Ancient Akragas. The Valley of the Temples
Approaching the end of the year, however not the end of the trips for this year yet. Still some more to come even though it’s just days before the Christmas time, and exciting for another great trip to come over New Year’s Eve and the first two weeks of January escaping the freezing and ugly weather in Europe for some beached in the Caribbean and an amazing cultural heritage everywhere in Cuba! For now, this is way another incredible trip whatsoever. No need to travel very far to reach some of the most unique and incredible places on earth from one of the once most fascinating and developed ancient civilization, the Greek. Agrigento was back then, Akragas; one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia. Sicily is Italy, that’s for sure, however over the past millennia this has not been the case and before the Romans, the Greek were here, among other past civilizations.
Reaching this place becomes a rush of excitement since it’s one of this key destinations for any ancient civilization lover. It is, and it will be, as when I finally get to reach Persepolis or the Machu Picchu, or when I walked past the siq into the “Treasury” building in Petra. Here you will find some of the most elaborate, large and best preserved Greek temples from this civilization, comparable to these of another former Magna Graecia jewels, Paestum (southern Italy).
A magnificent city founded around 580 BC, it developed prosperously being one of the richest and most important cities of the Greek Colony, once of the oldest democracies in the world until the Carthaginians in 406 BC overthrew it to never recover. Thereafter disputed between the Carthaginians and the Romans during both Punic Wars, it fully became part of Rome in 210 BC who renamed it Agrigentum. Both Greek and Latin were the official languages for many centuries afterwards until the fall of Rome changing hands to the Vandalic and Ostrogothic kingdoms before the Byzantine Empire. Lastly the Normans during the entire medieval period until the unification of Italy in 1860 leaded by Giuseppe Garibaldi.
With so many centuries of past history, battles, resurrections, decline and thrive, the actual worst part of its history is the most recent. Destructive raids during the World War II. Still, its archaeological area has been excavated, restored and preserved, where actually over half of the ancient city is still unexcavated as of today. As a note, the park and landscape of the Valley of the Temples is the largest archaeological site in the world at 1300 hectares.
A total of seven monumental temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC towards the south area of the ancient city, and are without any doubt the major draw for tourist worldwide, no need to say an UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is still more to see than this archaeological area. Within the current modern Agrigento you can see remains of both the Greek and Roman periods, among some nice baroque constructions; and nearby along the coast the Porto Empedocle and beaches. All in all it makes a perfect full day trip from wherever you might be coming in Sicily, although a much lengthy journey from Messina, Catania and Syracuse rather than the major cities along western Sicily such as Trapani or Palermo, the later being our base.
For more information about Agrigento check this Wikipedia site. Italy’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get there
Being one of the top archaeological sites in Italy, and for sure in Sicily, it is in the other hand not so massified as Pompeii is as example. The reason being is the location, quite far from the major tourist points and cities, with the nearest airport all the way north to the other side of the island in Palermo. While millions more people travel to mainland Italy, it is way less in Sicily although at least 75% of these tourists will aim to visit Agrigento either on their own, or as a tour.
It is on the shortest route by road, 125 kilometres from Palermo, and 160 if taking the more scenic route where from Sciacca to Agrigento follows the coast. From Trapani is way farther, 235 kilometres hence consider your time and calculate which base is more convenient to you unless you are in a longer trip through Sicily of course.
Both buses and trains take around 2 hours and 5 minutes, with departures quite frequent through the day. This is great news for these who don’t drive nor have their own transport. It costs 9 Euros per way; the only you will need to remember and plan around it is the last departing train from Agrigento back to Palermo is at 22.22pm.
Once in Agrigento, both the “modern” and ancient city are next to each other, no need for taking any public transportation in between and in the city. Distances are short and are best done on foot where you can enjoy the architecture, the small streets and squares around. However when inside the archaeological park, prepare to walk for longer, the main temples are quite distant from each other, and if you also want to include other sites as the theatre, the quarters and other structures, then be warned of long distances.
Entrance fees and opening hours
There are 2 different tickets to this place. One for the archaeological area itself where you can see every temple costing 10 Euros, and the other the combination ticket for both all the temples plus the museum for the price of 13.50 Euros. If you have enough time at the site then I would recommend you going for the museum as well as it’s well worth it. Admission fee is waived for students.
The site is open from 08.30am until 19.00pm, with the last admission half an hour before closing.
What to see and do in ancient Agrigento
- Outside of the main archaeological area. No ticket needed around these places unless for the Museum.
-Temple of Demetra Located outside the main archaeological area, at the far eastern end of “modern” Agrigento next to the cemetery.
-Hellenistic/Roman Quarter Approaching the main Archaeological Museum is this excavated large area of the city, characterised for its perfect orthogonal urbanism so traditional in the Roman period.
-The Roman Temple Right after the previous quarters (behind a petrol station). Not much remain there today bearing the foundations and some walls.
-Archaeological Museum Home to countless treasures found in the excavations and of course, ongoing growing collection.
-Oratorio of Falaride Next to the museum (well, implemented into the exhibitions), a small Greek theatre quite well preserved.
- Within the main archaeological area. The best entrance gate would the one by the Temple of Juno (east of the site).
-Temple of Juno The first one you will come across if you’ve accessed the park at this entrance gate, and the second most complete in the site. Built about the year 450 BC.
-Temple of Concordia One of the most complete and best preserved temples from the Greek civilization. The number one sight in Agrigento. Built between 440 and 430 BC.
-Temple of Hercules The third in level of preservation, with 8 of its impressive columns standing. Although it has not been precisely dated, it can be narrowed to the final years of the 6th century BC.
-Tomb of Terone Just south from the Temple of Hercules, before continuing west to the Temple of Olympian Zeus. A naiskos sepulcher with square plan.
-Temple of Olympian Zeus It was the largest Doric temple ever built by the Greek, and never completed after the Carthaginians conquered the city. Its remains today are a pile of rubble stones and its shape. Earthquakes and then quarrying in the 18th century left the remains very stripped-off. What is very unique here are the giant stone atlases. They were in between the outer columns adorning the main front; now lying in pieces in the ground.
-Temple of Vulcan The westernmost of the temples in the main archaeological site, the nearest access gate if you want to enter the site over here is Porta Quinta. Dates from around 430 BC.
As we came here as a day trip from our main base Palermo 125 kilometres to the northeast, I can describe, and already with twice the experience, our hotel’s experience there.
Being the largest city in Sicily and major tourist pole in the island, the amount of hotels strongly reflects this facts where you can find hundreds to anyone’s likes. From top of the top, to hostels and anything in between. For us, finding a great deal was as easy as few minutes searching on the usual hotel comparison pages, but we know this was only the case for being absolutely low season in both our trips here. Starting from Easter time and until October the situation changes dramatically, and not only that you will end up spending a fortune for a nice hotel, but the likes of the good ones to be sold out are high. As usual, a good point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engines such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
In the most recent trip we stayed at the Hotel Garibaldi in Via Emerico Amari 146. That’s right next door to the Teatro Politeama in the north of the city, not far from the historic centre. To be honest, a great surprise for having a very nice experience. Comfortable and quiet bedroom, simple decoration, friendly staff and a nice breakfast. Very well maintained, cosy and elegant. Could not ask for more for just a night.
As for the previous time, we stayed at the Eurostars Centrale Palace, in Via Vittorio Emanuele 327. Almost next door to the Quattro Canti, and minutes away from the Cathedral, right by the main street of Palermo where majority of the sights are; location could not be better indeed. In the other hand, as this hotel was a bit behind the main street, was quieter than many others as I could read in the reviews. After all, this is an area with thriving nightlife hence expect some noise. The hotel was beautiful! On a former palace. The breakfast room super elegant and full of history on its walls, ceilings and lamps. Big and nice breakfast by the way. The room was spacious and very comfortable, and so was all the staff, very polite and friendly, listening to the needs of everyone as precious guests and not just numbers. Will definitely not hesitate in returning to the same hotel in the future. Absolutely recommended to anyone.