We leave the area of south-east Sicily and head towards the mid-south-west coast to visit the impressive archaeological park of the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento. It’s time for a history lesson around the ruins of the once glorious ancient Greek city of Akragas, or “the fairest city that mortals ever built…” as the ancient poet Pindar described it in one of his odes!
Where is located and how to get there
The park complex “Valley of the Temples” is only 3 km from the present-day city of Agrigento, which is positioned in the middle of the coast and close to the central part of the island. Trapani is 175 km, Palermo around 130 km and Catania 165 km. The location of the archaeological remains itself is on several hills, with a great view of the blue shades of the Mediterranean Sea…
See car rental options in Sicily
The easiest option to visit is by rental car, as we did using one from our partners Autoeurope. By both entrances (yes, two, but I will explain them to you in a moment) there are distinguished areas for paid parking (HERE and HERE), the maximum daily price being around 8 euro. If you stay for 3 hours, which is quite enough to see everything, the stay will cost you about 5 euro.
Public transport options are limited as the connection to the eastern part of Sicily isn’t good and the journey would take a long time… Organized daily tours would be a good choice as they are mainly offered from Catania and Palermo. It is from Palermo that there is a regular train line (for timetables and prices – Trenitalia), which takes about 2 hours in one direction. There are public buses from Agrigento to the park at short intervals, as well as taxis to get you to the park entrance. My opinion is that staying overnight in the area is completely unnecessary, but if you are elsewhere, you may find some interesting places to stay.
See places to stay in AgrigentoBooking.com
Two entrances – which one to choose
Interesting, and a bit confusing, is the presence of two entrances and two exits respectively – west and east. Whichever you choose to start the tour from, it‘s imperative that you keep your ticket until check-out! We decided to enter through the eastern one, because this part of the complex is the most impressive and we thought it would be better to start from here. So if we decide at some point not to reach the very end of the park, we will know that we have seen the most impressive sights. Traversing its entire area requires quite a bit of walking, and the biggest downside to the layout is that once you’ve covered the distance from one end to the other, you have to retrace the same path in reverse to reach your vehicle…
💡 Tickets are sold at both entrances, and advance purchase isn’t necessary. Current prices and working hours can be found on the website – HERE.
First impression – Tempio di Giunone
With the first steps around the complex, on the hill to the left, you can see the remains of the ancient temple of the goddess Hera (Roman name Juno) – Tempio di Giunone. It was built in the period 450-430 BC, and in its entirety had 34 columns, of which 25 have been preserved to this day (some completely, others only partially). They are erected on a rectangular base measuring 40 meters long and 20 meters wide – 6 columns on the short side and 13 columns on the long side. On some of them you can notice black marks caused by Carthaginian attacks and left as an imprint of time as far back as 406 BC.
The Greatness of Akragas
The lands of southern Italy were once home to ancient Greek colonies collectively known as Magna Graecia. Among them is Acragas, founded around 580 BC. by settlers from Rhodes and Crete. Its development was sharp and it quickly became one of the most influential cities in the Mediterranean and the third largest in Magna Graecia. It was surrounded by impressive fortress walls with a length of about 12 km! In its heyday, it is thought to have had a population of around 300 000. Its greatness is indicated by the buildings built in the 5th century BC. Doric temples, the remains of which are today the most impressive archaeological site in Sicily and part of the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage.
During the first two Punic Wars, Rome and Carthage fought for Acragas, causing considerable damage to it. Over the years, it has been repeatedly looted and burned, and several earthquakes destroyed a large part of it… It fell under the possession of Romans, Ostrogoths, Byzantines, Normans, etc. Thus the former greatness of Akragas, later renamed Agrigentium, Grigenti, Agrigento, disappears and only the shadow of the imposing ruins in the valley of the temples remains…
The main thoroughfare in the complex is the dusty Via Sacra. It leads to all the temples and ruins, and the signs greatly facilitate the route for tourists. You can easily detour to explore the ancient necropolises or enjoy a beautiful view of the surrounding landscapes of the valley. And even if you get lost in the olive groves, vineyards and cacti, you will always be able to orient yourself to the Via Sacra and get back on the right path…
💡 If you come in the summer, be sure to bring a hat and sunscreen because there is no shade and the temperatures can be brutal…
Tempio della Concordia
The undoubted culmination of the journey through antiquity is the Temple of Concordia – Tempio della Concordia. Along with the Parthenon in Athens, these are the two best-preserved temples from ancient Greece in the world. It’s built around 430 BC and his dimensions are slightly larger than those of the Tempio di Giunone. But the almost perfectly preserved gables on the east and west sides give it completeness and contribute to its imposing appearance. In the 6th century it was converted into a Christian church, which largely prevented the certain ruin that befell the other sites. It’s not clear to which deity it was dedicated, and its current name is due to a Latin inscription found nearby, unrelated to the temple.
Tempio di Ercole
We reach the oldest temple in the valley – the Temple of Hercules (Tempio di Ercole), built around 520 BC. With a length of 74 m and a width of 27.8 m and reaching an impressive height of over 16 m, it was the second largest temple in the ancient city (after the Temple of Zeus – Tempio di Zeus Olimpio). Unfortunately, it was almost completely destroyed during one of the earthquakes, and it wasn’t until 1922 that part of it was restored and 9 of the former 38 columns were erected again. His attribution to the hero is confirmed by a passage in Cicero and can be considered reliable, the more so considering that Hercules was particularly revered in the area.
We skip the western part
A narrow path behind the Temple of Hercules leads to the western part of the complex, where the main attraction is the scattered remains of the never finished Temple of Zeus. We decided to head back to the parking lot because we had a drive to the west coast, but if you have more time to explore, you can continue the tour.
Detour to Scala dei Turchi
Only about 10 km from the parking lot there is a beautiful rock that we decided to stop by – Scala dei Turchi. It’s a particularly popular spot during the warmer months when it is used for sunbathing and tourists lounge on the white surface. It looks like a natural staircase leading directly into the water! It was precisely as such that she was used by Arab pirates who anchored around her to plunder the nearby villages. The local population called them “Turks”, although they were Saracens, and thus the name of the rock was given.
The descent down to the beach is along a scenic path, and in February we were the only tourists on the cold golden sand. It took thousands of years for nature to create the wonderful lines of the rock and turn it into perhaps the most recognizable seascape from Sicily…