of the intercolumns had the effect that there was no well-lit passage round the cella and the whole building was like one large enclosed room. There was no normal entrance in the middle of the shorter east side, because a pillar stood at this point. Instead there were entrances in the corners of this shorter side and also in the middle of the longer south side. Two rows of pillars divided the interior area into three aisles of more or less equal width. In addition there were walls between these, although possibly only up to halfway, enabling them "to let the vast area be flooded with light" (Gruben). How this enormous space was lit is not clear; E. Langlotz thinks of it as a hypaethral temple with a large roof opening. H. Drerup has pointed out that a room with pillars like this one can be considered a Phoenician-Carthaginian type of building. The gigantic Temple of Zeus, a testimony to the feelings of triumph of its creator Theron after his victory over Carthage and to the unbroken trust in the inexhaustible possibilities that Sicily offered at this time, did in fact exceed the limits of man's powers; it was left unfinished when the Carthaginians conquered Akrágas in retaliation, and remained a mere torso. It was also hit by earthquakes and for many years its ruins served as a quarry when the port of Porto Empédocle was being extended in the 18th century.
Temple of Castor and Pollux
To the west of the Olympieion extends the vast area of the temenos of the chthonic divinities. It dates back to the Sicans and was extended by the Greeks in the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. It includes what is commonly Tempio di Castore e Polluce called the Dioscuri Temple (Temple of Castor and Pollux), the northwest corner of which (four columns and a fragment of entablature and pediment) was rebuilt between 1836 and 1871 and has become the emblem of Agrigento. It had colonnades of 6x13 pillars on a stylobate of 13m/43ft by 31m/102ft and, like a second temple lying parallel to it, belonged to the final phase of building which took place in this shrine of the chthonic gods, in particular of Demeter and Persephone. Both these temples were built when the Greeks wanted to put their stamp on the area with something over and above the small older religious buildings. These latter have their focal point in a large round altar with a diameter of 8m/26ft. Alongside it there were small temples and in the north of the area two unwalled holy places, as can be discerned from those parts of the ground walls which have been preserved. Gottfried Gruben says of these rather unsophisticated religious buildings: "Strangest of all are two small unwalled 'areas' which, because they consist of a sequence of open spaces, are to be considered as a mixture of temple and temenos. The first, in spite of its regular ground plan, formed a tiny labyrinth: from the north one entered a kind of pronaos and cella ..., then was led to the left into a room with a cubic altar, had to pass through a narrow chamber behind the cella in order to reach the right-hand part which had almost its complete width taken up by a large round altar with a sacrificial grave. Was this where, as in Eleusis, people's acceptance into the religious community was consecrated?Did secret sacrificial rites take place here ?"
Temple of Vulcan
Northwest, beyond the railroad in Agrigento, are the remains of the so-called Temple of Vulcan (Tempio di Vulcano, built c. 470 B.C.). From here there is a view of the range of temples.
Tempio di Demetra
From the cemetery in Agrigento it is only 500m/550yd east on the stony ancient road to the Temple of Demeter (Tempio di Demetra) which stands on high ground. Originally built c. 470 B.C., it was converted by the Normans into the little church of San Biagio. To the east below the terrace is a cave sanctuary of Demeter (c. 650 B.C.). Soon afterwards another road on the right branches off the Via Crispi. After 500m/550yd a recently excavated section of the Greco-Roman city (fourth century B.C. to A.D. fifth century) is reached; with fine wall paintings and mosaic pavements.
Immediately south of the museum in Agrigento is the little Gothic church of San Nicola (13th century) with a fine doorway. Inside is a marble sarcophagus carved with scenes from the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus (second-third centuries A.D.). Close to the church, to the west, is the so-called Oratory of Phalaris and a theater built on a comitium (meeting-place).
In 1km/0.75 mi a road goes off on the left to the cemetery. At its southeast corner are remains of the Greek town walls.
Beyond the Ancient City
Tomb of Theron
The grave of Theron can be reached from the southern parking lot by going through the Porta Aurea and then turning left. It is a tower-like burial temple which in fact dates from the A.D. first century and has no connection with the tyrant who died in 472 B.C. and was the victor of Himera and the builder of the Olympieion. Further south (turning off Tempio di Esculapio left at the large crossroads) the Temple of Aesculapius is reached. It dates from the fifth century B.C. and in the area around it (which is not open to the public) excavations are in progress.
Temple of Aesculapius
There are extensive views from the small Temple of Aesculapius (Tempio de Esculapio; fifth century B.C.) in Agrigento.
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