Located in the very south of Sicily, the city of Agrigento would be nothing special, if not for its “neighbor” – a large archeological park, Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi). For this reason, the flow of visitors to this city never dries up. Get ready to be impressed by the fascinating panoramas and the spirit of Ancient Greece with every step that you take!
A few facts about Agrigento
The city was founded in the 6th century BC, and in Ancient Greece it was known as Akragas. The Valley of the Temples was built in the same period. Later, the city was renamed to Agrigentum (Roman times), Kerkent (Arabian government) and Girgenti (Normans). The latest name – Agrigento – was officially given to the city in the beginning of the 20th century.
The city itself seems quite ugly at first sight – most of it is relatively new and made of tall apartment blocks, which make it look bland and uninteresting. However, if you have time, visit the historic center of Agrigento – you will find beautiful medieval buildings, Sicilian baroque architecture and tight old streets. The main sights of the city are the house of Luigi Pirandello, a famous Italian writer, the Cathedral of San Gerlando, dating back to the 11th century, Church of Santa Maria dei Greci, which is built on the remains of an ancient temple and, of course, the Museum of Archaeology (Museo Archeologico), where you can find a large exhibition of findings from the area.
Valley of the Temples
The park is slightly distant from the city center – however, there is a convenient bus from the train station. It is very easy to find – the bus stop is right on the square next to the train station and the commute takes about 10 minutes. There is a charge to enter the park unless you are a student.
The Valley itself is not actually a valley – the territory of the park is spread up and down the hill. There are seven well-preserved temples to visit. Take a park map at the entrance to navigate around better, because the park is huge. It is divided into two parts by a road which runs through the middle.
The eastern part contains three of the seven temples:
The best-preserved temple is the Temple of Concord (Tempio della Concordia), from the 5th century BC. It was later rebuilt into a Christian church, dedicated to Saint Peter and Paul. The Temple of Heracles (Tempio di Eracle), is one of the oldest temples in the area, whose construction dates back to the 6th century BC. Today you can only see the 8 massive columns – all that remains of that temple. The same is true of the Temple of Hera (Tempio di Hera Lacinia) of which you can only see the remaining columns – 25 out of the initial 34.
As for the western part, there you will find the temple of Olympian Zeus (Tempio di Zeus Olimpico), which was built in the 5th century BC. It used to be the grandest and most beautiful temple in the valley, with 7-meters-high Telamon statues and 38 columns. Unfortunately, nowadays there are only ruins left. However, you can appreciate the sheer scale of the temple – one of the Telamons is exhibited right next to the remains of the temple. It is a copy of one of the ancient statues, the original is housed in the National museum of archaeology in Naples. Other temples in the western part are the Temple of the Dioscuri (Tempio dei Dioscuri), the Temple of Vulcan (Tempio di Efesto) and the Temple of Asclepius (Tempio di Escupalio). But that is not all – you can also visit the Christian Necropolis, Byzantine catacombs, and the amphitheater – Greek Bouleuterion.
Even if you are not that into ancient ruins and remains, the Valley of the Temples can still impress you a lot. It is a worthy place to put into your Sicilian itinerary, and we guarantee you will not regret it. However, it is better to be prepared for your visit!
- Consider the distance. It is definitely better to take a bus to the Archaeological park, instead of walking from the station. The bus takes only a few minutes, which often gives people unrealistic expectations of the distance, but remember that you’ll be walking around the park for several hours – save your energy for the cool stuff!
- Consider the heat. Especially if you are traveling in summer the heat in Sicily is severe, and you are going into a large, open park area. Go exploring in the morning, use sunscreen, cover your head and don’t forget to carry a bottle of water with you. Comfortable shoes are recommended as well.
- Consider your stomach – inside the Valley of the Temples there are only two or three small cafeterias, and the food choice is quite limited. The day is long and it might be worth taking something to eat with you.
- If you are really passionate about archaeology, plan at least 24 hours for your visit to Agrigento – you’re going to want to spend more time there because for people interested in the past it is enchanting! 🙂 You will likely want to spend some time in the city as well, so it might be worth booking a place to stay in advance.