Friday, May 1, 2015

Agrigento: The Valley of the Temples

Agrigento is the name of yet another mountaintop or hilltop ancient city in Sicily.  Only this one overlooks the gorgeous aquamarine Mediterranean Sea and is much, much older than the Villa Romana del Casale which was our last stop.  Agrigento is located on the far southwestern coast of Sicily.  It is very picturesque. Inhabitation of this particular piece of soil dates back to sometime prior to the 6th century B.C. when the ancient Greeks settled in this region.  At that ancient time the town was known as Akragas.  The current city of Agrigento is adjacent to the ancient site. 

Long ancient stone road through middle of  the town

Akragas was one of the largest Greek cities on the Mediterranean Sea, covering over 3200 acres.  It stood on terraced levels at the top of a plateau; the city plan resembling a chessboard.  The exact date that the city was established is unknown, but in the 6th Century B.C., the colony was enclosed with a defensive wall featuring 9 entrances.  During the 5th Century B.C. the colony experienced a period of heavy expansion during the reign of a tyrant named Theron.  This expansion continued when democracy was established; and Doric temples were erected on the southern hill.

This southern hill (then and now) is a natural border of the southern edge of the plateau; thus making it also the natural border for the southern edge of the city.  This area also was the battle theater during the fight between the Romans and Carthaginians over control of the Mediterranean.  (Can you guess which side won?)  Later, the city fell into decay and disrepair until the Romans conquered and named it Agrigentum.

As we drove the lower elevation nearing the archaeological site the huge temples stood out on the top of that plateau with the backdrop of gorgeous clear blue sky.  Impressive sight.

There are numerous temples up there and several are seen from the lower elevation from a long distance.  These temples overlook the sea.  What a beautiful place to live.  

Olive trees all over the place
Oldest temple.  for Zeus
Some of the impressive temples include the Temple to Zeus -- or Jove the Olympian.  The only remaining ruins of this temple are its base and principal altar.  It was one of the biggest Greek temples in ancient times constructed anywhere.

Sections of the pillars from the Temple for Zeus.  Each is
about 4 to 5 feet in diameter.  These were some very
large pillars.

The oldest temple is that of Heracles or Hercules.  

Temple of  Concordia

However, the best preserved temple is the Temple of Concordia.  Concordia is the one of the most impressive Greek Doric temples still standing today, second only to the Parthenon in Athens.  They must have taken some precise measurements to determine that Concordia is second in size to the Parthenon, because we have visited both and I could not tell that the Parthenon is the larger of the two. 

Early Christian cemetery

The Temple of Concordia was later adapted for use as a Christian church.  This is evident from the tombs excavated in the ground in very close proximity.  An ancient Christian cemetery.

Temple of Juno / Temple of Hera
The Temple to Hera Lacinia (or Juno) was built near the same time as the Temple of Concordia was constructed.  However, the Temple to Hera was severely damaged by a fire near the end of 5th Century B.C.  Nearby are the Temple of Castor and Pollux; the sanctuary dedicated to the goddesses of grain and vegetation (the Chtonic divinities Demeter and Persephone who were worshipped with much devotion by the women in this area.  The Temple of Hephaestus (or Vulcan) faces the Temple of Castor and Pollux across a pool that is fed by an aqueduct.

Ancient tombs

Also at this site are the Temple of Isis, built during the late Augustan-Tiberian period; plus several others including one building called the Sanctuary of Asclepius -- the Greek god of medicine which was a center for therapeutic rites.  

Interior of one of the ancient tombs.  Visitors are not allowed
to see this.  This is a photo of the sign describing what
we were not allowed to personally see.

And...of course...another Temple to Athena.  Cannot remember how many Temples to Athena we have seen already in Turkey and other countries once ruled by the ancient Greeks.  Today this Temple to Athena is part of the Church of Santa maria dei Greci.

Current day city of Agrigento adjoining the old site

One ancient olive tree.  Look at the trunk!

The old and the new.  Temple = ~ 2500 yrs old
Bronze sculpture of man = ~ 4 years old

Also remaining are the remarkable aqueducts.  As well as some intricate mosaic floors in the ruins of Roman homes.  The mosaic floors in the Villa Athena are the best.

There are also ruins of several Paleo-Christian basilicas from later periods -- the very early Christian period, well after the Greeks ruled here.

Acres of scattered stones such as these

When we first arrived we had difficulty finding where to park.  Eventually we did find the car park, which was a sandy lot southwest of the actual archaeological site.  Kind of a long walk and all uphill to the the closest entrance.  Thank you all things good, a hawker for taxi drivers caught our attention.  For 3 Euros per person a taxi would deliver us to the farthest entrance on the top of the plateau.  It would then be a 4 kilometer ( 2 1/2 miles) walk through the site, all downhill, and then a few blocks distance back to the car park.  

Cactus tree.  Everywhere.

SOLD!!!  Hell, I would have been sold on this idea at 4 times that price.  I honestly do not think I had the stamina to walk all the way UP there and then walk all the way back.  One way would be quite sufficient, thank you; and downhill was right up my alley.  And that 4 kilometers was the distance if one walked straight.  

If one meandered through all of the side paths on the hillside to view the entire site, that distance could easily be tripled.  We stuck to the straight path and still my feet were blistered by the time we got back to the car.

Check out the horns on this goat.  This breed is ancient

Another of the twisted horn goats

I enjoyed this site very much.  I was disappointed by only one thing.  I had read about the enormous statue of Zeus that had fallen and was lying somewhere on the grounds and had wanted very much to see it.  Bill had no idea what I was talking about but he did keep his eyes peeled for a large fallen stone statue.  Neither of us ever found it.  So here is a photo of it taken off the internet.  Hoping I am not violating anyone's copyright by re-posting this image here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Your comment will be posted after we confirm that you are not a cyber stalker.