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more about Agrigento and The Valley of the Temples

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Agrigento of today
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The temple of Concordia
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The temple of Heracles
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The temple of Zeus

Greek settlers from From the Sicilian town Gela near by and from the Greek island Rhodes founded Agrigento in the year 581 BC. The town, originally named Akragas, was build on the land between two rivers, Akragas and Hypsas. The settlers constructed a town wall - up town the wall runs in level with the hills and downtown between the later placed temples and the sea. It was decided between the years 500 and 400 BC to realize temples in honour and gratitude of the Greek gods and godesses. The temples was placed down of the town itself but inside the town wall. In this period of time the main part of Sicily and the larger towns were dominated by the Greeks - population, culture and religion and so was also Agrigento which was a prosperous and progressive town.
But in spite of the town walls Akragas (Agrigento) and the inhabitants were not able to fight back the agression of the people from Carthago in the North-African territory. In the year 406 BC the Carthagnians invaded Akragas, destroyed the town and damaged the temples heavily.
In the 3rd century BC the Romans became the rulers of Sicily. The Romans rebuild the town and it was named Agrigentum - the name as the town has also today. It was a good period for the town also later under the Byzantinian rulers and later the Arabs. But after the influence of the Normans Agrigento went into a decline and never managed to retain the former prosperuosity and many tresories belonging to the town and the churches had disappeared.

Even Agrigento is famous for the temples it is still worth while to visit the town centre where you find a Norman church from the 11th century. The name of the church is Santa Maria dei Greci and it is build on the foundation for a Dorian temple for Athena from the 5th century BC. One can still see the remains of the Dorian columns, the Byzantine friezes and the woodden ceiling from the Norman period.
In the town you also find the monestery, Monastero Santo Spirito, founded by nuns of the Cistercian order in 1290 AC. It is possible to visit the capel where the stucco is made by Giacomo Serpotta. On the 1st floor of the chapel is made a museum.

The main attraction at Agrigento is the temples placed as mentioned above down town. The area of the temples is seperated by the road into two parts: the eastern part and the western part.
In the eastern part you find the temples build for Hera (the wife of Zeus), Concord (godess for harmoni and community) and Herakles (a demigod significant stength).
The temple for Herakles is the oldest one and the building was probably started as early as in the last decade of the 6th century BC. 8 of the origin 38 columns are again on end while the others are still on the ground where they fell more than 2000 years ago.
The temple in the middle is the one for Concord (or Harmonia). It is from around 430 BC and this temple is well preserved and beautiful sited with a view to the town and to the sea. In the 6th century AC the temple was turned into a christian church but during 1800 it was more or less returned into the originally style.
At the far end of the path you find the temple of Hera. The long alter at one end of the temple there are traces of fire, a fire probably started by the Cartaginians invading Akragas in 406 BC.
In the western zone you find the temple of Zeus, the king of the gods, a sacred open space with the temple for Castor and Pollux (twin sons of Zeus and Leda) and farest out the temple of Vulcano (the god of fire).
The building of the temple of Zeus was started around 480 BC and accordng to the legend the workers were Cartaginian prisoners. This temple is the biggest Dorian temple ever known. It had a length of 112 m (340 feet) and 56 m (170 feet) wide with 20 m (65 feet) high columns. But is was never finished. The work was interrupted by the war against Carthago and the parts already build were destroyed by the soldiers and later also damaged by earthquakes and afterwards the stones were used as building materials for the southern town gateway.
The neighbour temple for Castor and Pollux is sited on the sacred open space known from before the settlement of Akragas. At this space are placed 2 alters: one long and rectangular and another alter round. During the 19th century the temple was partky rebuild with materials from other constructions nearby.
On the road heading up towards Agrigento you pass the archeological museum which is located in a previously monestery. From the open space in front of the church med the Gothic entrance, San Nicola, there is a magnificent view of the temples around.
Across the road from the museum you find the old Greek-Roman residental quarters used on and off up to 500 AC.
Far south in the valley you find a sacred spring of water at the open space called Santuario di Demetra. This place was known long before the settlements of Akragas and devoters to the cult of Demeter and Persephone were here able to wash thenselves in the holy water.

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