Agrigento is a city situated on the southern coast of Sicily and it is the capital of the province of Agrigento. It is Sicily’s most famous Greek site, most notably the Valle dei Templi, or Valley of the Temples to which tourists, particularly cruise passengers, frequent during the warm summer months. The city of Agrigento boasts of more than 150 km of beautiful, stunning coastline which along with the temples and ancient architecture provide the perfect backdrop for a European vacation.
Agrigento is the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas, one of the many wondrous cities that belonged to the Golden Age of ancient Greece. The city was founded on the plateau overlooking the sea, with the nearby rivers, Hypsas and the Arkragas, along with the northern ridge offering a degree of natural fortification and protection. Akragas soon became one of the richest and famous cities of the Magna Graecia period.
The city of Agrigento rests on the top of two gentle hills- the hill of Girgenti, to the west, and the Rupe Atenea, to the east- once separated by a depression formed artificially by the philosopher Empedocles to allow healthy air to circulate in the city below afflicted by malaria. The filling work, which began in 1860, created an irregular esplanade surrounded by public and government buildings dating back to the end of the 19th century and early 20th century: the Palace of the Province and the Prefecture, the Questura (police headquarters), the General Post Office, the Gil former palace, the INAIL building, the Genio Civile (Civil Engineering Department), the Carabinieri Station, the Railway Station, the Bank of Italy.
Valley of the Temples
The Valley of the Temples is in fact a hill, a long ridge between the higher modern hilltop town of Agrigento and the distant sea. Between the town centre and the temples lies the actual valley, a peaceful green vale where agriculture is interspersed with ruins and excavations.
This is where a large part of the ancient city stood: one of the first surprising facts about Agrigento is that the ancient town was more extensive than the modern one. The Greek city was called Akragas and the later Roman town was named Agrigentum. The medieval name for the town was Girgenti, and this name was used until 1927, when ‘Agrigento’ was adopted it was more for the purpose of honoring the city’s past.
The archaeological area of the Valley of the Temples spreads out both sides of the main road. The actual core of the archaeological site of Agrigento lies in the area of the magnificent temples. The Temple to Zeus – or Jove the Olympian – and the only remaining ruins of which are its base and principal altar, was one of the biggest Greek temples in Antiquity. The oldest temple in Agrigento is, rather, that of Heracles, while the best-preserved is that of the Concordia, probably the most impressive Greek Doric temple still extant in our day, after Athens’s Parthenon. The structure was adapted as a Christian church, evidence of which can be seen in the tombs excavated in the ground.
The Temple to Hera was built contemporarily to the Concordia, and it was severely damaged by a fire towards the end of the 5th Century B.C. Also worth seeing nearby are the Temple of Castor and Pollux. The Sanctuary dedicated to the goddesses of Demeter and Persephone, who were worshipped with much devotion by the women of Akragas. The Temple of Hephaestus faces the former temple across a pool that is fed by an aqueduct. The Temple of Isis, from the late Augustan-Tiberian period; the temple dedicated to Demetra alone and connected to the Rupe Atenea, the highest point of the city (that is, the ancient acropolis); the Sanctuary of Asclepius – the Greek god of medicine – a center for therapeutic rites; and, finally, the Temple to Athena, today part of the Church of Santa Maria dei Greci.
The Agrigento Archaeological museum offers rare artifacts uncovered from a site north of the Valley of Temples. It includes Greek ceramics, a statue from the Temple of Giove and many more striking artifacts. The Agrigento ruins offer another wonderful attraction that lies in Eraclea Minoa along the Sea and contains the ruins from an ancient Greek city.
The soothing Agrigento weather provides a great atmosphere for those who love to be active and get their blood pumping. The Agrigento beaches offer fun activities such as sailing, snorkeling, surfing, windsurfing and canoeing! The town of Sciacca even offers a fantastic spa treatment with a view of the Sicilian Sea.
Agrigento is filled with restaurants, cafes, bistros and bars in the city all serving local as well as international cuisines. The restaurants run by the high end hotels in the city are all quite posh and elegant and offer gourmet food with a local twist. If you visit the old quarter of the city you would find plenty of small family run restaurants that serve regional dishes in a cozy informal environment. Agrigento has a long history of Greek civilization and it shows in its culture as well its people and its food.
The local dishes in Agrigento all have a touch of Greek flavors and make use of traditional Greek food items like eggplants and olive oil based dishes. One of the best ways to get a taste of the local food is to visit one of the many family run smaller restaurants and ask for local dishes with Greek influences, these restaurants are quite inexpensive and serve up dishes made from fresh local produce.
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