Visiting the Valley of the Temples

When you leave, after the sun sets take a look back – the temples are illuminated and can be seen from far away.

The Temple of Concorde 370 (photo credit: Itsik Marom)
The Temple of Concorde 370
(photo credit: Itsik Marom)
When you look at the map, it looks like the big boot of the Italian Peninsula is trying to kick away the island of Sicily, as if it was an “island non grata.” As a matter of fact, ask any Italian and he will tell you that he would never give up Sicily.
That is more than likely in no small part due to the wonderful gems this big island has to offer.
One of these gems is located away from the masses and the popular main cities, near the town of Agrigento in the southwestern region. Just two kilometers below it you will find one of the UNESCO’s world heritage sites. Since 1998, the Valley of the Temples along with its 12 unique ancient temples is recognized as a wonder by the United Nations.
But its history, of course, goes way back to the Greek settlers from Gela who arrived here and built the city of Akragas, later to be called Agrigento. In the 6th century BCE, the Greeks raised some impressive temples, even for that time.
The first known philosopher, Empedocles, hailed from Akragas. He set the famous division of matter into the four elements of earth, fire, water and air, making him “the father of Science.” The city was so beautiful that it drew poets who glorified it and later drew writers and painters who extolled its virtues past its geographical limits.
Obviously, the city suffered over the years from the usual troubles of disputes with the Romans and Carthaginians in the Punic war, the Byzantines and other invaders as well from natural forces such as major earthquakes. In recent history, the city was bombed in World War II.
All of these events brought destruction to the historical treasures, and many vanished forever. Luckily for us, a few temples survived, were left in relatively good shape and impressing every visitor.
With a little imagination supplemented by a little bit of reading, one can see how the beautiful city of Akragas immediately became a cultural center.
Although called the Valley of the Temples, the temples themselves stand on a ridge. Standing on a small hill is the Temple of Concorde, in the best shape of the 12 temples. Archaeologists assume that it remained intact because it was converted into a church in the 6th century CE. This could not protect it from nature’s ills, however.
The Temple of Concorde carries a unique architectural feature. Its columns deliberately narrow in their upper part to make them look higher than they really are, which is around 13 meters. Among the other structures, we find the Temples of Hercules, Jupiter, Vulcan and Hera.
It is highly recommended to complete the visit in this magical archaeological park by diving deeper into the 2,500- year pool of the region’s history. Enter the nearby regional archaeological museum in the San Nicola convent complex. There you will find a large exhibit of artifacts excavated and found throughout the region. Be sure not to miss the giant figure of the 7.5-meter long Talemon (Atlantes), originally from the Temple of Jupiter.
A combined ticket to the park and the museum costs 10 euros. You can get to the park from Agrigento with public transportation, but reaching the park is more convenient by private car, and there is ample parking space on site. Try to enhance the effect of your visit in the Valley of the Temples by getting there either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the low sun colors the columns orange-red and the shadows are long and dramatic. When you leave, after the sun sets take a look back – the temples are smartly illuminated and can be seen from far away.