Valle dei Templi is the one stop you need to schedule when visiting Sicily. Situated in Agrigento the site is 130 km from Palermo and 170 km from Catania. This is the largest archaeological site in the world covering a total of 1300 hectares.
Getting to Valle dei Templi
I would recommend that you travel by car when in Sicily if you want to see the countryside. Trains and busses are frequent but having a car gives you freedom of movement. Park at the Parcheggio Valle dei Templi on Viale Caduti di Marzabotto. This is opposite Porta Quinta and for map reference you can use Via Efebo as the closest junction to the parking. The parking costs €3 and from here you can catch a taxi to the entrance at Via Panoramica dei Templi. The taxi costs €3 per person and takes you to the top of the hill.
Entrance at Tempio di Giunone
This is the entrance I recommend you use. Valle Dei Templi is open every day from 8h30 to 19h00 and entrance costs €10 per person. You can choose to visit the Archaeological Museum and Kolymbetra Gardens for an additional cost. Due to time constraints, Dave and I chose only to visit the Temples.
Valle Dei Templi
Valle Dei Templi is a breathtaking collection of Temples from the Greek occupation of Sicily. Known as Akragas during this period, the Doric Temples are dedicated to the various Greek gods. The area is now known as Agrigento, and the Valley of the Temples has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The First Three Temples
The first Temple you will come across is Tempio di Giunone. Built between 450 and 440 BC the Temple is dedicated to Juno. Known as Hera by the Greeks, she is the goddess of women, marriage, family, and childbirth. The Temple was burnt in 406 BC during the Carthaginian siege of Akragas.
On your walk to Tempio della Concordia you will pass the Arcosolia. These are the tombs of the Necropoli Paleocristiana from the 4th to the 8th Century AD. In this time a city existed in this area which had its own forum.
The Temple della Concordia is amazingly preserved and is the largest of its order. It was built between 440 and 430 BC. The Temple is dedicated to Concordia, the Roman goddess of harmony, responsible for the agreement in marriage and society. Her Greek equivalent is usually regarded as Harmonia, who is associated with musical harmony. In the 6th Century AD the Bishop of Agrigento, San Gregorio delle Rape, converted the Temple to a Catholic basilica dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul. This was common practice during this period, resulting in many pagan places of worship surviving destruction by the Church.
There are many modern art installations along the way, but the statue of Icaro outside of this Temple is truly amazing. Stop after this for a break at the shop and make sure you top up with cold water as there is still a long walk to go.
The last Temple in this section is Tempio di Ercole (Eracle). The Temple of Heracles is actually the oldest in the Valley, having been built in the 6th Century BC. It was most likely destroyed by an earthquake.
The Last Temples
After the Tempio di Eracle you will see an exit gate. If you have had enough of walking you can leave now, and catch the bus back to the parking. However, the rest of the walk takes you through more ruins and is accessed via a walkway above the road. Before you come across the Temple of Zeus you will see the Tomba di Terone. The Tomb of Theron is made of tuff stone and is built in memory of those that lost their lives in the Second Punic War.
The Tempio di Zeus o Giove Olimpico would have been the largest Doric Temple constructed had it been completed. Very little is known about the Temple but it is presumed to have been built after 480 BC by Carthaginian slaves. When the Carthaginians’ conquered the city in 406 BC the Temple was already damaged. More damage was done from then until the 18th Century by earthquakes and then the Temple was used as a quarry for the nearby modern towns of Agrigento and Porto Empedocle.
The Tempio dei Dioscuri is dedicated to Castore e Polluce. Dioscuri refers to the twins Castor and Pollux who form the zodiac sign Gemini. It was uncovered in 1836 and in 1856 the archeologists Villareale and Cavallari created what is seen today from the ruins. For this it most represents modern Agrigento.
Close by is the Santuario della Divinità Ctonie. This Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities is a large stone square dating from the 6th Century BC to the 2nd Century AD. The Earth deities refer to Demeter and Persephone and this vast area was devoted to these two divinities.
To leave the Valle dei Templi look for the sign for Porta V. This is the exit (uscita) you need to take in order to get back to the car park which is across the road. Allow 2 hours for a slow stroll through the area, and more if you want to see the Gardens and Museum.