With so much to see in Sicily, one of the most intriguing reasons to visit might just surprise you. Past the stone cities, built up and precariously perched on steep hilltops; the white sand beaches, miles of which still lie undisturbed except for the quiet crash of foamy white waves; and some of the world’s most desirable culinary treats, lie thousands of years of Greek history – scattered throughout the island and slowly fading in the relenting heat of the sun.
The fact that Sicily is home to Greek ruins really shouldn’t be a surprise – after all the Island was once a critical and important component of the Greek Empire at its height. However, what may be surprising is the quantity and quality of these ruins – many of which stand today in the Sicilian countryside – uncovered, unprotected, and dwarfing even the tallest of Olive trees.
Of these ruins, the most important and impressive of these sites is unquestionably the series of temples found outside the modern day city of Agrigento. Collectively referred to as the Valley of the Temples (or Valle dei Templi in Italian) this grouping of incredibly well-preserved ruins is all that remains of the ancient city of Akragas and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As one of the most important cities in Magna Graecia (the region of Greece found on the coastal areas of modern-day Italy), Akragas was a rich and prosperous city – a fact evident today in the stunning temples that adorn the modern-day archaeological site.
A smooth 2 hour train ride from Palermo drops you off in the modern, bustling city of Agrigento, where city buses make the 4 km journey to the site regularly. We only caught glimpses of the temples as our bus weaved through the thick traffic that seems to plague the city at all hours, but it was enough to know that we’d made a good choice.
Upon entering the site, we were greeted by the majestic Temple of Concordia – one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world. With the majority of its columns still intact, visitors can also observe a series of arches that were later added to convert the temple to a Christian church.
During our visit in early January, the site was nearly deserted – we were among a handful of other visitors, many of which seemed to spend their time solely in and around the Temple of Concordia. However there is so much more to see than this one, very impressive, temple. In fact, there are at least four partially remaining temples and even more laying in complete ruin. We particularly enjoyed wandering through the ruins of the Temple of Juno, humming the theme song from Indiana Jones with no one around. The lack of people also allowed for some great photo opportunities.
For anyone visiting Sicily, the Valley of the Temples is a must see and a great daytrip from Palermo, or any of the other neighboring cities. Perhaps the most intriguing feature of the Valley of the Temples is the fact that almost all of the surrounding city of Akragas remains unexcavated. Who knows what might await an archaeologist’s lucky spade?
Have you ever visited Agrigento, or any of Italy’s other amazing archaeological sites? Which one is YOUR favorite? Let us know in the comments!
Logisitcs: Agrigento is reachable from Palermo by both bus and train (2hrs), and from many other cities via bus. The Valley of the Temples is about 4km out of town – probably too far for all but an early morning walk – but easy via bus. To get to the bus station from the train station, exit the front doors and take a left, walking up about three blocks until you reach Piazzale Rosselli – you can’t miss it. A kiosk at one end sells tickets and can help you with which bus to take (#1, #2, or #3 will get you there). Entrance to the site is 10 Euro (or 13.50 if you want to go to the Archaeological Museum as well). More info on the site can be found here.