You may wish to read an introduction to this section first.
We are just now returned from examining the antiquities of Agrigentum,
the most considerable perhaps, of any in Sicily.
The ruins of the ancient city lie about a
short mile from the modern one. These, like the ruins of Syracuse, are mostly converted into corn-fields, vineyards and orchards, but the remains of the temples here, are infinitely more conspicuos than those
of Syracuse. Four of these have stood,
pretty much in a right line, near the south wall of the city.
Patrick Brydone - A Tour through Sicily and Malta in 1770
The monastery of S. Nicola stands on a little eminence in the centre of the old city, admirably situated. The range of hills towards the south-east sinks gradually, so as to admit a noble reach of sea, and of plain, terminated on each side by thick groves of fruit trees (..). Above appear the remains of ancient grandeur, wonderfully contrasted with the humble straw cottages built at their feet.
Henry Swinburne - Travels in the Two Sicilies. 1777-1780
Girgenti (today's Agrigento), Tuesday, April 24, 1787. Such a glorious spring view as we enjoyed at sunset to-day will most assuredly never meet our eyes again in one lifetime. (..) From our window we looked over the broad but gentle declivity, on which stood the ancient town, which is now entirely covered with gardens and vineyards, beneath whose verdure it would be long before one thought of looking for the quarters of an ancient city. However, towards the southern end of this green and flourishing spot the Temple of Concord rears itself, while on the east are a few remains of the Temple of Juno.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - Translation by Charles Nisbet
Agrigento (Gr. Akragas) was founded in 581 BC by settlers from Gela, a Greek town on the southern coast of Sicily. It knew a great development during the Vth century BC. It was seized by the Carthaginians in 406 BC three years after they had conquered Selinunte, another Greek town on the same coast.
Temple to Juno Lacinia (a reference to Cape Lacinium in Calabria where another temple to Juno stood)
At last we arrived at the eastern end of the city, where are the ruins of the Temple of Juno, of which, every year must have accelerated the decay, as the air and weather are constantly fretting the soft stone of which it is built. (..) The temple stands on a rock which is now much worn by the weather. Goethe
Temple to Juno Lacinia (western front)
We continued our walk to the south-east corner, where the ground, rising gradually, ends in a bold eminence, which is crowned with majestic columns, the ruins of a temple said to have been consecrated to Juno. It was raised upon a lofty base of regular stone work, in the heart of which was contrived a gallery either for apartments or store-houses. On the west front only, (for as the temple was placed on the brow of a hill, the elevation of the ground rendered it unnecessary on the eastern front) a grand flight of steps leads up to the pronaos or vestibule. The fronts consisted of six fluted Doric columns, the flanks of eleven plain ones; of these few are now standing, many having been thrown down by earthquakes within the memory of man; what remains is in a tottering condition, and threatens soon to be prostrate with the rest. Swinburne
The Temple to Juno Lacinia in a detail of a 1778 painting by Jacob Philipp Hackert
To-day we only
devoted a cursory examination to it, but Kniep has already
chosen the points from which to sketch it to-morrow. Goethe
The situation of the columns on a gently swelling eminence, rising out of a wood of fruit trees, its sides dotted with single trees, presents a most delightful subject for the pencil of a landscape painter. Swinburne
Altar for sacrifices adjoining the Temple to Juno Lacinia
During the First Punic War Agrigentum was the
head quarters of the Carthaginians, and was besieged by
the Roman consuls, who after eight months blockade, took
it by storm. It nevertheless changed masters several times
during the contest between those rival states, and in every
instance suffered most cruel outrages. After this period very little mention of it occurs in history, nor do we know
the precise time of the destruction of the old city, and the
building of the new one. Swinburne.
A passage from Livy (The History of Rome - Book XXVI) describes a second seizure of the town by the Romans during the final stages of the Second Punic War: At once Muttines (the head of the Numidians who fought on the Carthaginian side) sent secret messengers to Laevinus (Roman consul Marcus Valerius Laevinus) in regard to the betrayal of Agrigentum. These men having reassured the consul and arranged a plan of action, the Numidians seized the gate leading toward the sea, driving away or slaying the guards; whereupon they admitted Romans sent for that very purpose into the city and when now they were marching in column into the centre of the city and to the market-place with a great uproar, Hanno (the Carthaginian commander), thinking it was nothing more than an outbreak and mutiny of the Numidians, as had happened before also, went forth to quell the uprising, but when he caught sight of a crowd in the distance larger than the number of the Numidians, and the shouts of the Romans, by no means unfamiliar, had reached his ears, he took to flight before coming within range of a missile. Escaping by the gate farthest from the enemy (..) with a few men he made his way to the sea and fortunately finding a small vessel and leaving Sicily, for which the struggle had lasted so many years, to the enemy, they crossed over to Africa, while the rest of the Carthaginians and Sicilians in a body, without even attempting to fight, were blindly fleeing, and ways of escape had been closed, they were slain near the gates. On gaining possession of the town, Laevinus scourged and beheaded the responsible men at Agrigentum, and sold the rest and the booty. All the money he sent to Rome.
Translation by Frank Gardner Moore.
Temple of Concord (western front). It was so named in the XVIth century after an inscription found in its proximity, but today the reference it contained to Concord is no longer believed to refer to the temple
The Temple of Concord has withstood so many centuries; its light style of architecture closely approximates it to our present standard of the beautiful and tasteful; so that as compared with that of Paestum, it is, as it were, the shape of a god to that of a gigantic figure. I will not give utterance to my regrets that the recent praiseworthy design of restoring this monument should have been so tastelessly carried out, that the gaps and defects are actually filled up with a dazzling white gypsum. In consequence this monument of ancient art stands before the eye, in a certain sense, dilapidated and disfigured. How easy it would have been to give the gypsum the same tint as the weather eaten stone of the rest of the building? In truth, when one looks at the limestone of which the walls and columns are composed, and sees how easily it crumbles away, one's only surprise is that they have lasted so long. But the builders reckoning on a posterity of similar religion to themselves, had taken precautions against it. One observes on the pillars the remains of a fine plaster, which would at once please the eye and ensure durability. Goethe
Temple of Concord (side view)
We soon reached the building commonly called the temple of Concord. The stone of this and the other buildings is the same as that of the neighbouring mountains and cliffs, a conglutination of sea-sand and shells, full of perforations, of a hard and durable texture, and a deep reddish brown colour. This Doric temple has all its columns, entablature, pediments and walls entire; only part of the roof is wanting. It owes its preservation to the piety of some Christians, who have covered half the nave, and converted it into a church consecrated under the invocation of Saint Gregory, bishop of Girgenti. Six columns in front, and eleven on the sides, without the angular ones, form the colonnade. The cella has a door at each end between two columns and two pilasters, and in each side wall six small doors, and a stair case that led up to the rooms in the roof. The pediments are much flatter than those used by the moderns, not being elevated above twenty-two degrees. The entablature is very large in its proportions; the columns taper regularly without any swelling, from a diameter of four feet three inches to one of three feet five inches. This majestic edifice stands in the most striking point of view imaginable, on the brink of a precipice, which formed the defence of the city along the whole southern exposure; from every part of the country the temple of Concord appears the most conspicuous figure of a beautiful picture. Swinburne
Fallen Icarus by Igor Mitoraj (1944-2014) near the Temple of Concord
Before I proceed to an account of the present state
either of old or new Girgenti, it will be proper to sketch
out a compendium of their origin and history. Ancient
authors inform us that Daedalus, the most famous mechanician of fabulous antiquity, fled to this spot for protection
against Minos, and built many wonderful edifices for Cocalus king of the island. Swinburne
Daedalus, despairing of making his escape by any boat, fashioned with amazing ingenuity wings which were cleverly designed and marvellously fitted together with wax; and fastening these on his son's body and his own he spread them out for flight, to the astonishment of all, and made his escape over the open sea which lies near the island of Crete. As for Icarus, because of the ignorance of youth he made his flight too far aloft and fell into the sea when the wax which held the wings together was melted by the sun, whereas Daedalus, by flying close to the sea and repeatedly wetting the wings, made his way in safety, marvellous to relate, to Sicily.
Diodorus Siculus - Bibliotheca Historica - Book IV
This large statue was donated by the sculptor to the archaeological area, where it had been on display during a temporary exhibition in 2013. You may wish to see a detail of the bronze doors (it opens in another window) he made for S. Maria degli Angeli in Rome.
Towers with Byzantine tombs
From hence we proceeded in the same direction
between rows of sepulchres cut in the rock wherever
it admitted of being excavated by the hand of man, or
was so already by that of nature; some masses of it are
hewn into the shape of coffins, others drilled full of small
square holes employed in a different mode of interment, and
serving as receptacles of urns. Swinburne
Hewn partly out of the native rock, and partly built of it were the walls of ancient Agrigentnm, from behind which towered a line of temples. (..) My guide called my attention to a beautiful institution of the once flourishing city. In the rocks and masses of masonry, which stand for bulwarks of the ancient Agrigentum, are found graves, probably intended for the resting place of the brave and good. Where could they more fitly have been buried, for the sake of their own glory, or for perpetuating a vivid emulation of their great and good deeds! Goethe
Mausoleum of Theron, a Vth century BC tyrant of Agrigento. It was most likely built in the IIIrd century AD for an unknown citizen (you may wish to see a similar mausoleum in Thugga in today's Tunisia)
Theron of Akragas in birth and wealth, as well as in the humanity he displayed towards the commons, far surpassed not only his fellow citizens, but also the other Sicilian Greeks. Diodorus - Book X
The ancient walls of the city are mostly cut out of the rock; the catacombs and sepulchres are all very great. One of these is worthy of particular notice, because it is mentioned by Polybius, as being opposite to the temple of Hercules, and to have been struck by lightning even in his time. It remains almost entire, and answers the description he gives of it. (..) This is the monument of Tero king of Agrigentum, one of the first of the Sicilian tyrants. The great antiquity of it may be gathered from this, that Tero is not only mentioned by Diodorus, Polybius, and the more modern of the ancient historians, but likewise by Herodotus, and Pindar, who dedicates two of his Olympic odes to him. So that this monument must be greatly upwards of two thousand years old. It is a kind of pyramid, one of the most durable of all forms. Brydone
We followed this road over some hills to the building usually called the tomb of Thero. It is surrounded by aged olive trees, which cast a wild irregular shade over the ruin. The situation is solitary, the rocks appear under the temple of Concord in the back ground, and the clusters of beautiful trees form a variety of masses along the banks to which the magic touches of a Salvator (Rosa) could alone do justice. This edifice rather inclines to the pyramidal shape, and consists at present of a triple plinth, and a base supporting a square pedestal; upon this plain solid foundation is raised a second order having a window in each front, and two Ionic pilasters at each angle; they are crowned with an entablature of the Doric order, of which the triglyphs and metopes remain, but the cornice is fallen; it is consequently impossible to divine how the building was terminated at the summit. Notwithstanding this confusion of ornaments and proportions, the monument has great elegance in its form and style. Its inside is divided into a a vault, a ground room and one in the Ionic story, communicating with each other by means of a small internal stair case. Swinburne
Next we went down to Theron's tomb, and were delighted with the actual sight of this monument, of which we had seen so many models, especially as it served for the foreground of a most rare prospect; for from west to east we looked on the line of rocks on which lay the fragments of the walls, while through the gaps of the latter, and over them, the remains of the temples were visible. Goethe
The third temple is that of Hercules. Altogether in ruins; but appears to have
been of a much greater size than the
former two. We measured some of the
broken Columns, near seven feet in diameter. It was here that the famous statue of Hercules stood (it is lost), so much celebrated by
Our next station was at a single column that marks the confused heap of moss-grown ruins belonging to the temple of Hercules. It stood on a projecting rock above a chasm in the ridge, which was cut through for a passage to the emporium. Swinburne
On the other hand, the Temple of Hercules still showed some traces of its former symmetry. The pillars of the peristyles, which ran along the temple on its upper and lower side, lie parallel, as if they had all fallen together, and at once from north to south, the one row lying up the hill, the other down it. The hill may have possibly been formed by the ruined cells or shrines. The columns, held together in all probability by the architrave, fell all at once, being suddenly thrown down, perhaps by a violent wind, and lie in regular order, only broken into the pieces of which they were originally composed. Kniep was already, in imagination, preparing his pencil for an accurate sketch of this singular phenomenon. Goethe
Eight columns, four of which with their capital, were reassembled in 1924.
Ruins of the Temple to Jupiter and one of the telamons which decorated it
Near to this lie the ruins of the enormous temple of Jupiter Olympus, supposed,
by the Sicilian authors, to have been the
largest in the heathen world. It is now
called "il Tempio de' Giganti" or the Giants'
Temple, as the people cannot conceive
that such masses of rock could ever be
put together by the hands of ordinary
men. The fragments of columns are indeed enormous, and give us a vast idea
of this fabric. It is said to have stood till
the year 1100; but is now a perfect ruin.
Our Cicerones assured us, it was exactly
the same dimensions with the church of St. Peter at Rome. But in this they are egregiously mistaken. St. Peter's being infinitely greater than any thing that ever the heathen world produced. Brydone
From the plain I returned to Agrigentum by the same road, and pursuing the track of the walls towards the west, arrived at a spot which is covered with the gigantic remains of the temple of Jupiter the Olympian, minutely described by Diodorus Siculus. It may literally be said that it has not one stone left upon another, and it is barely possible, with the help of much conjecture, to discover the traces of its plan and dimensions. Diodorus calls it the largest temple in the whole island, but adds that the calamities of war caused the work to be abandoned before the roof could be put on; and that the Agrigentines were ever after reduced to such a state of poverty and dependence, that they never had it in their power to finish this superb monument of the taste and opulence of their ancestors. Swinburne
Illustration showing an enormous triglyph of the Temple to Jupiter in "Voyage Pittoresque des Isles de Sicile, de Malthe et de Lipari" by Jean-Pierre Louis Laurent HouŽl - 1782-1787.
Our next halt was at the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter. Like the bones of a gigantic skeleton, they are scattered over a large space, having several small cottages interspersed among them, and being intersected by hedgerows, while amidst them plants are growing of different sizes. From this pile of ruins all the carved stone has disappeared, except an enormous triglyph, and a part of a round pilaster of corresponding proportions. I attempted to span it with outstretched arms, but could not reach round it. Of the fluting of the column, however, some idea may be formed from the fact that, standing in it as in a niche, I just filled it up and touched it on both sides with my shoulders. Two-and-twenty men arranged in a circle would give nearly the periphery of such a column. Goethe
Museo Archeologico Regionale di Agrigento: (left) telamon from the Temple to Jupiter and the head of another telamon: (right) reconstruction of their location in the temple
Amidst this enormous Collection of Ruins lies the Statue of a Giant, the component parts of which have been put together by Signor Politi, Royal Custode of the Antiquities of Agrigentum. The Statue measures twenty-seven feet in length; the curls of the hair form a kind of garland; the legs are each in six pieces; the joints of each leg correspond; the head is in two pieces; each arm is in two pieces; and between the head and legs are four rows of pieces, alternately bisected. The Statue is composed of the same soft stone as the Temple, and was evidently stuccoed; for on and about the eyes stucco may still be seen. Fragments of twelve more of these stuccoed Giants are reported to have been discovered among the Ruins in question, with hands raised, in the attitude of supporting a weight above their heads.
Mariana Starke - Travels in Europe for the Use of Travellers on the Continent and likewise in the Island of Sicily - 1838 Edition - based on a travel to Sicily made in 1834.
Travellers of the XVIIIth century did not mention the telamons in their accounts, because the first of them was identified in 1825.
Terrace of the Chthonic Deities and Temple to Castor and Pollux
There are the remains of many more
temples, and other great works; but these, I think, are the most conspicuous. They
show you that of Vulcan, of Proserpine, of
Castor and Pollux. (..)
I should be very tedious, were I to give
you a minute description of every piece of
antiquity. Indeed, little or nothing is to be learned from the greatest part of them.
The next ruin belongs to the temple of Castor and Pollux; vegetation has covered the lower parts of the building, and only a few fragments of columns appear between the vines. Swinburne.
The Temple to Castor and Pollux was partly rebuilt in the first half of the XIXth century by putting together stones of different buildings and periods with the purpose of creating a nice looking monument. It has become a landmark of the town and it is shown in the image used as background for this page.
Terrace of the Chthonic Deities: altars
The chtonic deities were the gods and goddesses associated with the Underworld. They were worshipped in a series of small temples which sometimes consisted only of a sacred area where offers were deposited and sacrifices performed. The rites were very often nocturnal and were kept secret. The Eleusinian mysteries most likely originated from chthonic rites and the Great Gods of Samothrace were chtonic deities.
(left) Temple to Vulcan (outside the archaeological area); (right) Kolymbethra (Greek for a large pool) Garden
This was the point of the hill where the wall stopt on the brink of a large fishpond spoken of by Diodorus; it was cut in the solid rock thirty feet deep, and water was conveyed to it from the hills; in it was bred a great quantity of fish for the use of public entertainments; swans and various other kinds of wild fowl swam along its surface for the amusement of the citizens, and the great depth of water prevented an enemy from surprising the town on that side. It is now dry, and used as a garden. Swinburne
Old olive trees in the archaeological area
The road to Girgenti is good, though hilly, and the vale delightfully planted with olive-trees in corn fields; among the distant groves towards the east the ruins of Agrigentum rise above the trees. (..) The day was as favourable for my purpose as could be wished, clear and warm; every object glowed with the brightness of the sun-beams, and all nature seemed to resume new life on the approach of spring: the tints in the landscape were strong, and yet imbrowned with the shades of winter; but the quantity of evergreens, and the patches of young corn gave sufficient variety to the picture; every gratification I enjoyed in examining the noble vestiges of old magnificence was enhanced by the sweet temperature of the atmosphere. Swinburne
Move to Agrigento - Other Monuments.
Plan of this section:
Catania - Ancient Monuments
Catania - Around Piazza del Duomo
Catania - Via dei Crociferi
Catania - S. NiccolÚ l'Arena
Palermo - Gates and City Layout
Palermo - Norman-Arab Monuments
Palermo - Martorana and Cappella Palatina
Palermo - Medieval Palaces
Palermo - Cathedral
Palermo - Churches of the Main Religious Orders
Palermo - Other Churches
Palermo - Oratories
Palermo - Palaces of the Noble Families
Palermo - Public Buildings and Fountains
Palermo - Museums
Piazza Armerina and Castelvetrano
Reggio Calabria - Archaeological Museum
Selinunte - The Acropolis
Selinunte - The Eastern Hill
Syracuse - Main Archaeological Area
Syracuse - Other Archaeological Sites
Syracuse Syracuse - Castello Eurialo
Syracuse - Ancient Ortigia
Syracuse - Medieval Monuments
Syracuse - Renaissance Monuments
Syracuse - Baroque and Modern Monuments
Taormina - Ancient Monuments
Taormina - Medieval Monuments
Villa del Casale
1911 Sicily in the paintings by Alberto Pisa