My students usually roll their eyes when I tell them what I did over the weekend. Most of them are pretty sure that there are more interesting things to see in Italy than museums and archaeological parks – namely, night clubs and shopping centers.
One of my extracurricular excursions, however, earned the approval of even the least historically-minded of my students: the Valle dei Templi (vah-leh deh-ee tem-plee).
La Valle dei Templi
Sitting just outside the city of Agrigento on Sicily’s southern coast, the Valley of the Temples has been confounding tourists for generations. There are several reasons for this.
- It’s not actually a valley. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of a valley. The Valle dei Templi sits on a bluff between the modern city of Agrigento and the coast. Anyone who decides to go better be ready for an uphill walk and some hilly paths.
- It’s massive. The Valle dei Templi is actually the largest archaeological park in the world, covering roughly 1,300 hectares (about 5 square miles). In this case, bigger does mean better. The more artifacts we have, the more we can learn about the people who used them.
- It’s actually Greek. You read that right. Once upon a time, during the heyday of the Greek Empire, Sicily was a Greek colony. Visitors to the Valle dei Templi might expect to see temples to Roman gods, but they’ll find a Greek-style acropolis, dedicated to gods from the Greek pantheon. (See below.)
People love the Valle dei Templi because it’s beautiful. But there’s also another reason to love it. The artifacts in there – namely, temples – are extremely well preserved. The UNESCO website notes that in the past, some unapproved conservation tactics were engaged, but more recent attempts at restoration have largely fixed the damage that was done. The combination of the size and quality of the archaeological site at Agrigento won it a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. That honor became official in 1997.
If you don’t already, you should know that I love visiting UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Check out our adventures to other places which have achieved UNESCO World Heritage status.
Greek Sicily: Agrigento
Among the ruins in the Valle dei Templi are those of seven temples, from which the site gets its name. Some of them date from the 6th century BC, when the Greeks founded their colony at Agrigento. Because Agrigento was a part of Magna Graecia at the time that the temples were built, the temples are all dedicated to different Greek deities. The Roman gods had no home here. These buildings predate the Roman Empire by a good few years.
Agrigento was, for a time, one of the most profitable of Greek colonies. Temples and economic prestige go hand in hand: if you have lots of money, you can build a large and beautiful temple; if you have, quite literally, boatloads of money, you can built a whole fleet of large and beautiful temples. That’s exactly what happened in Agrigento. Even today, when they are in effect ruins, you can see just how impressive these temples would have been, not only in size, but also in decoration. On some of the buildings, the friezes are still visible, and the columns themselves are works of art.
Visiting the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento:
Getting there: Drivers can find parking lots on Via Panoramica dei Templi and on Via Caduti di Marzabotto. For those that are public transit-bound, bus lines 1, 2, 2/, and 3/ run between the bus and train stations in Agrigento and the ticket offices at the Valley of the Temples.
- For the Valley of the Temples only: €12 for adults, €7 for concessions.
- For the Valley of the Temples and the Regional Archaeological Museum: €15.50 for adults, €9 for concessions
- On the first Sunday of every month: FREE!
Opening hours: The park is open daily from 8:30 AM to 8:00 PM, closing for lunch between 1:30 PM and 3:00 PM. Last entry is at 7:00 PM.
Good to know:
- Wear comfortable walking shoes. The park is about two kilometers in length, and most of it is either unpaved or gravel. Unless you want sore calves and rolled ankles, wear your running shoes.
- Take water. The only chance for refreshment you’ll get is about halfway through at a small café. Remember, while this is a place of great history, art, and architecture, it’s also a great place for tourists. Bottles of water are priced accordingly.
- Everything is outside. This much should be obvious, really. If you’re unused to the hot Sicilian summer, you might consider going earlier in the morning or later in the evening to avoid the hottest parts of the day.