The Valley of the Temples (Valle dei Templi) can be found in the city of Agrigento, Sicily. The area features five main Doric temples in various states of ruin and a series of smaller temples. Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century BC it wasn’t long before Akragas (Agrigento) became a leading city of the Mediterranean.
During the 5th century, Bc Agrigento stood within a vast, fortified wall. It was at the height of opulence that the rocky escarpment on the southern limit of the city was chosen as the perfect location for the great temples of ancient Akragas.
The temples were built in the time of Theron, the first royal Maecenas. Known as the “most beautiful of mortal cities” the town flourished through trade and in culture. The democratic government that followed in the footsteps of Theron continued the construction of the temples which now stand as a lasting reminder of the area’s Greek heritage and the homage paid to the Gods.
The area was virtually abandoned following the arrival of the Arabs in 828 when a new settlement was established on the hills where the modern city now stands. Throughout the centuries the temples fell into ruins thanks mainly to earthquakes and the numerous enemy invasions.
The Doric order of Greek Temple architecture began sometime in the 7th century BC and was the earliest orders of architecture developed by the Greeks, the others being Ionic and Corinthian. The Doric order is a very plain but powerful-looking design. The Doric columns are the simplest of the three types of columns found in the order. The columns have a rounded capital (top), a shaft (20 sides) and no base. They were introduced to Southern Italy and Sicily during the 6th century BC. In 1997 the area was officially declared a World Archaeological Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Temple of Demeter (Santuario Repestre di Demetra)
The Temple of Demeter or sanctuary was discovered in 1926 and is the valley’s oldest architectural discovery. It is believed to date back before the foundation of the Greek city. The temple was built in 480 BC and features three galleries hollowed out of rock. One of the galleries ends at a spring where water was once channeled. Terracotta busts and statuettes of Demeter and her daughter Kore (Persephone) were discovered in some side shafts which linked the sanctuary to its name. During the middle ages, the Church of San Biago was built on the steps of the temple.
Temple of Heracles (Tempio di Ercole)
The Temple of Heracles (Hercules) was built in 510 BC and is the oldest of the temples. The temple features unusually long tapered columns. Only eight of the 38 columns remain. In 1922 Alexander Hardcastle placed the surviving columns in their rightful places. Ruins of a small altar are also still visible.
Temple of Juno ( Tempio di Giunone )
Standing strategically high on a mount, the doric temple dates back to 450BC. It is believed the temple was rebuilt in 406 BC following a fire. Outside the temple is a large sacrificial altar. It was originally dedicated to Hera the Greek goddess of marriage (married to Zeus), of whom Juno is the Roman equivalent.
Temple of Concord (Tempio della Concordia)
The Temple of Concord was built in c.440BC and is the best preserved of the temples due mainly to the additions made following its conversion to a Christian Church in 597 by Bishop Gregorio. Following its conversion walls were built in the spaces between the columns and arches cut into the walls of the shrine to increase resistance to the elements. The temple was later consecrated to St Gregorio of the Rape (turnips).The temple was restored in 17th century carefully stripping away the Christian additions expect for the basilican arches. The roof, which is long gone, was made of marble tiles. At the rear section of the building was a back porch where all the temples treasures were kept. The colonnade features 6.75m columns.
The temple was named by historian Tommaso Fazello (1490-1570) who was credited with discovering many of the temples. Fazello found the name ‘concord” on a Latin inscription near the ruins which has absolutely no association to the temple. It still remains a mystery which divinity the temple was originally dedicated to. The plan is identical to the Juno Temple which was built ten years prior. If you look really closely at the base of the columns you will notice little crosses. No, they weren’t left by ancient stonemasons but instead surveyors who used the marks to check the position of the stones.
Temple of Olympian Zeus (Tempio di Giove Olimpico)
The Temple of Olympian Zeus was built in 480BC as a homage to Zeus for the victory over the Carthaginians at Himera in 480 BC. Carthage was an ancient city in North Africa (near Tunis) and was once a great economic power throughout the Mediterranean. Carthage’s main rival was the Roman Republic who were also seeking dominance of the Western Mediterranian. This rivalry grew and eventually lead to a series of wars known as the Punic Wars. These wars would lead to Cathage’s decline and eventual downfall.
How significant the victory was over the Carthaginians can only be imagined, but if the temple is anything to go by it was truly celebrated. The temple was to be the largest of the valley and the ancient world, estimated to be as large as a football field. But alas it was never completed. It collapsed during an earthquake and would later be used as a quarry. In between the columns stood large Atlas-like statues called Telamons or Atlantes (sculpted supports in the form of a man) to help support the massive structure. The columns were believed to have been over 3.66m (12 feet) in diameter and over 15.5m (51 feet) high. The historian Fazello, believed the building fell into ruins in 1401.
The Temple of Hephaistos
Not much remains of the Temple of Hephaistos (Vulcan) which was built around 430BC. The temple was originally surrounded by 34 columns.
Temple of Aesculapius (Eusculapius)
Lying on the banks of the Akragas river near a spring the small temple was dedicated to Asklepius who was the god of medicine. It dates from around 400-390 BC. It is believed that the temple once housed a statue of Apollo made by Miron whose name appears on the statue’s thigh.
Temple of Castor and Pollux (Tempio di Castore e Polluce)
The Temple of Castor and Pollux (Dioscuri) was unearthed in 1836 by archeologists Villareale and Cavallari. It believed by some that the temple is in fact several different temples incorporated into one.