If you are in search of history and archaeology while on vacation in Agrigento, Sicily, its magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Valley of the Temples, is the place to go.
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People flock to Rome and Athens to see what they believe are some of the most well-preserved ancient temples in the world. Little do they know that perched up on a little valley, in the middle of Agrigento Sicily, stands the true testament of time. If Agrigento is known for one thing it’s the Valley of the Temples or La Valle Dei Templi. It is one of the most well-maintained and pieced archaeological sites of our time. In fact, I think it is even more impressive than the Parthenon! The Valley of the Temples’ 7 temples have stood since the 5th century AC and shine their marvel upon all of Sicily reminding everyone of how their region came to be a series of diverse cultures that have merged into one.
A stay in Agrigento is incomplete without a couple of hours losing yourself in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Valley of the Temples. The entrance is in front of a small dirt road parking lot, so if you are driving come early in the morning in order to beat the heat and the cars.
Step through the entrance to the UNESCO World Heritage Site and you are (surprisingly) immersed in a mix of dry and lush landscapes filled with olive trees and vineyards that extend for 1300 acres. From here, you begin to see the remains of the ancient city of Akragas and its 50,000 inhabitants that lived in it 2000 years ago. With our audioguide in hand and a map of the UNESCO site, my mom and I spent about 3 hours here, soaking up the impressive views, architecture and atmosphere. As you walk from temple to temple you feel like you are walking back in time. Since there were a lot temples on this cliff (it’s a cliff even though it’s called the Valley of the Temples) and almost too much history to write about in one post, I’ll highlight some of the must-see sites.
One of the first temples you come across is the Temple of Heracles. Although it isn’t as famous as the Temple of Concordia or as intact, for some reason it’s position, colors, and details made it one of my favorites. It is the oldest of the temples due to its style and the number of columns present. The photographer in me needs to tell you..that it is perfect for playing around and staging when it comes to photography. My mom and I took the liberty to hang around for a while and create some optical illusions using my camera, needless to say, we had a lot of fun!
Next stop is the Temple of Concordia, one of the best preserved doric temples of all time. It is named after the Roman goddess of harmony. In front of it lies the dramatically famous broken statue of Icarus. It is a modern interpretation of the classical style interpreted by Polish artist Igor Mitoraj. Icarus is the only monument that remains of the exhibition’s 17 statues that were present at the Valley of the Temples in 2011.
As you walk from the Temple of Concordia to the Temple of Heria, you can see Hotel Villa Athena from the dirt road with the modern day city of Agrigento at its back! I had just had a five-course dinner the night prior at Hotel Villa Athena with a breathtaking view of the archaeological site in all of its splendor at night. For my review and experience on dining at Hotel Villa Athena, read on here.
We didn’t have much time to spend at the UNESCO World Heritage Site before departing for our next location in Sicily, so did not get the opportunity to explore the underground tunnels connecting the Garden of Kolymbithre to Porta V. Under this historic valley lies the entrance to subterranean Agrigento which recently opened in 2017 to the public! It’s not for the faint of heart and definitely not for claustrophobic people, but takes you through the underground structures created by man in the 5th century AC. They were created to store food and move water supply. If you want a cool and prehistoric experience that no one else has experienced, I recommend you head to the Garden of Kolymbithre and take the 20 euro tour!
For those of you who may get tired from walking uphill in the treacherous heat, luckily there is a small bus that drives people up and down the hill for 2 euros per person. As you reach the top, you see the last temple spreading out over the valley. As you look out onto the ridge resting between the city and the sea, you can feel what it must have been like here thousands of years ago.
IMPORTANT THINGS TO NOTE BEFORE GOING TO THE VALLEY OF THE TEMPLES:
- It is all uphill so come prepared to hike
- Wear comfortable sneakers, a hat, and bring a lot of water
- Plan to spend at LEAST 2 hours around the park
- Go in the morning or take the night tour (the UNESCO site is open till 10PM)! Don’t go during peak hours of the day because it gets too hot and there is no shade
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