AGRIGENTO: “THE MOST BEAUTIFUL CITY AMONG THE CITIES OF MORTALS” (Pindaro, 5th century B.C.)

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Valle dei Templi

Valle dei Templi

Valle dei Templi

Tempio della Concordia

Il tempio di Giunone

tempio della concordia

Agrigento, the ancient Greek Akragas, was founded in 581 B.C. by some inhabitants from Gela, coming from the islands of Rhodes and Crete. It took its name from the river that bathes the territory.  According to some literary and monumental sources, it was one of the main cities of the ancient world: the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples, included in the Unesco World Heritage List in 1997, is one of the most sought-after cultural destinations in Sicily and one of the largest archaeological sites in the world.

The Park preserves the remains of ten temples (used, unfortunately, in the following centuries to build other monuments), which have been built in Doric style with yellow sandstone from the 5th century A.C. onwards. They are the Temple of Juno, where weddings were celebrated; the Temple of Concordia, the one better preserved temple because it was changed  into a Christian temple during the Byzantine period (6th century AD); the Temple of Hercules, the oldest one of which eight columns remain; the Temple of Olympic Zeus, characterized by colossal statues (telamons representing the god Atlas), over seven meters high; the Temple of Dioscuri, of which four columns remain, elected as a symbol of Agrigento; the Temple of Vulcan, of which the base and two columns remain ; the Temple of Athena, built far from the Valley, which preserve the medieval church of Santa Maria dei Greci; the Temple of Aesculapius, belonging to  an extra-urban sanctuary; the Rock Temple of Demeter in the eastern part of the city; the Temple of Isis, within the museum complex of San Nicola.

The Park also houses the monumental pyramid-shaped Tomb of Terone, erected in honor of the fallen soldiers of the second Punic War (218-202 BC); three shrines; a Hellenistic-Roman district; the Hellenistic, Roman and early Christian Giambertoni necropolis; walls and fortifications; the Fragapane Caves, one of the most remarkable catacombs of Sicily; the Early Christian and Byzantine Antiquarium called "Casa Pace"; the Garden of Kolymbetra, a vast hypogeum dating back to the 5th century BC that was used to collect water (the name kolymbetra comes from the Greek "pool"). This water was used to water a very fertile garden, a holiday place for tyrant and a meeting place for the inhabitants of the city. Restored in 2001 by the FAI (Italian Environment Fund), this "naturalistic jewel" is considered one of the most beautiful parks in Italy, which preserves the Mediterranean brush, including also the huge ancient "Saracen" olive trees.

In the upper agora of the ancient Akragas, you can see the Roman Bouléuterion (boardroom); the Hellenic Ekklesiastérion, on whose seats the citizens attended the assembly; the Oratorio di Falaride, a Roman temple converted into a Christian chapel related to the nearby Church of S. Nicola, a fine example of the 13th century style with Romanesque-Gothic elements, which houses the magnificent Sarcophagus of Phaedra dating back to the 2nd century. The Regional Archaeological Museum, which has incorporated parts of the ancient Cistercian Monastery of San Nicola (XIII century), preserves precious finds from the necropolises, bronze objects from the Neolithic period, Attic vases with black and red figures from the VIth - Vth century BC, the famous Efebo dating back to 470 BC; the crater with Amazzonomachia (5th century BC); a colossal Telamone of the Temple of Zeus; funerary inscriptions, sarcophagi, statues, architectural decorations and collections of numismatics.

The modern city develops around two hills, the Rupe Atenea and the Colle di Girgenti, on which the medieval settlement was built and where the present historical center is located.

The Atenea street, lined with cafes, restaurants and shops, is the beating heart of the city; it houses valuable buildings and churches made of sandstone, such as the Church and the Monastery of Santo Spirito, with various gothic style portals, 15th-century frescoes and 18th-century stuccos by Giacomo Serpotta. It is the best preserved monumental complex dating back to XIIIth century in Sicily.

Another valuable artistic testimony, which is distinguished by the variety of its styles (result of enlargements and changes over the centuries) is the Cathedral: the transept and the Bell Tower are in Arab-Norman style; the first part of the church, with octagonal columns surmounted by arches is in Gothic style; the tower is Renaissance style; the presbytery and the central part are Baroque. Erected by the Norman bishop Gerlando (later Saint), it was consecrated in 1099 to the Madonna Assunta and to St. James the Apostle; after two centuries, the church was named after him, became patron of the city.  The church preserves a beautiful Spanish coffered ceiling (1511 - 1514) and houses the silver reliquary Arca di San Gerlando by Michele Ricca of 1639, which is carried in procession every year on 25th February on the occasion of the Feast of the Patron. Another religious event particularly felt by the inhabitants of Agrigento is the Festa di San Calogero, which takes place for eight days, from the first to the second Sunday in July.

The city and the province of Agrigento are rich in ancient olive trees, orange trees and almond trees. Ribera produces the excellent blood oranges, Orange from Ribera P.D.O. and the almond production has a prominent place at national level. The Almond Blossom Festival, which takes place in Agrigento in springtime, is one of the most long-lived and followed events in the Sicily.

Agrigento is the birthplace of the philosopher Empedocle, born in the 5th century B.C. and the internationally renowned playwright Luigi Pirandello (1867-1936), who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1934. Near Porto Empedocle, in contrada Caos, it is possible to visit his birth house, today a Museum, which preserves relics, manuscripts, photographs, honors and personal items. The urn with the writer's ashes is contained inside a rock near the house.

Porto Empedocle is the birthplace of  the famous writer, director and playwright Andrea Camilleri, born in 1925, who is the author of the famous novels set in Sicily and in the territory of Agrigento, including those starring  Inspector Montalbano.

You can not miss a visit to the enchanting site of Scala dei Turchi, about 10 km from Agrigento: a white cliff of friable marlstone overhanging the sea, which the winds have shaped over the centuries to create terraces, balconies and steps. It is one of the most fascinating places in Sicily, unforgettable for the strong color contrasts of the landscape: the blue of the sea and the sky contrasting with the blinding white of this cliff. It is not known if the Turks, during their feared raids, are really disembarked in these white marlstones; the legend tells about …     

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