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Regional Guide - Sicily


One of Sicily's most known and historical attractions is the Valley of the Temples, just outside Agrigento. This splendid archaeological park consists of eight temples (and various other remains) built between about 510 BC and 430 BC: the Temple of Hera, the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Heracles, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Hephaestos, the Temple of Demeter, and the Temple of Asclepius (the God of Medicine). Apart from this latter, which is to be found on the banks of the Akragas river, all are situated in the same area on rocky crests south of modern day Agrigento (not really in a Valley at all!).

Modern Agrigento used to be the Greek city of Akragas, a colony of settlers mainly from Rhodes and Crete who, having initially settled in Gela, decided to move west, partly in an attempt to stem the ambitious advances of Selinunte and partly because the land in the area was ideal for cultivating olives, grapes and cereal. The city, supposedly founded in 582 BC, soon became prosperous and, in its glory days, was one of the most important and most culturally-advanced Greek cities in the Mediterranean. However, as it grew more and more successful, so did its rivalries with other Greek colonies, especially that of Siracusa.

In 406 BC Hannibal and the Carthaginians, working in cahoots with Dionysius of Siracusa, laid siege to the city. After holding out for eight months, Akagras finally fell and its citizens were removed to Gela. Later, they were allowed to return but were prohibited from fortifying their town and had to pay taxes to Carthage. After a relatively peaceful (if undistinguished period), Akagras was thrown into the First Punic War (264 BC) on the side of the Carthaginians and defeated by the Romans in 210 BC. Modern Agrigento is worth a brief visit, if only for the wonderful views of the Valley of the Temples and the sea.

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