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on a plateau overlooking Sicily's southern coast, Agrigento was founded
as Akragas around 582 BC by a group of colonists from Gela, who themselves
were the immediate descendants of Greeks from Rhodes and Crete. Akragas
was renamed Agrigentum by the Romans, and Girgenti by the Saracens,
only to be christened Agrigento in 1927.
in the historical center of the city, the Romanesque Gothic cathedral,
built during the fourteenth century, still displays some of its medieval
character, as does the thirteenth-century Church of San Nicola.
Greek temples, theatres and ruins, and even the archaeological museums,
are located outside the city. Agrigento was destroyed several times
during the Punic Wars, suffering particularly extensive damage during
a siege by Roman forces in 261 BC, but always rebuilt. The Greek poet
Pindar (518-438 BC) described Akragas as "the most beautiful
city of the mortals." Akragas' most famous citizen was the philosopher
and scientist Empedocles (490-430 BC).
In the Valley of the Temples are the ruins of numerous temples but
also Necropoli's houses, streets and everything else one would expect
to find in an ancient city. There is a small amphitheatre, as well
as several auditoria, and a fine archeological museum. Most of the
temples at Agrigento are in ruins, and several appear to have never
even been completed. Part of the Temple of Juno, built around 450
BC, is still intact.
style has been compared to that of the temples at
near Salerno. The Temple of Concord (named retroactively), built around
440 BC, is in far better condition, and at night the illuminated temple
is a sight to behold. A number of telamons (large segmented stone
columns in the form of human figures) have been preserved.
importance declined under the Byzantines and Saracens, who encouraged
settlement of the medieval city several kilometers from the Valley
of the Temples. The Normans, however, recognized its importance, and
it was during the Norman rule that beautiful churches were constructed
in and around the city.
Agrigento's architectural character seems more Greek than Roman, though
the latter is certainly evident. What's missing are the thin bricks
so typical of Roman sites like Solunto and
Despite its location virtually in the shadow of a modern city, the
Valley of the Temples is surrounded by olive groves and almond orchards
that render its ambience altogether natural, though a number of illegally-built
houses mar the landscape. The almond blossom festival held in February
is a spectacular event.
The ruins of a Roman villa are located at an archeological site a
few kilometers up the coast from Porto Empedocle.
birthplace of Luigi Pirandello, (1867-1937) a Nobel prize-winning
author, is located in the tiny hamlet of Caos, where his house has
been made a museum.