Today we visited the “Valle Dei Templei” in Agrigento! Since we arrived at the hotel yesterday and admired the amazing view of the temples from the gardens we were really excited to go visit them up close. The temples where built between two rivers and high in the mountains so that they could be seen and admired from far away. The original name of the city was Akragas and it houses the temples dedicated to Hera, Concordia, Heracles and Zeus as well as the Temple of Castor and Polluck and the early Christian catacombs carved out of the city wall.
There are many reasons why it is believed that the Greeks decided to settle here in Sicily. In Greece there wasn't enough farmland to support the population and it was rumored that in Sicily “wheat grew wild”. Greek veterans were therefore given land in Sicily to settle and start new civilizations so they chose Akragas due to its proximity to the se and fertile land.
The first temple we visited was the Temple of Hera or Juno from 5th century BC. It was built using the local sandstone by Carthaginian slaves and covered with white plaster to make it look like it was made out of marble, resembling those found in Greece. The plaster was painted to create colorful, garish frescos to call for the attention of the people. It is very interesting to see how the Greeks found beauty in symmetry, building this typical Doric temple with 6 columns on the front and back and 13 along the sides. What most people don't realize most of the times is that right in front of the temple was…. the altar!! Woohoo! As Lynn explained, the altar is of great importance because that was the the actual citizens of the polis interacted with the gods, performing their sacrifices “barbecuing” by killing animals and offering the fat and bones to the gods through the fire.
As we continued to walk around the valley we saw the city walls, carved from the mountain by the colons to defend themselves from the locals. Years went by and after a plague of Malaria infested the city to became a Necropolis, turning the nine gate wall into the city in multiple catacombs once again carved from the stone where bodies where buried and sealed to prevent the spread of the disease after the abandonment of the city. The catacombs had uncovered arches above them the showed early Christian motifs like the fish, form 6th century BC.
The Temple of Concordia is one of the best preserved Greek temples of the world. Its name originates from a Latin inscription found near it the reads ‘the harmony of the people of Agrigento’. The alterations made at the 4th century AD, when it was turned into a Christian basilica probably helped the 34 columns to stay in place, showing us the beauty of the original temple after it was restored to its Classical form in 1748. As the Greeks built each temple, they learned from their mistakes and made improvements, resulting in a perfected version of earlier temples.
The Temple of Hercules has only eight columns still standing, put back in place in 1924, as a result of an initiative of the English captain Alexander Hardcastle. At last, the Temple of Olympian Zeus has only some fragments of ruins standing. Yet it has been concluded by the remains of the ruins that this was the biggest and most unique of them all. Although the disastrous conditions of the temple have made it very difficult to study, many have made assumptions and from the bits and pieces found in excavations, drawn some conclusions. The temple had an interior wall, creating vast interior spaces. Also the appearance of the ‘Atlantes’, gigantic human figures that ‘held’ the ceiling are thought to represent people from other ethnicities shown as defeated and oppressed by the people of Akragas. The front of the temple has an uneven number of columns which made it impossible to have the door in the middle, building instead two doors, one on each side. The odd choice of using the uneven number 7 and then 14 pillars down the aisles probably resulted from the Pythagorean theory of numbers, although this is not certain, making us wonder maybe someone arrived to the city and introduced this revolutionary ideas?
At last, at the very end of the Temple Valley is a reconstruction of the Temple of Castor and Pollock, which was reconstructed using the parts of different temples found around the valley. Ironically, this ‘fake’ temple is now represented in most postcards and souvenirs and its image is probably known better than that of the other temples; but as our tour guide said “That’s life!”. The temples where more than I ever imagined and there is still a lot to interpret and uncover meanwhile I just keep blown away by the number of cultures and people that left their mark on this island, and can’t wait to see what tomorrow has for us!