Leaving Caltagirone was sad but necessary to complete my grand tour of Sicily. I drove approximately 1.30 minutes to reach the city of Agrigento which is famous for one of the most important attractions of the antique times: Valle dei Templi.
As I reached the city around 11.30 am, it was not a good moment to visit the Temples because the heat would have made me and my family faint. Therefore I left the luggage at the hotel (a very nice one by the way) and decided to go for a bath at another very famous attraction of the area: Scala dei Turchi:
Agrigento is not on the seaside thus I had to drive some 20 minutes and get to the village of Realmonte. I thanfully found a parking in a couple of minutes and walked on the beach till I get to see Scala dei Turchi from a distance. It is a rocky formation which shows a very unique white colour due to the combination of clay and limestone. At midday it gets so bright that you can’t even stare at it as the sunlight reflects on the rocks in a blinding way.
The rocks are very slippery and also are protected as a natural reserve, thus people are not allowed to step on it anymore as they were used to do till 2019.
I relaxed on the beach for a couple of hours, had lunch at a small beach bar (good grilled swordfish by the way) and then I drove back to the hotel to shower and prepare for the evening visit to the temples. I booked my entrance to the archeologic site at 06.30 pm. Despite the sun was not at its peack anymore, it was still very hot. There is something to say here: the site records up to 1.5 million visitors every year and still they have not planned or constructed a good parking lot. In peak season it is a real nightmare to find an emply slot. I found one at Porta di Giunone, one of the gates to the site, but it took me some 20 minutes of silly roaming around.
I met my local Guide at the gate and entered the site with him.
The site is a complex of several Greeks and Roman remains, some of the best preserved of the antique world. If you are a lover of the old times the visit here might be very long. The Guide explained us that the modern city of Agrigento is a former greek colony, the second most important in Sicily after Siracusa, and its name was Akragas. The colony was established far from the coastline but close enough to it to make the sea visible from a distance and get to know in advance if any enemy was approaching. Valle dei Templi was actually out of the greek city although the walls run exactly behind the temples. The valley was an extremely big concentration of temples, however just few of them managed to come to our days.
The first temple you see is named after the goddes Hera (Juno for the Romans) the wife of Jupiter, thus the most relevant among the goddesses. It’s not intact but shows enough to let us understand the size of it and how it worked.
Upon leaving the temple of Hera, we walked along the former city walls, which were excavated right into the rocks and had been used, at a later stage, as a necropolis, thus several burials are still visible with a round ceiling exacavated into the rocks. Then we reached the most impressive, the biggest and most well preserved greek temple of the antique world: the Temple of Harmony (tempio della concordia).
It’s big, impressive and so well preserved that you can still feel the steps of the Greek priests reaching the sancta sanctorum inside of it.
We couldn’t resist and asked another visitor to take a picture of us altogether below the steps of the temple. I am the first one from the right with an orange t shirt.
Further down we walked close the former home of a Brit donor, called Alexander Hardcastle, a former captain of the British Army, who visited Agrigento and decided to move here at the beginning of the 1900s and contributed to the setting up of the whole site to make it open to the public. He also funded some restoration works with his own financial resources. Then we reached the temple of Hercules. Just 1 column was still standing when Hardcastle reached the place, thus he paid for the analysis of the site and he managed to have 7 columns rebuilt.
Here you have to cross a footbrige over the road and get to the area where the largest temple was built by the greeks. It’s not there anymore, you can only see the collapsed sections of the columns and the inner walls. You just see how big its foundations were. If you circle around it you will see the replica of one of the big telamons (supporting statues) which was placed on the upper section of the temple so you can get an idea of its size.
It was 8.00 o’clock when our guide left but we decided to stay inside the park a little longer. In fact that was the time when the sun went down and the new night illumination of the temple was turned on. It was so spectacular that we enjoyed it a lot and never wanted to go out. I took several pictures, hope you will enjoy the scenery same as I did.
Although the whole site is under the sun, with no place for a shade (except the small coffe shop placed close to the temple of Harmony), the park is home to some olive trees which are not placed along the pathway, except this one which is called the “thousand years old” olive trees. It’s impressive that olives can live for millenniums and still make very good olives.
Few tips to ease your visit:
- In summertime avoid the visit from 12.00 to 4.00 pm at least. It’s simply too hot.
- Book your entry in advance on the official website . If you want a guided visit you may book on the internet or you may join a group at the entrance. At the gate of Juno there is a kiosk for the Local Guides: just get there and see which is the first group to start. Price is around 10/11 euro per person.
- Tripods and selfie sticks are not allowed inside the park. They will keep it at the metal detector unit and will turn it back at the exit.
- The flooring is uneven everywhere: avoid flip flops and wear comfortable shoes. There is a cafeteria in the park but I recommend you to bring some water. You can find some vending machines in front of the temple of Jupiter.
- Where to eat: I had a great dinner at a restaurant called “Il re di Girgenti” along Via Panoramica dei Templi. Book in advance because they have a nice terrace overlooking the temples and a parking.
- Where to sleep: i slept at a brand new bed and breakfast just 5 minutes from the park entrance, called “Locanda degli scrittori“.