The archeological site of Agrigento







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The archeological site of Agrigento             (Back to Agrigento main information page)

Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century B.C. by colonists from nearby Gela and from Rodhes, the old Akragas became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world.

Its supremacy and pride are demonstrated by the remains of the magnificent Doric temples that dominate the ancient town, much of which still lies intact.

Archeological areas throw light on the later Hellenistic and Roman town and the burial practices of its early Christian inhabitants.

Surrounded with a potent wall, the city was formed partially by a higher edge on which stood the acropolis. The southern limit of the ancient city was a second lower edge, and it was here, in the so-called ?Valle dei tempi" (Valley of the Temples), that the city architects erected their sacred buildings during the 5th century BC.

The Valley of temple was set ablaze by the Carthaginians in 406 B.C. and restored by the Romans (1C BC) respecting their original Doric style. The Valley is plenty of ruins of numerous temples, a necropolis, and then houses, streets and everything else one would expect to find in an ancient city.

All the buildings face east thus respecting the Greek and Roman criteria where the entrance (Holy of Holies), plenty of statues of the Gods, is illuminated by the rays of the rising sun (the source and blood of life) providing a particularly impressive sight at dawn while at sunset they turn to a warm shade of gold.

On the whole, the temple built of limestone tufa, have a hex style format (that is with six columns at the front), the exception being the Temple of Zeus.

For instance, the Temple of Zeus, instead of the usual open colonnade, is bordered by a wall sealing off the spaces between the columns which, inside, become seven engaged columns.

Having been destroyed, the temple was re-erected following the victory of the people of Agrigentum over the Carthaginians at Himera (in about 480 BC).

It is considered one of the largest temples built in ancient times ever known, being 113 metres long and 36 metres wide, but it is thought never to have been completed.

A reproduction is displayed in the middle of the temple, giving some idea of the proportional scale of the vast building.

On the ground of the temple, facing the sky, lies an 8 metres high ?Telomon?, a supporting column sculpted as a male figure, with his arms raised, bent to bear the temple's weight. The term of Telamone, from the Latin, alludes to the mythological figure Atlas, the giant and leader of the Titans who struggled against the gods of Olympus and was condemned by Zeus to support the weight of the sky on his head. When the earth was discovered to be spherical, he was often shown bearing the terrestrial globe on his shoulders.

The oldest of Akragas's temples, is the Tempio di Ercole (Hercules), which was probably built in the last decades of the 6th century BC. Today, 8 of the original 38 columns have been re-erected with all the others spotted around like a waiting jigsaw puzzle. From the temple, looking south, can be seen what is called the Tomb of Theron, erroneously believed to have been the tomb of the tyrant Theron, it was erected in honour of the soldiers killed during the Second Punic War.

Not distant from the first temple is the glorious Temple of Concord dated to around 430 BC. It is considered one of the best preserved temples of ancient time. Beautifully sited, it offers fine views to the city and the sea. The reason it has survived intact is due to its transformation into a church in the 6C AD. It?s not known however to which God it was dedicated being the name of Concord from a Latin inscription found in the vicinity. The temple gives a mixture of optical illusion: the columns become narrower at the top to appear taller and have an entasis, a slight convex curve at about two-thirds of the height giving the illusion of concavity. This allows the observer standing at a certain distance from the temple to see a perfectly straight image.

Following the line of the ancient city walls stands the Temple of Giunone (or Hera Lacina), an engaging half-ruin standing at the very edge of the ridge.

Other remains are scattered in the area including the so-called Temple of Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux), rebuilt in 1832.

An excellent National archeological Museum rich in collection contains finds from the city and the surrounding area. Best displays are vases of 6th to 3rd century BC, and a reassembled Telamone stacked against one wall. On the way out for the Hellenistic-Roman area there are lines of houses, inhabited intermittently until the 5th century AD, many with well preserved mosaic designs.

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