Positioned in a mountain ridge outside the town of Agrigento is the great ancient Greek landscape park of the Valley of the Temples, Italians call it Valle dei Tempi and Vaddi di Tempri for the Sicilian locals.
The site is always on the top list of the first places to visit in Sicily, a tourist must see and a myth enthusiasts’ bucket list favourite. A landmark narration of the past and notable as very Greek with its history’s connection to Magna Grecia. The temples located in the valley were built and established in honour of the many gods and goddesses who served and protected the ancient city of Akragas(present-day Agrigento) thousands of years ago. For more than two millenniums, the hill has witnessed the rise and fall of the Hellenic civilisation, the dispute between the Romans and the Carthaginians, Norman conquest of Sicily, celebrations of life and death, wars, calamities and the city’s modern innovation as one the island’s major tourist centre. It is no doubt that several stories surround the precious archaeological wonder. From interesting facts, historical and mythological accounts, mysteries and secrets ready to unveil.
Fascinating Facts about the Valley of the Temples
- The Valley of the Temples is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural and historical significance to humanity. The 1300 hectares Italian national monument consisted of Greek Doric-style temples which were built 5th century BC ago and now preserved to be treasured for next centuries to come.
- Remains of the ancient city of Akragas. The Valley of the Temples is located in Agrigento city, in the southern part of Sicily. It was formerly called Akragas, its territory extended from the excavation site up to the sea. Akragas was a prominent Greek colony throughout the Magna Grecia era and was also the largest and most prosperous city in the Mediterranean sea during its peak. Its territory Founded by Greek settlers, it had developed into a wealthy state that captivated the attention of other powerful ethnic groups. The protected Valley of the Temples after surviving the test of time and many natural disasters is the affluent evidence of the city’s glorious past.
- Seven Greek temples Dating around 750 BC, some part of Sicily was colonised by the Greeks which had also brought its culture, traditions and religion to the island including the constructions of many temples in Doric order. Seven of these temples or at least a percentage of these early architectures can still be visited in this landmark; the Temple of Concordia(the goddess of harmony), Temple of Juno(queen of gods), Temple of Heracles (mythologically known as Hercules, son of Zeus), Temple of Olympian Zeus(king of gods), Temple of Castor and Pollux(Gemini in Latin, the constellation and the twin patrons of sailors), Temple of Vulcan(god of fire), and Temple of Asclepius(god of medicine)
- Transformed into a Christian church. The best-preserved temple in the hill, the Temple of Concordia was converted into a church approximately in the late Roman Empire period and avoided the demolition of pagan shrines.
- The area is vast, enjoy the walk that will take you into another time. Aside from the old temples, there are many other things to see in the largest archaeological site in the world. This includes the hundred years old olive trees spread out in the park, breathtaking view of Agrigento from the hill and other interesting remains like the Hellenistic oil mill on the Atenea cliff, assembly houses or bouleuterion, and more archaic sanctuaries and residences. Medieval tombs and catacombs are also found in the area and some parts of the late-Roman and Byzantine necropolises.
MYTHS OR HISTORY?
- Daedalus as the founder of Akragas. Many stories suggested that the mythical character, great Greek innovator and creator of the Labyrinth, Daedalus built the ancient city of Akragas after escaping the rage of King Minos of Crete. It was believed that he left the Greek islands with his son Icarus in artificial wings that he invented for the two of them. Unfortunately,, Icarus flew higher, the heat of the Sun had melted his wings and did not survive. Daedalus arrived in Sicily, strengthen his reputation as an inventor without revealing himself and said to have built a temple dedicated to Apollo and the city of Akragas. There was no archaeological evidence for this claim. Greek settlers had begun migrating outside the mainland in the 8th century BC, and Sicily was the cradle of some of the most important colonies in Magna Graecia.
- Purifications by Empedocles The most famous citizen of Akragas was Empedocles, a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, whose works tackled the history of the universe and the origin of life. He was an excellent persuader and had attained prestige all over the city for his vast knowledge of nature, social contribution in eradicating corruptions, and rumoured healing powers. In his poems Purifications and On Nature, he asserted that he is comparable to a god, with eternal life and can cure all kinds of diseases. According to legends, Empedocles travelled from Akragas to Mount Etna and jumped off the volcano to prove to the people that he had turned into an immortal god.
- The ancient population’s admiration for Hercules. The Temple of Heracles is the oldest temple in the valley and believed to have been the most popular cult too with devotees flocking to have a glimpse and touch the bronze statue of Heracles, the greatest hero of all time in Greek mythology with stories about his adventures widespread all over the region including his travel to Sicily.
Secrets of the Valley of the Temples
- Phalaris’s brazen bull and cannibalism. Phalaris was a tyrant ruler of Akragas dating from 570 to 554 BC. He played an important role in the successive years of the colony by building
underground aqueducts, advanced infrastructures and city’s wall defence. However, he was infamous as a cruel leader who took pleasure in the suffering of others. Allegedly, when torturing and executing prisoners or his enemies, he used a brazen bull device which was heated under fire with the people inside getting roasted alive. He was also accused of practising cannibalism too and targeting infant babies. It was claimed that Phalaris agonized the same death as his victims and was killed inside the brazen bull.
- Persecution of pagans and destructions of Greek god temples. During the late Roman Empire or known as the Byzantine Empire, the then emperor, Constantine the Great implemented the anti-pagan law which prohibits practising religions other than Christianity. Sicily which housed many Greek colonies were widely affected. Temples and other churches devoted to pagan gods had been destroyed and their leaders and priests executed.
- Many structures have not been found yet, and there are still unexcavated parts of the site. Maybe one day, the statue of Hercules will appear or the remains of the brazen bull. All these secrets waiting to be discovered.