Agrigento is one of the oldest cities in Sicily and has risen several times on its ancient remains. The Valley of the Temples tells us one of its most fascinating faces, linked to the classical world, along with the extraordinary finds kept in the Regional Archaeological Museum. The city, founded in 581 B.C. by Greek settlers Rodio-Cretan and became Akràgas in the following century, has represented in the past one of the most shining Centers of the Mediterranean. This is why UNESCO inscribed it on the World Heritage Site in 1997.
Of Agrigentum, we have only the remains of the elegant noble villas and the regular streets of the Hellenistic-Roman Quarter.
1 – A walk along via Atenea
The old town extends on the hill of Girgenti and its main arteries are the Via Atenea and the nearby panoramic Viale della Vittoria, from which dominates the Valley and the sea. During the walk among the shops, boutiques and cafes, we enjoy the pecorino ice cream.
Incredible, right? It’s a delicate ice cream made of sheep’s ricotta. A typical and unique taste, a real product of the little known Agrigentino. Now let us enter the labyrinth of small streets that, according to the Arab scheme, connects the oldest monuments.
2 – The Cathedral of San Gerlando
The Cathedral of San Gerlando, founded towards the end of the eleventh century by Bishop Gerlando, the temple is of Norman-Gothic style and is accessed through a wide and soft staircase, flanked by the magnificent and unfinished bell tower of the fifteenth century. The building houses the precious Treasure of the Cathedral, particularly rich in works of art. We climb the bell tower and admire the roofs of Girgenti from above.
3 – Santa Maria dei Greci and Abbazia di Santo Spirito
Through the street of Santa Maria dei Greci we access the church of the same name, in the oldest district of the medieval city. Built in the twelfth century, it rests its foundations on the base of a Doric temple of the fifth century B.C. which some believe to be that of Athena, on the acropolis of Akragas. The Church, preceded by a small and elegant courtyard, has a facade with a thirteenth-century Arab-Norman portal and beautiful single lancet windows. The interior has three naves with a wooden ceiling and is enriched by some traces of fourteenth-century frescoes, a wooden statue of the 500 and a sarcophagus that houses the remains of a noble Palermo. From the left aisle we access the north base of the Doric temple, of which some columns drums are visible
Abbey of Santo Spirito.
Built in 1260, the complex consists of the church and the adjacent Cistercian monastery. The church has, on the outside, a magnificent portal of Chiaramonte style surmounted by a rich rose window, in a more recent Baroque context. Inside, eighteenth-century, numerous Serpottian stuccoes that decorate imaginatively the walls of the church, a holy water stoup of the ‘500, a Madonna del Gagini (or school gaginesca) and a wooden ceiling coffered in 1758, in which is painted the coat of arms of the Chiaramonte family: it was in fact the wife of Federico Chiaramonte, Marchisia Prefoglio, who allowed, with a donation, the foundation of the complex. The adjacent monastery or Badia Grande, dating back to 1290, is embellished by the magnificent cloister, in which Gothic portals stand out: the imposing pointed-sixth one, flanked by mullioned windows, at the entrance to the Chapter Hall. Inside the monastery are preserved some frescoes of the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries. The nuns of the monastery prepare delicious almond and pistachio cakes, according to a centuries-old recipe… we sacrifice ourselves and taste them!
4 – The Regional Archaeological Museum of Agrigento
It is located just outside the city center, in the district of S. Nicola, with panoramic views of the Hill of the Temples. It illustrates the history of ancient Agrigento and its territory, from prehistory to the stage of Hellenization. In its rich collection of archaeological finds stands the Telamon over 7 meters high, the Ephebe of Agrigento. Next to the museum, the medieval Church of St Nicholas houses the Sarcophagus of Phaedra, one of the highest expressions of Roman sculpture in Sicily. Its lush garden is waiting for us for a cool break.
Learn more about the Archaeological Museum on audio tour izi.TRAVEL
5 – The long beaches of Agrigento
They extend for miles to the east and west, from Marina di Licata, a town of ancient origins, passing through Punta Bianca, with an alternation of beaches almost deserted, up to the most fashionable San Leone, the nerve center of summer Agrigento. There is something for every taste and they are all made of fine white sand.
6 – The House of Pirandello
It is a country house of the late eighteenth century in the district Chaos, a plateau overlooking the sea between olive trees and oaks. The rooms overlooking the countryside host a large collection of photographs, reviews and awards, first editions of books with autograph dedications, paintings dedicated to Luigi Pirandello, poster of his most famous works represented in Theaters around the world. The House often hosts temporary exhibitions dedicated to the Master. Since 1987 the birthplace has been a single institute with the Biblioteca Luigi Pirandello. In the garden, until a few years ago, there was still the centenary pine where the writer stopped to reflect and compose. In this corner, rich in charisma, the author wanted his ashes to be buried.
Discover more about Writers Road of the Valley of the Temples
7 – The Festival of the flowering Almond tree
In 1934, Count Alfonso Gaetani di Naro, a small village with a beautiful castle rich in medieval monuments, was looking for an idea to promote the typical products of Agrigento, so was born the Almond in Flower Festival. The festival in the early days was an exhibition of floats and island folk groups, but over the years it has evolved to attract the participation of companies from the rest of Europe and overseas. From this initiative was born the “International Festival of Folklore” which is renewed every year, between February and March. In this period the Valley of the Temples lives a week of celebration and meeting between peoples. The highlight is the evocative lighting of the tripod of friendship in front of the Temple of Concord.
8 – The Garden of the Kolymbetra
In the Kolymbetra Garden you can breathe the scent of the Mediterranean maquis. About 2500 years ago, the tyrant Theron had a system of tunnels and hypogea designed to feed this small valley with water. The large swimming pool that emerged became a meeting place for the inhabitants of the city and cheer the rich Akragantini. A century later it was buried and gave rise to a very fertile garden comparable to Eden.
This area, within the Valley of the Temples and not far from the temple of the Dioscuri, since 1999 has been entrusted to the FAI Fondo Ambiente Italiano. It is a precious example of Mediterranean maquis rich in citrus plants, pistachios, carob trees, nuts, mulberries, pomegranates that still grow thanks to the ancient water supply. Not infrequently this magical place becomes the setting of events, concerts and exhibitions.
9 – La Scala dei Turchi (the Turks staircase)
La Scala dei Turchi is a magical place located along the stretch of sea between Realmonte and Porto Empedocle. Its rock is made of tender, calcareous, clayey marl and a blinding white. Nature, as a great artist, has worked this material over time, making it softly sinuous with the help of the sea and the salty breeze, forming terraces and smoothing every corner.
10 – Farm Cultural Park
The Farm Cultural Park in Favara, half an hour from the Valley of the Temples, is the sixth city in the world among the ten must-see destinations for those who love contemporary art, according to the ranking of the English blog “Purple Travel”. It’s a modern art site. This small town of Agrigento, from an abandoned village, has become a creative laboratory where artists from all over the world leave their mark.
Seven courtyards, connected to each other. Seven white courtyards, Arabic style and decided.
A cultural park, an art gallery, photography, music, food and good wine.
About an hour from Favara we reach Sciacca: a beautiful sea and many works of art. On the eastern side it is possible to admire the imposing mass of Mount Kronio, near which we find the cave-chapel of the saint hermit San Calogero, and beside the natural stoves full of steam. Let us accompany ourselves on a 5 senses tour through the guided tours offered by the Eco-Museum of the 5 senses and, a few kilometers away, we also visit the Enchanted Castle.
See also Ecomuseum of the 5 senses of Sciacca on izi.TRAVEL guide
Towards the hinterland we make a stop in Burgio, an ancient village rich in history, famous for its artistic ceramics and bronze bells.