Agrigento is a town with many contrasts, emblem of Sicily which includes the greatest natural, scenic and cultural beauties of Italy but at the same time some elements of neglect and degradation, also in the historic center of the city.
Agrigento is a town of ancient origins, defined by Pindar (a Greek writer of the IV-V century BC) as “The most beautiful among the towns of mortals“, a primary center of Magna Graecia where the Valley of the Temples, one of the most important archaeological sites in the world, is the most magnificent proof. It is also the birthplace of Luigi Pirandello, Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1934.
The city center
Agrigento stays on top of the ancient hill of Girgenti. The main axis of the historic center is the nice Via Atenea (photo 1) where the most important activities of the town are concentrated, shops, clubs and bars. Via Atenea is a real agora, the most important meeting place for the people who love walking, shopping, enjoying an cocktail in a bar or having dinner with friends in a pizzeria, thanks also to the closure of vehicular traffic in the afternoon hours.
On the Via Atenea you can admire, among others, the Church of St. Rosalia (photo 2), a fine example of Sicilian baroque, built in the first half of the seventeenth century.
Walking along Via Atenea in the direction of travel you have the sensation to be in a “oblique town“; in fact, looking on the right you see long and impervious steps leading to the highest part of the city. They are almost always very evocative and elegant alleys, with nice, very popular places (photos 3 and 4). Looking on the left, the roads all tend to slope with long descents leading to the lower parts of the city.
Unfortunately, the semi-abandoned alleys are very frequent and numerous. This is above all the so-called “Arab quarter”, a real maze of craggy lanes, hidden courtyards and houses clinging to each other, a casbah where BacBac Street is the busiest part of the neighborhood.
Walking along one of the many uphill streets that branch off from Via Atenea and crossing touristy unattractive neighborhoods, you arrive at the most important monument among those present within the town, the Cathedral of St. Gerlando (photo 5). It dates back to the eleventh century, although the current form dates back to the end of the 18th century.
The facade is preceded by a wide and high staircase and is flanked by a massive bell tower. The internal part has been affected for years by imposing restructuring works that make the visit less usable.
Valley of the Temples
A little less than three kilometers from Agrigento there is one of the most magnificent archaeological sites in all of Sicily, evidence of a Greek civilization that has dominated for centuries in these lands. It was abandoned for years but now the area has been the subject of an important redevelopment and today the Valley of the Temples welcomes visitors from all over the world with its splendor, its beauty, its history.
The site consists essentially of a path about 1.5 km long where you can admire the remains of ancient Greek temples that, in terms of beauty and state of conservation, is able to compete (and perhaps even to overcome) the Acropolis of Athens.
Entering from the upper entrance, the first monument you meet is the Temple of Juno (photo 6), named after a wrong translation of a Latin passage. The building, dated 450-440 BC, is in Doric style and rests on a base of four steps.
Extremely interesting is the “Garden of all the righteous in the world” (photo 7), inaugurated at the end of 2015, where are commemorated some important victims of mafia (Carlo Alberto Dalla Chiesa, Don Pino Puglisi, Giovanni Falcone, Paolo Borsellino, Piersanti Mattarella, Rosario Livatino), Khaled al-Asaad (guardian of the archaeological site of Palmyra, killed by IS), the women and men of the Coast Guard.
Continuing along the path you reach the Temple of Concordia (photo 8), the best preserved monument of the whole site, probably the best known, true icon of the whole Sicily. The temple owes its name to a Latin inscription with dedication to the Concordia of the people of Agrigento. The building, dated 440-430 BC, is in Doric style, rests on a base of four steps and has six columns on the short side and thirteen on the long side.
At the end of the path you reach the Temple of Hercules (photo 9), dated 6th century BC, the oldest of the Agrigento temples.
Scala dei Turchi
A little less than ten km from Agrigento is one of the most incredible natural attractions in all of Sicily, the Scala dei Turchi (photo 10), literaly, Stair of the Turks, a high cliff with a white color that descends towards a beautiful turquoise sea (photo 11). The name comes from piracy raids by the Saracens (populations that, by convention, are generically defined as “Turkish”) who found shelter in this area less beaten by winds.
The Valley of the Temples has two entrances, one lower and the other located at the top of the archaeological site. The visit is divided into a sloping path of about 1.5 km. To avoid having the path twice, round trip, I suggest leaving the car in the parking lot below and take one of the many taxis available, with a very modest cost (around 3 euros per person), leads you to the upper entrance. In this way you have the opportunity to travel the entire archaeological site once, downhill (therefore, with less effort), returning easily to your car at the end of the visit.
“Valleys of the Temples” parking is here.
For the official website of the Valley of the Temples, click here.
For the Scala dei Turchi I suggest to arrive early in the morning, no later than 8.30-9.00. In this way it will be easier to find space for your car in one of the many parking lots (for a fee) that are just a few steps from the access to the sea.
A convenient parking place in the immediate vicinity of access to the sea can be found here.
Where to eat
You can stop for lunch or dinner in the central Via Atenea. I can suggest “The Embassy of Sicily”, a restaurant-pizzeria that offers a good overall quality. Try to get a table overlooking the Valley of the Temples. For my full review on Tripadvisor, click here.
Where to stay
I would suggest the B&B where I stayed, “Casa Pirandello”. Unfortunately, the experience was not very positive, even if it is a very comfortable accommodation in a structure located in the center. In any case, for my full review on Tripadvisor, click here.