This was once the fourth largest city of the ancient world and is now a World Heritage Site
Valley of the Temples occupies a long ridge below the modern city of
Agrigento. This is all that remains of what was once the fourth largest
city in the ancient world. Not only did it include the Valley of the
Temples, it also extended up to the ridge now occupied by the modern
city of Agrigento. It was huge and surrounded by a wall 12km in length.
The area was first settled around 582BC by Greeks from Rhodes and Crete and was named Akragas. It was a very fertile area and close to the sea with a natural harbour at the mouth of the river, on one of the most important trade routes in the Mediterranean, trading in grain, wine and olive oil. It had a population of around 300,000. The many temples were a display of the power of the different gods. The city was attacked by the Carthaginians in 406BC. The red colouration on some of the stones of the temples is a result of fire damage.
The city fell to the Romans in 210 BC who gave the temples the names of Roman gods and renamed the city Agrigentum. The Romans encouraged farming and trade and the city flourished and became an important commercial centre. After the fall of Rome, the city came under Byzantine rule, The temples were either destroyed or converted into Christian basilicas. Most of the inhabitants moved to the top of the ridge to the site of the present day city of Agrigento. The city was overrun by the Saracens in the C9th and eventually came under Norman rule in the C11th.
Parts of the wall which surrounded Akragas can still be seen in places along the south side of the site. This was used for Christian burials in the C6th, when large cavities were carved into the wall.
There is another partially excavated early Christian cemetery between the Temple of Concordia and Temple of Hercules. Bodies were buried in the foetal position to save on space.
The temples were built between 500-450BC along the top of a ridge and are some of the best preserved Doric temples outside Greece. Each was dedicated to a different Greek God. They were built from massive sandstone blocks which were covered with white marble stucco to protect them from weathering. This can still be seen in places on the Temple of Juno.
The upper parts of the temples were painted with stories from the Greek myths.
The temples were all built to the same basic plan with a colonnade around the perimeter surrounding central shrine area. The entrance always faced south. This shrine area is made up of three parts, The first room was where the votive offerings were left. The main room or cella had a statue of the deity and priests and initiates held secret rites here. Beyond was the treasury.
At the front was a large stone platform used for public sacrifice when a sheep or goat was offered up to the deity. This is best seen in front of the Temple of Juno.
The temples were linked by the Sacred Way and part of this can be seen between the Temple of Hercules and the temple of Zeus.
Near it is part of the aqueduct which brought water to the city.
Work began in the C18th work on restoring the temples. In 1921, Sir Alexander Hardcastle, a captain in the British Army came to Akragas and built a house here which is still used as offices for the Parks Authority. He financed excavations of the site and was responsible for re-erecting eight of the pillars of the Temple of Hercules.
Much of the city with its streets, houses and amphitheatres is still unexcavated. The remains of the agora used for public meetings can be seen outside the Archaeological museum. This stood on one of the important east west thoroughfares through the city. This became the forum in Roman times.
To the west of the Archaeological museum is the Ekklesiasterion and Phalaris tomb.
The semicircular Ekklesiasterion was built between the C4th and C3rd BC and was used as a meeting place by Greek citizens and could hold 3000 people.
Phalaris was a C6th BC ruler of Akragas who was responsible for the rapid growth of the city. He was also renowned for his cruelty and his victims were placed inside a huge bronze bull that was then heated over a fire. The screams of the victims made it seem the bull was bellowing with rage.
The ‘tomb’ was erected around 100BC and still has some of its protective white marble stucco. It was probably that of an important Roman family. It has survived as it was used as a chapel in Norman times.
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