What to see in Agrigento and Valley of Temples

Agrigento is history, myth, culture. Ancient Akragas conserves its Valley of the Temples, with the most numerous and known of Sicily’s archaeological remains from the Greek period. The vast Archaeological Park, a symbol of the glories of the city lived in the ancient period, extends for about 1300 hectares of temples, homes, and sacred places; a heritage of Unesco since 1997, Agrigento is one of the most sought after and famous destinations in Sicily.

It would be a mistake to confine the visit only to the Archaeological Park.

The city of Agrigento certainly deserves attention for its medieval town center where elegant streets are interwoven between the ancient noble buildings, ideal place for a walk during a cool spring afternoon.

The Valley of the Temples of Agrigento represents one of the most picturesque routes that can be made in Sicily. A Unesco World Heritage Site since 1997, it covers an area of ​​about 1300 hectares in the south of the ancient city: today, the buildings that are still present date back, in most part, to the fifth century BC, the period during which Agrigento reached its maximum splendor. The most important temples were made in Doric style, built mostly with yellow tuff sandstone.

The Valley of the Temles is now enhanced with a number of exhibitions of contemporary artists. It has recently received great success with its exhibition of sculptures along Via Sacra by the Polish master Igor Mitoraj.

The Way of the Temples showcases the most important sacred buildings: the Temples of Hercules,
Concordia, and Juno Lacinia.  The first of these comes with eight columns, half of them with the shrine that was put back on its feet in 1924, and is perhaps the oldest building in the entire valley: some ancient inscriptions, dating it back to the sixth century BC.

Other Relevant Sites in Agrigento

The Sanctuary of Demeter is the oldest sacred place in Agrigento, existing before the construction of the Akragas, and is a rectangular building which leads to two deep caverns, which penetrate over 20 meters into the rock. The corridor that connects the structure to the caves, in the past, served as a place where the faithful could be purified by the natural spring water contained within the alcoves.

The Hellenistic-Roman district is an urban layout that stretches for more than 10,000 square meters, crossing its streets in an orthogonal pattern. Of particular beauty are some houses of the period (fourth century BC), which still contain splendid mosaics of which among the most revealing are, the home of the gazelle, the home of swastikas, and the house of the master abstractionist.

The Church of San Nicola of Agrigento, an imposing Romanesque-Gothic church was built by the Cistercian monks in the thirteenth century.  The arched doorway framed by two mighty pillars is beautiful. At its core, and still preserved in excellent condition is the sarcophagus of Phaedra, marble works of inestimable value, dating from the second century AD, represents four episodes of the myth of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Also notable is the sarcophagus of the coronary women, which dates from the third century AD.

The Regional Archaeological Museum of Agrigento is one of the most important archaeological museums in Sicily, in both number of visitors and the quality of its exhibits. Divided into two sections, it houses artifacts of Agrigento in the first section and those of Gela and Caltanissetta in the second. The most important works are kept among others, the Talisman (7.75 meters high); the Ephebe, a marble work from the Greek era portraying a young Greek nude in balance with anatomical shapes. Lastly, the sculpture of Aphrodite at Bath deserves mention.

What to see in Agrigento City

The main street of Agrigento is Via Atenea, which branches off from Piazzale Aldo Moro: the beginning of the elegant avenue, adorned with beautiful shops and boutiques, highlighted by the door of Atenea, from the Middle Ages, but rebuilt in 1868.

Of the sites that may be of interest to those who are going to visit Agrigento, worthy of a visit among the others are: The Church of St. Alfonso de Liguori built in 1939, The Church of St. Mary of the Greeks with three aisles built on top of a Doric temple of the fifth century BC, probably dedicated to Athena, The Library Lucchesiana, with more than 50,000 volumes, Rupe Atenea, the highest point of the old city, probably the acropolis of the ancient Akragas; still visible, a watchtower (V century BC), with three of the four sides of the structure surviving the vicissitudes of time.

Historical Background of Agrigento

Founded by settlers from Gela with the name of Akragas, between today’s St. Biagio River and its affluent Dragon (then known as Akragas and Hypsos) around 580 BC, the town soon became important both politically and militarily, so that in defeating the Carthaginians in 480 BC its control was extended over a wide area.  Definitively conquered by the Romans in 210 BC, Agrigento was able to enjoy a period of prosperity through trade and its, at the time, very developed agriculture.

It suffered a strong decline after the fall of the Roman Empire. Many parts of the city were abandoned and most of the population settled on the hill of Girgenti, only in 800 AD did the city begin to repopulate and again assume its prior popularity in central Sicily.

After the Arab conquest Agrigento became the capital of the Berbers. Mixed fortunes followed for a long period, with a significant economic recovery coming in the Seventh century and successive reorganization of the town. The Bourbon period was rather difficult for the inhabitants of Girgenti: the rigid tax system as well as a feudal government provoked a growing discontent which turned into an alignment to the partisan movement. The damages from the Second World War near Gela were dramatic, where the Allies landed to reconquer Sicily, Agrigento suffered heavy bombing. Since 1997 it has been a World Heritage Site.

Agrigento by Night

The nightlife in Agrigento concentrates on Via Atenea, where young people gather to chat and drink. The city’s restaurants offer excellent cuisine, varied and tasty at affordable prices. The pizzerias are not numerous, but renowned for their quality, they are located mainly near the Valley of the Temples. Piazzala Aldo Moro is where people usually prefer have some drinks. However, for the more romantic, it might be suggested to take a walk at sunset, along the Viale della Vittoria, where you can enjoy a fantastic view.

For nightclub lovers there is no shortage of options, both in the city and in neighboring villages, are diverse places that organize parties and evenings.

In summer however, the nightlife is mainly concentrated along the coast of Agrigento, where they have ‘under the stars’ nightclubs and restaurants with seafood specialties, providing viable variety while spending pleasant evenings in Sicily.