VALLEY OF TEMPLES
out along a ridge, inappropriately referred to as “valley”,
and nestling in the area to the south of it, are a series of temples
which were all erected in the course of a century (5C BC), as if
to testify to the prosperity of the city at that time. Having been
set ablaze by the Carthaginians in 406 BC, the buildings were restored
by the Romans (1C BC) respecting their original Doric style.
Their subsequent state of disrepair has been put down either to
seismic activity or the destructive fury of the Christians backed
by an edict of the Emperor of the Eastern Empire, Theodosius (4C).
The only one to survive intact is the Temple of Concord which, in
the 6C, was converted into a Christian church. During the Middle
Ages, masonry was removed to help construct other buildings, in
particular, the Temple of Zeus, known locally as the Giant’s
Quarry, provided material for the church of San Nicola and the 18C
part of the jetty at Porto Empedocle.
the buildings face east, respecting the Classical criterion (both
Greek and Roman) that the entrance to the cella (Holy of Holies)
where the statue of the god was housed could be illuminated by the
rays of the rising sun, the source and blood of life.
the whole, the temples are Doric and conform to the hexastyle format
(that is with six columns at the front), the exception being the
Temple of Zeus, which had seven engaged columns articulating the
wall that encloses the building. Built of limestone tufa, the temples
provide a particularly impressive sight at dawn, and even more so
at sunset when they are turned a warm shade of gold.
Greek form of the names of the divinities has been used to describe
the temples, with the Latin equivalents given in brackets). It is
advisable to start a visit with the archeological site around the
Temple of Zeus, as this is open at restricted times.
altar – Just beyond the entrance, on the right, slightly set
back, are the remains of an enormous altar, used for large-scale
sacrifices. As many as 100 oxen could be sacrificed at one time.
di Zeus Olimpico (Giove) – Having been razed to the ground,
the Temple of Zeus (Jupiter) was re-erected following the victory
of the people of Agrigentum (allied with the Syracusans) over the
Carthaginians at Himera (in about 480 BC) as a gesture of thanks
to Zeus, it was one of the largest temples built in ancient times,
being 113m long by 36m wide, and is thought never to have been completed.
The entablature was supported by half-columns 20m high, which probably
alternated with giant male caryatids (atlantes or telamons), one
of which can be seen in the local archeological museum (see below).
A reproduction of an atlantes is displayed in the middle of the
temple, giving some idea of scale proportional to the vast building.
Instead of the more usual open colonnade, this temple is surrounded
by a continuous screen wall sealing off the spaces between the columns
which, inside, become square pilasters. Some blocks still bear the
marks made for lifting them into place: these are deep U-shaped
incisions through which a rape was threaded and then, attached to
a kind of crane, could be used to lift or haul the blocks one upon
di Castore e Polluce o dei Dioscuri – The Temple of Castor
and Pollux or of the Dioscuri is the veritable symbol of Agrigento.
Built during the last decades of the 5C BC, it is dedicated to the
twins born from the union of Leda and Zeus while transformed into
a swan. Four columns and part of the entablature are all that remain
of the temple, which was reconstructed in the 19C. Under one edge
of the cornice is a rosette, one of the typical decorative motifs
used. On the right are the remains of what was probably a sanctuary
dedicated to the Chthonic Deities (the gods of the underworld):
Persephone (Proserpina), queen of the underworld, and her mother,
Demeter (Ceres), the goddess of corn and fertility and patroness
of agriculture. On the site are a square altar, probably used for
sacrificing piglets, and another round one with a sacred well in
the centre. This is probably where the rite of the Thesmophoria,
a festival held in honour of Demeter, was celebrated by married
the distance, last on the imaginary line linking all the temples
of the valley, is the Temple of Hephaistus (Vulcan), of which little
remains. According to legend, the god of fire and the arts had a
forge under Etna where he fashioned thunderbolts for Zeus, assisted
by the Cyclops.
your steps, leave the fenced area and follow Via dei Templi, on
the other side of the road, on the right.
di Eracle (Ercole) – Conforming to the Archaic Doric style,
the Temple of Heracles (Hercules) is the earliest of the group.
The remains enable us to imagine how elegant this temple must have
been. Today, a line of eight tapering columns stands erect, re-erected
during the first half of this century. From the temple, looking
south, can be seen what is erroneously called the Tomb of
(see end of this section).
along the path, deep ruts in the paving can be made out on the left:
these are generally interpreted as having been caused by cartwheels.
The reason for them being so deep has been put down to water erosion.
the right is Villa Aurea, formerly the residence of Sir Alexander
Hardcastle, a passionate patron of archeology, who financed the
reerection of the columns of the Temple of Heracles.
paleocristiana – The Paleochristian necropolis is situated
beneath the road, dug into the base rock, not far from the ancient
walls of the city. There are various types of ancient tomb: loculi
(cells or chamber for corpse or urn) and arcosolia (arched cavities
like a niche), as often found in catacombs. Before the Temple of
Concord there is another group of tombs on the right.
della Concordia – The Temple of Concord is one of the best-preserved
temples surviving from Antiquity, thereby providing an insight into
the elegance and majestic symmetry of other such buildings. The
reason it has survived intact is due to its transformation into
a church in the 6C AD. Inside the colonnade, the original arches
through the cella walls of the Classical temple can still be made
out. It is thought to have been built in about 430 BC, but it is
not known to which god it was dedicated. The name Concord comes
from a Latin inscription found in the vicinity. The temple is a
typical example of the architectural refinement in temple building
known as “optical correction”: the columns are tapered
(becoming narrower at the top so as to appear taller) and have an
entasis (a very slight convex curve at about two-thirds of the height
of the column which counteracts the illusion of concavity); they
are also slightly inclined towards the central axis of the temple
façade. This allows the observer standing at a certain distance
from the temple to see a perfectly straight image. The frieze consists
of standard Classical features: alternating triglyphs and metopes,
without further low-relief ornamentation. The pediment is also devoid
di Agrigento Paleocristiana (Casa Pace) – Turn back through
a section of the town, stopping perhaps to consult the various informotian
boards set among the ruins that may be of interest: one in particular
explains how the Temple of Concord was transformed into a basilica.
Iconografico della Collina del Templi (Casa Barbadoro) – In
a modern but sympathetically designed building, are collected together
a series of drawings, engravings and prints of the Valley of the
Temples as seen in the past by travellers undertaking the Grand
di Hera Lacinia (Giunone) – The Temple of Hera Lacinia (Juno)
is situated at the top of the hill and is traditionally dedicated
to the protector of matrimony and childbirth. The name Lacinia derives
from an erroneous association with the sanctuary of the same name
situated on the Lacinian promontory near Crotone. The temple preserves
its colonnade (albeit not in perfect condition), which was partially
re-erected in the early 1900s. Inside, the columns of the pronaos
and opisthodomos and the wall of the cella can still be seen. Built
in about the mid-5C BC, it was set ablaze by the Carthaginians in
406 BC (evidence of burning is still visible on the walls of the
the east is the altar of the temple, while, at the back of the building
(beside the steps), there is a cistern.
the outskirts of the town are the so-called Tomb of Theron and the
Temple of Asklepios (Aesculapius).
di Terone – Also visible from the Caltagirorne road. The monument,
erroneously believed to have been the tomb of the tyrant Theron,
in fact dates from Roman times and was erected in honour of soldiers
killed during the Second Punic War. Made of tufa, it is slighly
pyramidal in shape and probably once had a pointed roof. The high
base supports a second order with false doors and Ionic columns
at the corners.
di Asclepio (Esculapio) – Just beyond the Tomb of Theron,
on the road to Caltanissetta. Look out for a sign (although obscured)
on the right. The ruins of this 5C BC temple are to be found in
the middle of the countryside. It was dedicated to Aesculapius (Asklepios),
the Greek god of medicine, son of Apollo – who it was believed
had the power to heal the sick through dreams. The interior, it
is thought, harboured a beautiful statue of the god by the Greek
and Atlantes (or Atlas figures) – These imposing giants from
Agrigento, more often referred to as atlantes, are sometimes called
Telomons (Telamone in Italian) after the Latin word derived by the
Romans from the Greek, Telamo(n) which indicated their function,
that is to carry or bear, in this case the structure. Their supporting
mole is accentuated by their position, with arms bent back to balance
the weight upon their shoulders. The more common term 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 bis shoulders.