Agrigento, Italy

Valley of the Temples: Temple of Concord

The Valley of the Temples is an unmissable aspect of your visit to Agrigento. The archaeological area of the temples, which stands just outside the modern city, has been inserted into the UNESCO National Heritage list of locations. A wonderful walking tour has been created which highlights the path taken from nature to culture over the centuries, and follows the splendor of the the sandstone and tuff temples from the original city of Akragas dating from the days of the Greeks. Taking a walk at evening affords the vision of these majestic yellow sandstone structures as they are illuminated in the golden hues of the sinking sun. Lengthening shadows like huge dials, mark the passing of another day into the annals of history, as it melts into the dusk.

The rests of Agrigento's monuments to antiquity coexist alongside the medieval. One of the best ways to see this combination in the ancient city is in the little medieval church of Saint Biagio. The interior was adapted from the much older Greek Temple of Demetra, to the church you see today. Part of the original structure was hollowed out of rock, complete with plumbing, an amazing testimony of the efficiency of ancient terracotta piping. Saint Biagio is the oldest, and therefore considered the most sacred church in the ancient city, and renders evident the transition from paganism to present religion, and antiquity to modernity.

Within the ancient city and its Valley of the Temples are at least seven well preserved doric places of worship from Greek antiquity; the best preserved of which is the Temple of Concord (Harmony). Built in the fifth century B.C. The rock upon which it was built was ideal material for construction, as, ground level formed the basement of the temple, upon which steps lead to the heightened level (or type of first floor) on which worship and religious practices took place. It's original name was due to an ancient Latin inscription found near the temple. In reality it was probably consecrated to the Greek Deities of the sea - Dioscuri, Càstore and Pollùce. The interior was embellished in diverse shades of stucco in keeping with the decorative style of the time. The perfect conservation of the temple is mainly due to its transformation into a church dedicated to Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the middle ages.

Medieval tombs are still visible inside the church, which remained untouched till 1748, when the church was restored. Two classic greek spiral staircases leading to the ceiling have also survived.

The Tomb of Terone, is an edifice in the form of a mini-temple as testimony to early Roman presence in Agrigento's ancient city. Dating back to the first century B.C., it later became the first grave in the little Roman necropolis which later grew up in the area. This memorial temple has decorated walls, and an entrance embellished in bas-relief.

The Sanctuary of Demetra and Kore is found in a sacred precinct in which the remains of a the Temple and an alter still stand and to whom the sanctuary is still dedicated. According to the myth, Kore was the daughter of Zeus and Demetra the goddess of grain and fertility of the earth. Hades (Zeus' brother) and god of the Underworld kidnapped Kore, Demetra's adolescent and beautiful daughter and took her to his domain. Demetra begged Zeus permission to share Kore's fate. She was thus consigned to pass a year in the bowels of the earth where her daughter had been crowned queen with Hades. Desiring both to return to her mother, but unwilling to relinquish her crown, and having chosen to eat seven seeds of the fruit of the underworld, Kore was never again to dwell solely with her mother. Her year was divided into two unequal parts: four months in the underworld with Hades her kidnapper, and eight on the earth with Demetra, her mother.

According to the legend, the season in which Kore was absent from the earth became Winter, when, in mourning for her absent daughter, Demetra, Goddess of Agriculture, grain and bread, did not bless the earth, thus nothing grew. Upon her reuniting with her daughter, the joy of Demetra is reflected in abundant harvests, fruitfulness of the earth, and the seasons of spring and summer.

Another splendid medieval testimony to the process of preservation by transformation of temple to church is the impressive Church of Saint Nicholas. Chronologically it was the last building in the area which since ancient times had been used exclusively for religious rites. Being slightly elevated, its shadow dominates the Valley of the Temples. The church was constructed by Cistercensi monks in the thirteenth century, re-using material of the original temple. The façade has remained unfinished but the church has a characteristic pointed arched entrance. Inside the church, various treasures have survived, among the oldest of which is a nave, and a Roman sarcophagus from the Third century, upon which is a bas-relief portraying the myth of Phaedras and Hippolytus.

Concluding the visit, the Regional Archaeological Museum laid out in the Convent of Saint Nicholas is an essential port of call for comprehending the immense splendor of Sicily and Agrigento's heritage. The interior of the museum is dominated by an enormous reconstructed Telamon, who in his original position in the Temple of Olimpic Jove (an attribute of the god) supported the roof in dramatic "Samsonesque" pose. In his present abode he is free-standing, but none the less Herculean in aspect. Such figures encapsulate an impression of the awe inspiring, grandiose beauty and artistic mastery running through the valley in centuries past.