Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Italy: Agrigento, Valley of the Temples

When Icarus used the wings his father made to escape from Crete, he disregarded his father's
warning about not flying too close to the sun. The heat weakened the wax in the wings
and Icarus fell to earth. He seems to have landed here, in front of the Temple of
Concordia, as a large bronze sculpture.  

Tempio della Concordia (Temple of the Concord) is considered the best-preserved Greek temple still existing, owing mostly to its having been used for centuries as a Christian church. It's just one of the many temples and ruins between the modern town of Agrigento and the southern coast of Sicily. Photos of Concordia, which is beautifully illuminated at night and appears to float in a dark sky, should put Agrigento on the itinerary of any trip to Sicily.
Most of the temples and other sites are along a walkway that runs the length of the Valley of the Temples, which are considered to be the finest Greek ruins in the world, along with those of the Acropolis in Athens.  Ruins of residential areas and a fine archeological museum are along the road between the valley and the modern town. (The term "valley," by the way, is wrong. The temples are strung along a ridge that overlooks the Mediterranean Sea.)

We were still in Siracusa when we started having second thoughts about Agrigento, mainly about the fact that the inn we originally booked did not have a pool. Siracusa was very sunny and very hot, though it was right on the sea. Agrigento, a mile or so inland, would be even hotter, we thought, and we wanted a pool. One hotel in Agrigento appealed to us: Villa Athena, which is not only within walking distance of the Valley of the Temples, it has its own entrance to the park and it has day and night views of Concordia and the Temple of Juno. And a pool.  I called and was told that the only room available was a suite at several hundred euros a night. Jane went online and found a "comfort" class room there for less than 200 euros a night. We booked it and cancelled our previous reservation. No idea why the front desk had told me only the suite was available.

Villa Athena is a house from the 1700s that has been expanded with several wings and out buildings to become a very posh hotel. Our ground-level "comfort" room was very comfortable. It was entered via our own terrace from a sidewalk, which meant mostly keeping curtains drawn for privacy. But the room was large, beautifully furnished and had a superb bathroom and shower. And CNN on TV, which we rarely found in the more modest inns where we usually stayed.

The town of Agrigento was a short taxi ride from Villa Athena. We didn't take our own car because parking in old walled towns in Italy is a nightmare.  We did, however, drive to a nearby beach at San Leone. It took less than 10 minutes, but it would have been a terrible walk.

Concordia floats in the distance in this view from Villa Athena. The temple's current
name comes from a plaque found near it, not necessarily associated with it, that was
dedicated to the "harmony of the people of Agrigento." It is considered likely
that the temple was originally dedicated to the Dioskouroi, Castor and Pollux,
although there's another temple here associated with them.

A small fence keeps visitors from climbing the steps and
entering the temple. The Doric columns that surround
the temple appear to be repeated inside.

Another view shows the walls and arches of the interior.
You can see the Mediterranean in the distance.

In the late 500s, a Catholic bishop named Gregorius took over
the temple and consecrated it to Saints Paul and Peter and expelled
the pagan gods Eber and Raps, the most recent subjects of worship there.
It was the conversion to Christian use that saved much of the temple. In
1788, the use as a church ended and most of the Christian elements
were removed. 

The Temple of Hercules boasts columns that were reassembled in the 19th century.

The Tempio di Giunone originally was much like Concordia, but the centuries
weren't so kind to it. Giunone is the Italian version of Juno, aka Hera, and the temple
is referred to by all three names. The goddess in question was the wife of Giove,
Jove, Jupiter or Zeus, depending on your choice of language and whether you regard
the Roman gods as mere adaptations of the Greek ones.  Like most of the
temples here, it dates to the fifth century B.C.E.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux. Or, rather,
a corner of it.

The Tomba di Terone, a small, sealed tomb
in an olive grove below the ridge where
the temples are. 

A centaur appears to be in for a beating
in this illustration on an ancient Greek
bowl at the archeological museum
in Agrigento. It had countless works
such as this, all recovered from local ruins.

This towering figure is one of the titans (the pre-Zeus gods
such as Atlas) meant to adorn the Temple of Zeus at
Agrigento. Today, the temple is an unremarkable pile
of stones, but archeologists have figured out what it was
and how it was meant to look. 

This model of the Temple of Zeus shows that it would have been more or less closed, like no
 other Greek temple of its time. It also would have been the largest. It is thought that it was
 never 100 percent completed. Note the figures between the columns.
 Those are the titans, earlier gods pressed into serving Zeus.

This child's sarcophagus was carved in marble, probably in Rome, in the second century B.C.E. The
front shows the child with his teachers at school, at left, and on his deathbed at right.

This side of the sarcophagus depicts the child as a newborn, The mother is sitting at
right, and a wet nurse holds a cloth to wash the child.

The other side of the sarcophagus shows two figures guiding the child, who is in a small
chariot pulled by a sheep, on his journey to the kingdom of death.

On the western outskirts of Agrigenta is the town of Realmonte and the Scala dei Turchi,
the Stairs of the Turks.  Moorish invaders who were mistakenly thought to be Turks
climbed these cliffs during raids and attempted invasions.

Today the cliffs are a destination for sightseers and sunbathers.

San Leone, a couple of kilometers from Agrigento,
has sandy beaches, several nice lidos and plenty
of sun. The waves are not great for swimming,
but a breakwater at one beach calms things down.

Agrigento is a town with personality, though the number of
out-of-business shops was dismaying. We had two very
good dinners at different places here, and we twice had
aperitivos in the piazza in front of these artful stairs.

Via Atenea is the main pedestrian
 and passeggiata street.
W knew that lights such as these signal a
feast day, but as strangers in a strange land, we almost never knew
what feast day was being celebrated. Clearly, the party hadn't
started yet when I took this picture.

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