Agrigento Sicily Italy, Valley of the Greek Temples

by Steven Sklifas
Temple of Concord. Agrigento. Sicily. Italy.

Ancient Akragas, modern day Agrigento, is home to the UNESCO World Heritage listed site ‘Valley of the Temples’, which has the finest examples of Greek temples and largest known assemblage of colonnaded temples in the Greek world.

Located on the fertile central south coast of Sicily, Ancient Akragas was founded in 581 BC by Greeks colonists from the nearby city of Gela, which was founded a century earlier by settlers from the Greek islands of Rhodes and Crete. It was part of Gela’s Hellenization expansionist plans along the coast, however the new city soon begun to rise above and outshine its mother city.

Ancient Greek poet Pindar described the city as “the fairest and most beautiful city inhabited by mortals”.

The masterminds of the city’s growth were primarily its first two tyrant rulers, Phalaris and Theron, who at different stages fortified the city, supplied it with water, expanded the territory, provided economic strength and stability and began and continued its famous building program.

Gaining vast wealth from its production of cereals, wine and olive oil and livestock farming , Akragas entered into a golden age during the the 5th century BC and became one of the most prosperous and beautiful cities in the ancient Mediterranean world. The city’s population grew to over 300,000, and literature and the performing arts flourished and it had successes in the Olympic Games.

Nearly all the famous temples of the city were all built during the Golden Age period, including the largest Doric Temple of the ancient Greek world, the monumental Temple of Olympian Zeus, built to celebrate the victory over the Carthaginians at Himera in 480 BC in northern Sicily, affirming Greek supremacy in Sicily.

Akragas and its citizens had a reputation of easy living and decadence, prompting one of its famous citizens, the philosopher Empdeocles to remark “they party as if they will die tomorrow, and build as if they will live for ever”.

In 406 BC, ancient Akragas suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the returning Carthaginians, who sacked and burned the city after a siege of eighth months.

The city recovered and was rebuilt, however it was only the shadow of the splendid city that  it was once.

Famous Ancient Greek from Akragas

  • Empedocles – Philosopher, Poet, Politician, Scientist, Mystic, Showman and Charlatan
  • Born c. 490 BC – Died c 430 BC. (60 years)
  • Follower of Pythagoras
  • A popular politician and champion of democracy and equality.
  • He was a poet of outstanding ability, and of great influence on later poets.
  • He devised a theory of natural selection; Over 2000 years before Charles Darwin.
  • He established the theory of four ultimate elements which make all the structures in the world—fire, air, water, earth – which became the standard dogma for much of the next two thousand years.
  • He is credited with the first comprehensive theory of light and vision.
  • He was a brilliant orator (Aristotle credited him with the invention of rhetoric itself)
  • He was very flamboyant, had very long hair, and wore a purple robe, a golden circlet, bronze sandals, and a laurel-wreath on his head
  • According to legend goes that he died by throwing himself into an active volcano (Mount Etna in Sicily).

All images, text and content are copyright Steven Sklifas.

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