Valley of the Temples, Agrigento, Italy

The Valley of the Temples is an archaeological park in Sicily characterized by the exceptional state of conservation and by a series of important Doric temples from the Hellenic period. It corresponds to the ancient Akragas, monumental original nucleus of the city of Agrigento. Today it is a regional archaeological park.

Since 1997 the whole area has been included in the list of world heritage sites drawn up by UNESCO. It is considered a popular tourist destination, as well as being the symbol of the city and one of the main ones on the whole island. The archaeological and landscape park of the Valley of the Temples, with its 1300 hectares, is the largest archaeological site in the world.

The birth of the polis agrigentina is linked to the development of the polis Gela: the city, in fact, was founded in 581 BC by some inhabitants of Gela, originating in the islands of Rhodes and Crete, with the name of Ἀκράγας (Akragas), from the homonymous river which bathes the territory. It was one of the main cities of the ancient world, an important urban center both economically and politically.

The settlement was protected in the 6th century by a defensive system, consisting of a circuit of walls that exploited the topographical characteristics of the place, consisting of the plateau on the side of hills overlooking the coast and of which the “valley of the temples” occupied the margin south and did not constitute the acropolis, instead located further upstream, in correspondence with the medieval nucleus of the current city.

The military expansionism of Akragas had particular impetus in the time of the tyrant Terone (488-473 BC) and the victory over the Carthaginians. A period of rivalry followed with Syracuse. The large temples, built in the fifth century, however, testify to the prosperity of the city.

After the sacking by the Carthaginians, in 406 BC, a period of decline of the city followed, which was however rebuilt. From 262 BC Agrigento entered the Roman domain, remaining however an important city. From the seventh century the city became impoverished and depopulated and the urban center was reduced to the hill of the acropolis alone, thus leaving both the urban area and the area of the temples abandoned.

On 10 October 2016 an excavation campaign starts on the hypothesis of the discovery of the Greek theater of ancient Akragas. Confirmation on the discovery of the Hellenistic theater located just south of the Roman quarter and the Archaeological Museum arrives on 4 November of the same year.

The city of Akragas, defined as the “most beautiful city of those inhabited by man” by the Greek poet Pindar, was founded by colonists from Gela and Rhodes in 580 BC. The settlement sits atop a plateau not far from the coast, sheltered to the north by the hills of Rupe Atenea and Colle di Girgenti, to the south by the so-called Collina dei Templi – hill of the temples, and surrounded by the rivers Akragas and Hypsas. Its port (empórion) is located at the mouth of the two rivers where the fishing village of San Leone is found. Between the middle of the sixth century and the end of the fifth century BC, the city was the site of feverish construction; indeed, the majority of the remains visible today and the imposing 12-kilometre wall with its nine gateways date to this period. From the tyrannies of Phalaris and Theron through to the arrival of democracy expounded by the philosopher Empedocles, Akragas grew from a small settlement to a large city state with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants.

Destroyed in 406 BC by the Carthaginians, prosperity did not return to the city until the rise of Timoleon in the late third century BC. During the Punic Wars, the Carthaginians defended the settlement against the Romans, who seized control of the city in 210 BC. During the Roman era, the city – renamed Agrigentum – underwent a period of monumental urban redevelopment as new public buildings – including at least two temples, the theatre and the bouleuterion – were built, with the new constructions centred around the hill of Saint Nicolas, where the town’s Museum of Archaeology now stands. The most opulent villas in the nearby Hellenistic-Roman quarter also date to this period. The wealth of Agrigentum’s residents most likely relied on the mining, refining and trade of sulphur, as documented by various inscriptions.

In late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, the Valley of the Temples was occupied by a sprawling Christian burial ground that extended both underground and in the open air. During the Muslim conquests of the Arabs, Berbers, Spanish, Egyptians, Syrians and Persians between 829 and 840 AD, it is believed that the settlers withdrew to Colle di Girgenti (derived from Arabic word Gergent or Kerkent), where the medieval and modern city was later developed.

During this period, the Valley of the Temples was inhabited in a sporadic manner and became the site of agricultural production and craftsmanship, with various ceramic workshops documented by the presence of several kilns. Over the centuries, the old monuments of the ancient city were steadily deprived of their brickwork for use in the construction of the buildings around Girgenti and the ancient harbour of Porto Empedocle.

Temple of hera lacinia
The Temple of Hera Lacinia (Juno) is located on the highest rocky spur of the Valley of the Temples at its easternmost point. Like most of the temples in the Agrigento area, it is not possible to discern to which god the temple was devoted.

Its attribution to Hera Lacinia derives from an erroneous interpretation of a passage by the Roman writer Pliny the Elder, which in fact referred to the Temple of Hera Lacinia (Juno) on the cape of Capo Colonna near Crotone in Magna Graecia. The building, constructed in the Doric order, was built sometime in the middle of the fifth century BC and features a base of four steps upon which stand six columns on the short sides and thirteen on the long sides. The temple’s interior is divided into the portico at the entrance, the naos and the opisthodomos, the rear room, with the portico and opisthodomos framed by two columns.

The door is located between the portico and the naos, flanked by two pillars with a staircase within to provide access to the roof for maintenance. Fifteen metres from the temple’s entrance on its east side stands the altar, reached by ten steps.

It is possible that the temple sustained severe fire damage during the Carthaginian conquest in 406 BC, the signs of which can still be seen on the walls of the naos. The building was perhaps restored during the Roman era.

Several restoration projects have taken place since the late eighteenth century, when the columns on the north side were levelled, until the more recent static interventions and conservation work carried out on the stonework by the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples.

Temple of Concordia
The so-called Temple of Concordia is one of the best preserved temples of Greek antiquity.
The building owes its traditional name to a Latin inscription dating to the mid-first century BC which mentions the “Concordia degli Agrigentini”. The inscription was erroneously attributed to the temple by the historian and theologian Tommaso Fazello in the mid 1500s. The building, constructed in the Doric order, was built around the second half of the fifth century BC and features a base of four steps upon which stand six columns on the short sides and thirteen on the long sides. It is unique among the temples in the Agrigento area in that it has retained almost all of its entablature and the two capitals on the east and west sides.

The temple’s interior is divided into the portico at the entrance, the naos and the opisthodomos, the rear room, with the portico and opisthodomos framed by two columns. The door to the naos is flanked by two pillars which contain a carved service staircase leading to the roof.
According to the tradition, the temple was converted into a Christian church towards the late sixth century AD when Gregory, Bishop of Agrigento, exorcised the pagan demons Eber and Raps and dedicated the ancient temple to the Apostles Peter and Paul. The twelve arches in the walls of the naos bear testament to the building’s time as a Christian church, a purpose to which it owes its exceptional state of preservation.

Finally, the duality of the pagan demons and its dedication to two Christian saints has led to the theory that the temple was originally devoted to two Greek gods (one such theory refers to Castor and Pollux). However, with the absence of any archaeological evidence or epigraphs the truth as to which god or gods the temple was originally built to honour is unknown.

Paleo-Christian Necropolis
The Paleo-Christian Necropolis of Agrigento dates to the third to sixth century AD and extends across the Collina dei Templi roughly between the Temple of Hera Lacinia (Juno) and the Temple of Heracles. The vast burial ground is divided into various sectors. Several tombs, known as “arcosolia” due to the presence of an arched recess, can be seen among the remains of the old wall between the Temples of Hera Lacinia (Juno) and Concordia. 
The sub divo necropolis, the area of the cemetery in the open air, features around 130 chest tombs (formae) carved into the rock and extends across the plateau around the Temple of Concordia to the access corridor to the most extensive catacomb in Agrigento, Grotta Fragapane.

Grotta Fragapane is a large catacomb composed of corridors (ambulatories), small burial chambers (cubicles) and rotundas (large burial chambers) carved from the existing bell-shaped cisterns built in the Greek period. The walls of the chambers feature niches and arcosolia while other graves have been excavated into the floor. There are several large sarcophagi carved directly into the rock within one of the smaller chambers. Other small underground chambers (hypogea) used for burial purposes can be found further to the east along the so-called Via dei Sepolcri that crosses the cemetery from east to west, carved into an ancient Greek water pipe. Burial hypogea can also be found to the south, close to the hill’s rocky edge, and are visible today in the garden of Villa Aurea.

The Via dei Sepolcri, transformed over the years into an open-air museum by the park’s archaeologists, now forms one of the most exclusive educational tours of the Valley of the Temples, conducted by the archaeological experts of Società Cooperativa Culture.

Necropoli Giambertoni
On leaving Grotta Fragapane, by turning right you will reach the rear entrance to Villa Auream while left leads to the Roman necropolis known as Necropoli Giambertoni, formed of limestone chest tombs. Several sarcophagi have been discovered here, such as the famous child’s sarcophagus now on display at the Pietro Griffo Regional Museum of Archaeology. This extensive cemetery, which dates from the second century BC to the third century AD, also houses the Tomb of Theron, not far from the Temple of Heracles. Next to the Necropoli Giambertoni is the Casa Barbadoro farm, now used as a lecture hall accessed by a ladder in the south-eastern corner of the Temple of Concordia.

Theron’s Tomb
Theron’s Tomb, as it is known, located close to the Temple of Heracles, is a funeral tower dating to the late Hellenistic period which once featured a spire. In fact, the tomb has nothing to do with the tyrant of Akragas who lived in the early fifth century BC. The name was attributed to the tomb by travellers on the Grand Tour. In fact, the funeral building belonged to the Roman necropolis known as Necropoli Giambertoni.

Temple of Asclepius
This temple devoted to Asclepius (Greek God of Medicine and son of Apollo) is located around 900 metres south of the outer wall of the ancient city on the San Gregorio plain. The attribution to the celebrated Cult of Asclepius in this area has been confirmed both by literary testaments and archaeological finds made between the 1920s and 1980s, leading to the progressive discovery of the entire sanctuary.

The site was used as a place of worship as early as the sixth century BC, probably as a temple to Apollo the Healer. Between the second half of the sixth century BC and the third century AD, the sanctuary gradually assumed its definitive appearance.
The area is surrounded by an imposing outer wall and features a grand gateway; the temple is located in the centre, where the three steps of the base and part of the north-west entablature are still visible.

The building is in the Doric order and is composed of the remains of a simple naos with stairs leading to the roof, preceded by an atrium with two columns on either side accessed by a large ramp on the east side; a smaller ramp featured on the south side. The rear wall to the west features two half-columns against the end wall with corner pillars; this original feature served to mimic the presence of a rear chamber (false opisthodomos) from the outside.

Opposite the access ramp are the ruins of the great sacrificial altar. The area is characterised by a series of buildings, including a small building with an entrance chamber and a naos with an offertory box (thesauros) where pilgrims would leave their votive offerings.

Around the temple are the remains of two porticos with columns, cisterns, a fountain and various buildings where the sick were housed and cared for as they waited to be healed after the purification rituals.

Temple of Heracles
The Temple of Heracles is the oldest Doric temple in Agrigento and was built in the late sixth century BC. Its attribution to the Greek hero is thought to derive from a passage by Cicero which notes the existence of a temple devoted to Heracles in Agorà, the area immediately north of Agrigento.
The building, constructed in the Doric order, features a base with three steps upon which stand six columns on the short sides and fifteen on the long sides. The temple’s long and narrow interior is divided into the portico at the entrance, the naos and the opisthodomos, the rear room, with the portico and opisthodomos framed by two columns.

The door to the naos is flanked by two pillars containing a service ladder leading to the roof; this is the earliest example of what would become a typical characteristic of Akragantine temple architecture. The roof was adorned with two types of rainwater gutters shaped like lions’ heads dating to different periods, one in the late sixth century BC and the other in the first half of the fifth century BC.

To the east of the temple are the remains of a monumental altar and, further east, the terracotta ruins of a small archaic temple. During the Roman era, the naos was divided into three chambers in order to construct a small religious building: this conversion is thought to relate to the transfer of the Cult of Asclepius to the temple, where a statue of the god dating to the Roman era was found during the excavations of 1835.

Several restoration works were carried out between 1922 and 1924 when, on the initiative of the British Naval Captain Alexander Hardcastle, eight columns on the south side were raised, while more recently conservation work has been conducted by the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples.

Temple Of Olympian Zeus
The ruins of the temple of Olympian Zeus bear testament to one of the largest Doric temples of classical antiquity. Unfortunately, the area – likely already damaged by earthquakes in the past – was used as a quarry in the Middles Ages (the cava gigantum cited in archival documents) and in the 1700s became the site of the harbour of Porto Empedocle. According to the historian Diodorus Siculus, construction began immediately after the great victory of the Greek cities of Sicily over the Carthaginians in the battle of Himera in 480 BC.

The historian also maintained that the construction of the temple was never finished because it was still lacking a roof when the city of Akragas was conquered by the Carthaginians in 406 BC.
The building, characterised by its highly original architecture, was constructed on a gigantic rectangular platform above which sat a five-step base, the final step being twice as high as the other four, to create a podium and set the temple apart from the surrounding environment. The temple was encircled by an outer wall, characterised on its outside by seven half-columns in the Doric order on the short sides and fourteen on the long sides, corresponding to the same number of rectangular half-pillars on the inside. The original height of the half-columns is estimated to have been over eighteen metres.

Outside the temple, huge statues of Giants (Atlases), each around eight metres tall and frozen in the act of supporting the entablature of the temple with sheer strength, were positioned in the spaces between the half-columns on platforms measuring around eleven metres. Inside this very tall building – very similar to an enclosure – there was once a highly original naos with no roof, most likely interpreted by Diodorus Siculus as a sign of the construction’s unfinished state. In fact, the roof was probably limited to the corridors around the naos.

The façades were embellished on the east side with sculptures depicting a fight between the gods and the giants, and on the west with the sacking of Troy (Iliupersis). The remains of the great rectangular altar are visible a short distance from the eastern side of the temple.

Gate V
Since its foundation Akragas was surrounded by an outer wall extending for around 12 km. The fortifications used the defensive potential of the rocky outcrops, as noted by the Greek historian Polybius. Nine gateways have been identified along the fortifications, numbered by archaeologists from east to west: Gates I and II to the east, Gates III, IV and V to the south, Gate VI to the west and Gates VII and VIII to the north-west. It is thought that there may have been a Gate X along the town’s northern border.

Gate V would have been one of the main entrances to the city and led to the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities. This was intersected by a track that formed part of the important east-west axis leading to Gate II. The Gate was defended by a main tower to the west and two secondary towers set just behind and either side of the entrance. An underground passageway or hypogea has been identified by the entrance, which led to Kolymbethra, the artificial lake mentioned in many sources for its beauty. To the west of the Gate alongside the outer side of the wall, the ruins of a crafts district can be seen, most likely connected to the shrine, with kilns used to produce various terracotta religious figurines.

Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities and Temple Of Castor and Pollux
The area known as the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities is, in fact, the central part of a series of adjacent places of worship devoted to subterranean gods (in this case Demeter and Persephone) located alongside Porta V. The northernmost part of the sanctuary, to the west of the Porta, was characterised by religious buildings, enclosures and several altars built during the sixth century BC.

In the northernmost area, a small temple with three rooms is still visible, bordered on one side by a room with a square altar and on the other by a room with a circular altar and a central doorway.
In the middle, there is a small temple with a single chamber accessed by the east side, alongside which there is a small temple with three rooms open to the north. To the west of these buildings are two small temples featuring an atrium, naos and rear chamber reserved for religious officiants: the temple to the north has a square altar facing the entrance and a well outside the building on its south side.

Between the two small temples there is a large circular altar with an internal recess, and a square altar. In the southernmost part of this area stands the so-called Temple of Castor and Pollux, one of the most characteristic ruins of the Valley of the Temples thanks to the partial reconstruction (the four columns on the north-west side) carried out by the Sicilian Commission of Antiquity between 1836 and 1852 using architectural elements of various periods and origins.

The temple is composed of the foundations of a Doric temple dating to the second half of the fifth century BC, with six columns on the short sides and thirteen on the long sides, with an interior divided into an atrium, a naos and a rear chamber. The traditional name of the Temple of Castor and Pollux is purely conventional and derives from a reference in a passage by the Greek poet Pindar which refers – in reference to Akragas – to a cult and festival to honour the twin gods.

It is in fact more likely that the temple was devoted to Demeter and Persephone, the gods to which the entire area is dedicated.

Temple Of Vulcan
The Temple of Vulcan (Hephaestus in Greek) is located on the hill to the west of the Garden of Kolymbetra which separates it from the far south-west of the Collina dei Templi and the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities. As is often the case in Agrigento, the traditional name of the Temple of Vulcan is purely conventional and supported neither by archaeological finds nor documents. Its name derives from an interpretation of a verse by the Latin geographer and writer Solinus, which makes reference to religious ceremonies held by an Akragantine lake not far from Vulcan hill (collis Vulcanius), so-called perhaps due to the presence of sulphurous springs.

Almost nothing remains of the temple today apart from small sections of the foundation with four steps and two surviving columns. The position of these columns has enabled historians to decipher the temple’s original composition; the temple was constructed in the Doric order around 430 BC and would have featured six columns on the short sides and thirteen on the long sides. The temple’s interior was divided into three chambers: the portico at the entrance, the naos and the opisthodomos, the rear room, with the portico and opisthodomos framed by two columns. The columns demonstrate influences of the Ionic order. In the naos, the foundations of a small temple dating to the sixth century BC have been discovered.

Several restoration works were carried out from 1928-29 onwards when, on the initiative of the British Naval Captain Alexander Hardcastle, various colonial houses built alongside the temple were removed, while more recently conservation work has been conducted on the stonework by the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples.

The only ancient gymnasium at the site belongs to Agrigentum, that is, the city during its Roman occupation. In fact, the gymnasium dates to the Augustan age and was constructed in a public space just a few hundred metres north of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The remains of a portico used for indoor sports have been found, located in line with a north-south road and crowned by a Doric frieze of metopes and triglyphs and sheltered by a roof. An exedra and a large ritualistic altar used for rites associated with athletic training can still be seen, while to the far north the remains of a large bath are still visible. Two rows of seats were also discovered here, each divided into two sectors distinguished by the armrests, arranged alongside an outdoor track presumably used for sprinting. The seats were plastered and inscribed. The inscriptions recall the principality of Augustus, the magistrate Lucius and the tutelary deities of athletes Heracles and Hermes. In the early fourth century AD, the gymnasium was obliterated by the construction of three buildings, believed by archaeologists to be warehouses or covered markets. In the Middle Ages, the area reverted to countryside and was home to a number of craft workshops. The millstone created in the seventh century AD and the two ceramics kilns dating to the eleventh century AD are well preserved.

The rediscovery of the theatre after centuries of research was an epochal and long-awaited find for Agrigento. The building was discovered in June 2016 just to the south of the Roman Hellenistic quarter along the southern side of the hill of Saint Nicolas which boasts an evocative view of the Temple of Concordia, level with a cliff between the presumed height of the piazza and the road that ran from east to west.

The eastern part of the building was built against the rock while the northern and western sections were constructed on impressive substructures composed of a system of trapezoidal chambers arranged at different heights and filled with earth to artificially recreate the slope on which the rows of steps were arranged. Some of the seating in the upper part of the theatre was discovered in a state of ruin. Unfortunately, in the northern part of the site only the foundations remain due to the pillage of blocks and stone during the Middle Ages. The testament of the historian Fazello, who in 1558 hardly recognised the theatre among the ruins, left little doubt as to the state of the building’s preservation. The geophysical investigations that identified the presence of building work deep below the surface in the southern part of the site gave rise to the hope that the stage could be in better condition. In terms of layout, the Theatre of Agrigento bears some similarities to the theatres of Soluntum and Segesta built in the second century AD. During the excavations, fragments of statuettes and terracotta prayer masks typical of theatrical performances were also discovered.

The Ekklesiasterion and Oratory of Phalaris
The Ekklesiasterion and so-called Oratory of Phalaris are found on the southern side of the hill of Saint Nicolas, in an area adjacent to the eponymous church and the fourteenth century monastery (now home to the Regional Museum of Archaeology). The Ekklesiasterion, where the citizens’ assembly would have met (Ekklesia in Greek) was built between the fourth and third centuries BC. The building would have originally been circular but today only a section of the cavea remains, semi-circular in shape with extended ends and nineteen concentric rows of steps arranged on a slight slope towards the south. A channel (euripus) at the base of the cavea would have been used for drainage.

In the upper section there was a corridor (ambulatory) and various holes in the rock which perhaps held a wooden portico. At the base, nothing remains of the platform used for the oratory and citizens’ courts following its dismantlement during the Roman imperial period in order to construct a house with a peristyle.

In the first century BC the ekklesiasterion formed the foundations for the construction of the Oratory of Phalaris, as it has been erroneously known since the eighteenth century. In fact, the building was a small temple on a podium with a naos and atrium preceded by four ionic columns alongside the doors which have unfortunately not been preserved. The altar is located just opposite, close to a semicircular exedra. In the Middle Ages the building was converted into a chapel dedicated to the Virgin Mary, with a pointed archway at the entrance and a cross-vaulted ceiling with a single-light window on the west side.

The Bouleuterion located on the northern terrace of the hill of Saint Nicolas was the chamber of the public house of representatives (Boulè in Greek) and was built between the end of the fourth century and the start of the third century BC. The building is rectangular in shape with columns at the front which encircle a semicircular cavea open to the east.

The rake is formed of six rows of seats, preceded by an initial row of seats for the authorities (the proedria) with backrests and armrests and accessed by four radial flights of steps. The remains of a portico with a rear courtyard can be seen to the east of the building; the portico appears to have been built along a road axis running from north to south.

During the third century AD the Bouleuterion was converted into a building (Odeon in Greek) for singing practices, musical performances and poetry and music contests, with a mosaic floor.

Hellenistic-Roman Sanctuary
To the north of the fourteenth century Monastery of Saint Nicolas (now the Regional Museum of Archaeology) stands the Hellenistic-Roman Sanctuary, a small temple surrounded by a vast piazza with a portico. The complex was constructed over two stages, from the second half of the second century BC to the first half of the first century AD (probably beginning in the Tiberian era).

Initially the temple did not feature columns and had an atrium and naos built on a podium with steps at the front. However, the construction was never finished and the temple was completed in the second phase, removing the original division into two chambers and constructing a large forum at the front of the building with two sets of steps at the sides. The piazza was surrounded by four porticos with Doric columns and an entrance on the south side, where part of a staircase was discovered which would have removed the height difference between the road and the centre of the area. Marble statues stood between the columns; only four of these remain, headless and clothed in togas. Dating to the mid first century AD, the statues possibly represented important figures of the imperial court or local politicians. Two of the statues are on display in the museum while the other two are located along Via Sacra in close proximity to the Temple of Concordia.

In the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the temple was dismantled and in the piazza, which was used as a dump, workshops and stables were constructed. Later, the area was repurposed for agriculture to supply the nearby monastery.

Roman Hellenistic Quarter
The Roman Hellenistic Quarter, which extends for around 10,000 square metres, is an important testament of the residential culture of the ancient settlement. Twenty-seven houses (domus) located in three apartment buildings (insulae) are bordered by four north-south road axes known as cardines. The living quarters were arranged around an atrium or a peristyle courtyard with smooth or fluted columns. There were several cisterns to collect water while between the houses narrow passages (ambitus) served as drainage channels. Alongside the domus were warehouses, workshops and ateliers.

The building technique generally follows the Greek tradition with the use of regular blocks (isodomic masonry) without mortar, but there are some examples of brickwork such as in the so-called opus spicatum (herringbone pattern) on the floor of the courtyard. The excavated buildings date to the second and first centuries BC and were modified and rearranged during the imperial period. In the second and third centuries AD, the extended houses – often merging with neighbouring residences – were embellished with murals and black and white or multicoloured mosaics, and replaced the older “cocciopesto” technique (opus signinum) with geometric and floral designs using small white tiles. Authentic mosaic floors featuring geometric patterns, plants and animals can be seen in the House of Swastikas, the House of the Gazelle – which owes its name to a mosaic picture (emblema) depicting a gazelle (currently in the Agrigento Museum of Archaeology) and the House of the Abstract Master, with the mosaic floor that imitates hewn marble.

The floor in the House of Diamond Mosaics is also remarkable, outlining an image of cubes in series bordered by different coloured marble (opus scutulatum). In the fifth century AD, the living quarters were reduced with the addition of dividing walls and the closure of the columns of the portico. In the sixth and seventh centuries AD, groups of chest tombs with stone slabs were left alongside the houses, most likely abandoned: the presence of the tombs in the urban spaces is a testament to a relationship with death that changed with the advent of Christianity.

Temple of Demeter (Church of Saint Blaise)
On the eastern slopes of Rupe Atenea, one of the two hills over which the city of Agrigento extends, stands the Temple of Demeter, built in approximately 470 BC. Today the ruins of the temple have been incorporated into the Church of Saint Blaise, a religious building dating to the Norman period (twelfth century). Only the foundations of the atrium at the temple’s entrance are still easily visible from outside the apse of the church.

The temple building, which does not feature columns, is composed of a simple naos preceded by an atrium – perhaps with columns alongside the doors; the ceiling was embellished with decorative gutters shaped like lions’ heads. The temple also features an outer wall which served to terrace the steep slope; to the west, there is a road where Greek carts have been preserved. The building overlooks the fortifications of Porta I, close to which the so-called Rock Sanctuary is found just outside the perimeter wall.

Unfortunately no traces of the rectangular altar typical of Greek temples remain; along the north side, between the building and the rocky spur, there are two round altars devoted to ritual offerings. Numerous votive offerings were discovered here, associated – along with those of the Rock Sanctuary – to femininity and – according to the traditional hypothesis – the cult of Demeter. In the light of the new research carried out by the Archaeological Park of the Valley of the Temples in 2000 and the review of previously discovered materials, it is now thought that the temple was originally dedicated to Artemis.

Temple of Athena (Santa Maria Dei Greci)
On the hill of Girgenti, one of the two plateaus on which the modern city of Agrigento is built and outside the archaeological site of the Valley of the Temples, the remains of a Doric temple dating to the middle of the fifth century BC were discovered incorporated in the Norman church of Santa Maria dei Greci. Inside the church, part of the columns on the south and north side of the temple can be seen and, entering into a narrow passageway, the remains of the stepped base are still visible. However, there is no trace of the walls of the naos, although the central apse of the church is built on the remains of its paved floor. The temple’s foundations are difficult to discern as a result of the depredation in the past – perhaps around the same time as the church’s construction – and later to create the ossuaries and crypt in the centre of the central nave.

In all likelihood, the temple would once have featured six columns on the short sides and fourteen on the long sides; its interior was divided into three chambers: the atrium, the naos and the rear chamber, the former and latter featuring two columns either side of the door. According to a recent theory, the building may have been the Temple of Athena referred to by the Greek historian Polybius, and built by the tyrant Theron, according to the Latin writer Polyaenus. “pietro griffo” regional museum of archaeology

Agrigento Regional Museum
At the center of the Valley of the Temples, in the area west of the church of San Nicola (today the Regional Museum), there are the remains of the ekklesiastérion and the so-called Oratorio di Falaride.

The Agrigento Regional Museum of Archaeology is named after Pietro Griffo, archaeologist and Superintendent of Agrigento from 1941 to 1968. The site chosen for the museum, the hill of Saint Nicolas, is highly symbolic as it is located at the centre of the public part of the ancient city. The building, designed by architect Franco Minissi and opened in 1967, partly encompasses the ruins of a Cistercian monastery, an annex of the church of Saint Nicolas and dating back to the fourteenth century. The exhibited collections include some 5688 finds acquired partly from the funds of the Civic Museum, the acquisition of private collections and the archaeological museums of Palermo and Syracuse but, for the most part, from the archaeological digs carried out until the end of the 1980s by the Superintendency of Agrigento, whose regional jurisdiction also extended to the provinces of Caltanissetta and Enna.

The museum’s exhibits are displayed in seventeen rooms arranged according to topography and chronology. There are two exhibitions, one dedicated to the ancient city of Akragas/Agrigentum and the other to important aspects of central-southern Sicily. As well as being one of the most important museums in the world, a must-see for any visitor wishing to learn more about the history of the Valley of the Temples, the “Pietro Griffo” Regional Museum of Archaeology also represents a vibrant “cultural hub” with its regular temporary exhibitions, concerts and educational activities.

The works for the construction of the museum highlighted an interesting complex of public character (upper Agorà). In the northern part, no longer visible because it was barbarously buried by the museum building, it was a 6th-5th century BC sanctuary of Demeter and Kore, to be connected in all probability, as a sacred garrison, with the public activities carried out immediately in the lower south: the usual clay and ceramic ex votos come from the sanctuary.

To the south, the remains of the Ekklesiastérion, of a type already known in the archaic period (6th century BC) in Metaponto, extend for an area of three quarters of a circle. It is a circular cavea with a very sweet profile in which about twenty concentric rows of seats are preserved or reconstructed, at the bottom of which – to cover a Eurypus (channel) for drainage – a ring of segments defines the central space in the shape of orchestra, carved in the rock and completed to the south with blocks; three bumps dug in the rock of the cavea to the north, north-east and east finally channeled rainwater from the area of greatest slope. Citizens attended the assembly debates fromcavea, while the orchestra was intended for oratories. The chronology is uncertain: we want it to be a monument from the age of Finzia, whose demagogic features are known for its tyranny, but a date coinciding with the Timolontean refoundation seems more likely, even if higher chronologies – now that we know of the archaic dating of the ekklesiastérion of Metaponto – they are not impossible.

Finds various unclassified
Immediately adjacent to the north of the temple of the Dioscuri are the foundations, intersecting each other, of two other temples of almost identical size, from the mid-sixth century BC, of the mégaron type without peristasis: the southernmost one (23.45 × 10, 30 m), aligned with the temple of the Dioscuri, has long doors, pronaos and naos; the most northerly (22.90 × 8.05 m), with a slightly different orientation, also shows a leaf length, pronao, naòs and ADYTON. The two temples are chronologically close to each other and the southern one precedes the northern one, as shown by the northern cut of the foundations of the southern building.

Marconi’s chronology, inverse,it is visibly “ideological” (and falsely typological), based as it is on the assumption that the building with adyton must precede what is devoid of it. However, the fact remains that on the front of the two temples there are two altars attached to each other, apparently in relationship, as a location and orientation, with the southern building. It is also important to note that the two temples follow, as measures, the cell of the adjacent temple of the Dioscuri (without an altar), and that the latter must have replaced the previous two in worship.

The whole north-west sector of the sacred area, where sections of the témenos wall are exposed, is occupied by small sacred buildings and altars. Superimposed on the two temples mentioned above there is a structure with two rooms side by side, oriented north-east / south-west and, adjacent to this towards the north-west, a small tripartite building in the direction of the length, which seems to repeat the traditional partition of the megaron with prodomos (north-east), naòs and aDYTON; apparently no altar refers to these two buildings.

Along the western side of the témenos, from north to south, there are three other buildings and numerous altars. At the northern end is the most complex structure, consisting of a tripartite naiskos flanked on the long sides by two rooms, containing the eastern one a small square altar, and the western one a large circular altar with central opening; at the southeast corner there is another quadrangular altar, perhaps with a step of pròthysis, and immediately to the southwest there is another tripartite building (the west room is only partially preserved). On the eastern front, immediately in front of the door is a square altar and, outside the central portion of the south side, a well also square.

Two large altars follow to the south-west, one circular with a central cavity and, tangent to the south-west, a square one, while to the south-east there are remains of a ring pertinent perhaps to another circular altar or donar; to the south, parallel to the square altar, is another tripartite naiskos, while parallel to the western facade of the temple of the Dioscuri there are three bases of donaries (rather than altars) side by side, of which the northern one has a well attached to the north side.

It is difficult to correctly interpret both the chronology and the cultural significance of this important and complex sanctuary, where mégara – buildings belonging to the cult of the two Eleusinian goddesses – in which the altars are often inside, as in the building more northerly than the témenos. In the Agrigento cult, the pair of two altars, one square and one circular, repeated twice is of great importance: of them – as in the case of the temple of Demeter and Kore of San Biagio – one has the function of an altar for bloody offerings (the quadrangular one, in this case) and the other (the circular one) the function of receiving bloodless offerings in the cavities, although the role that the chasma should not be forgotten, the cavity, has in the Eleusinian cult, as a means to send to the goddesses the customary offer of the pig, or to preserve the arreta, the “secret things”, also central to the chthonic rite.

It is necessary to remember, for the plurality of the buildings, the multiplicity of the feasts of the goddesses, at least in the Attic tradition (Skirophòria, Arrhetophòria, Thesmophòria, Haloa and so on), for which the many buildings, with their different sacred arrangements, circular altars or rectangular, internal or external, wells, could be used in relation to the different festivals, each with its own cult needs. Nor should it be forgotten that within the témenos other deities, connected in a subordinate or appositive form to Demeter and Kore, such as Hekate, Zeus Meilichios (as shown by the sanctuary of Demeter Malophòros) were also to be veneratedin nearby Selinunte) or Aphrodite (thus the example of the Greek sanctuary of the empòrion of Gravisca), or Dionysus (present for example in Sicione: Pausania, II 11, 3).

In this direction we can interpret the function of the second sacellum from the north of the témenos, seen the square altar (uranium) in front of the door, as well as the complex of temples north of the temple of the Dioscuri, with their external rectangular altars facing east, and the temple L, also equipped with an altar for worship uranium. In any case, the sanctuary saw a predominance of the great pair of Eleusinian goddesses, demonstrated by the huge amount of busts and clay protomes of the goddesses, statuettes and ritual vases, found on the whole and datable between the sixth century BC and the age Hellenistic. The extraordinary popularity of the goddesses in the Geloo-Agrigento area, and more generally in the Siceliot environment, is very well explained by the importance that worship had for marriage practices and therefore for relations with the indigenous entourage.

After all, the memory of the episode of Teline di Gela, ancestor of the Dinomenidi and hierophant of the goddesses, mentioned in the historical events of Gela for his escape to the Sicilian Mactorio, is emblematic in this regard. It is in this context, and not in a mythical Greek-indigenous religious syncretism, that the meaning of such popularity of the cult in the Greek and then in the indigenous sphere should be sought (think of the multiple sacristies of Demeter in Morgantina), as a reflection of the hegemony of the Greek element, but also of the need, strongly felt by it, of a lasting relationship with the natives.

Recent excavations have brought to light an archaic sanctuary adjacent to the south-west side of the témenos of the chthonic deities, an approximately triangular terrace placed on a rocky outcrop overlooking the so-called Colimbetra, and equipped with its own enclosure wall of the sacred area. At the center of the area there is an important base, narrow and elongated (about 20 m), which supported a donation of numerous statues; to the west it has another semicircular “anàthema” (offer) associated with it (diameter about 5 m); further south, carvings for the engraving of steles are visible on the rock. At the northeast corner of the témenosthere is a small sacellum (8 × 6 m), open with a door on the long southern side and preserved only in the foundations. This sanctuary is dated to the late 6th or early 5th century BC; during the 4th century BC, the sacellum was split up and another 5.10 × 3.30 m naiskos, opened towards the east, was added to the center of the témenos, while the whole area was again paved. The revered divinity, judging by a medium-sized clay head of the highest archaism (of course, relative to Agrigento), should be female.