The Valley of the Temples of Agrigento
Valley of Temples of Agrigento, ancient city of Magna Grecia, today a world heritage siteFounded in 582 B.C. by colonists from Gela, ancient Akragas was called after the river of the same name that flowed past it. During 370 years of domination, Akragas was the most powerful and magnificent city in the Mediterranean and referred to as "the loveliest of mortal cities". During the reign of Falarides (570-555 B.C.) the city was at the height of its splendour. The fortified wall and most of the public works date to this period. Infamous for his cruelty and for the bronze bull that he used to torture his enemies, Falarides was referred to by Dante in his Divine Comedy. The period was followed by the tyranny of Theron (488-471 B.C.), a descendant of the illustrious family of the Emmenidi, druing which the population of Akragas grew to 300,000 and its terrirories spread to the northern coast of Sicily. At the height of its development Akragas became a formidable military power defeating Carthage on several occasions. During the reign of Empedocles from 471 to 406 B.C. the city experienced a period of great prosperity and peace with the Carthaginians. Numerous temples were constructed at this time. A period of decline commenced towards the end of the 5th century as rivalry with Syracuse intensified culminating in the siege of the city in 406 B.C. and, after eight months, its eventual capitulation to Carthaginian forces led by Hannibal. Only after the signing of a treaty between Syracuse and Hannibal could Akragas and Gela be inhabited once more but the cities could no longer be armed and were forced to pay taxes to the Carthaginians. The city was reconstructed in 339 B.C. by the Corinthian Timoleon. The defeat of the Carthaginians by Timoleon at Crimiso in 339 brought the city under the control of Syracuse which initiated a period of renaissance and development. However, peace was relatively short-lived and when Agatocles assumed power in 311 B.C. Akragas recommenced hostilities against Syracuse forming a coalition of Greek cities that was defeated by Syracuse on two occasions. During the tyranny of Finzia from 289 to 270 B.C., Gela was destroyed and its inhabitants were forced to move to the new city of Finziades, named after the tyrant himself, in the area close to present-day Licata. After Finzia, in 209 B.C. during the second Punic War, Akragas was fought over by the Romans and the Carthaginians and, when it finally fell under the control of the Roman Empire, the city was given the latin name Agrigentum.
The Valley of the Temples contains the remains of seven temples in Doric order:
The Valley of the Temples also houses Theron's Tomb, a monument of large proportions constructed in the form of a pyramid from tufa stone which, according to general belief, was erected in memory of the the dead from the second Punic war, necropoli, tombs referred to as the Grotte Fragapane, the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Divinities, the Oratory of Falarides and the Archeological Museum.
- The Temple of Hera Lacinia, dedicated to the Greek goddess of the same name, was constructed in the 5th century B.C. and burnt down by the Carthaginians in 406 B.C.. This was the temple in which weddings were traditionally celebrated.
- The Temple of Concord, whose name derives from a Latin inscription found near to the temple, was also constructed in the 5th century. This is currently the best preserved temple on the site. It was converted into a sacred temple in the 6th century A.D.
- The Temple of Hercules, the oldest of the temples, was dedicated to the god Hercules, one of the most respected inhabitants of the ancient city of Akragas. The temple was destroyed by an earthquake and today comprises just eight columns.
- The Temple of Zeus, constructed in honour of the god of the same name after the vctory over the Carthaginians in 480 B.C., is characterized by the presence of so-called telamones, statues of giant proportions with human features.
- The Temple of the Dioscuri (or Castor and Pollux) was constructed in honour of the twin sons of Zeus. Only four columns remain today. The temple is the symbol of the city of Agrigento.
- The Temple of Vuclan, also dating back to the 5th century, was one of the most imposing buildings in the valley, however, it is one of the temples that has suffered the most damage over time.
- The Temple of Asclepius, constructed far from the walls of the city, was a place of pilgrimage for the sick in search of a cure.