1. Valley of the Temples
The Valley of the Temples is a world famous archaeological site in Sicily housing some of the best preserved Ancient Greek ruins in the world, especially outside Greece. Agrigento, in which they are located, had been a Greek colony since the 6th century BC.
The majority of the temples were constructed in the fifth century BC. However, having been destroyed first by the Carthaginians and then the Christians almost a thousand years later, they are now partly made up of reconstructions. Nevertheless, of the ten original temples, the remains of nine can now be seen.
The oldest of the temples, the Temple of Herakles, was constructed in the sixth century BC and is made up of several Doric columns. The best preserved of the ruins is the fifth century BC Temple of Concorde, saved from destruction when it was incorporated into a Christian church. The other temples are dedicated to Juno, Olympian Zeus, Hephaistos, Hera Lacinia and Castor and Pollux.
5 of the Best Greek Ruins in Sicily - History
In classical times, Sicily was the star of Magna Graecia and even if visiting age-old ruins and Greek temples are not usually your top priority on holiday, it would be hard not to be impressed – if not completely overwhelmed – by the huge number of ancient sites in Sicily. While the island was shaped by numerous nations, it is the Greek influence that is perhaps most dominant and even today Sicily still boasts remains of ancient Greek architecture that rival some of the sights in Greece.
The Valley of the Temples, Agrigento
The Valley of the Temples, Sicily is home to Greek and Roman ruins but it is the eight Greek temples, built between around 510BC and 430BC that are the most remarkable. Highlights include the Temple of Concord, one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world, and the Temple of Juno. The Valley of the Temples is truly one of the most important and must-see Sicily points of interest.
A temple presenting one of the world’s best examples of Doric architecture and an ancient 4 th century BC theatre are the main attractions at Segesta but the landscape and sea views are equally dramatic. During the summer months it is one of the most popular places to visit in Sicily as the theatre puts on a splendid programme of concerts and Greek plays.
Temples at Selinunte
Little remains of the temples, acropolis and agora of Selinunte other than a series of imposing columns but these provide a very clear idea of the sheer size of the 7 th century BC settlement and those seeking to know what to see in Sicily won’t be disappointed. The quarries of the Cave di Cusa, 10km to the west of Selinunte, offers a fascinating insight into how the temples at Selinunte were constructed.
The Greek theatre in the Archaeological Park is the world’s largest Greek theatre and one of Syracuse’s most dramatic ruins. Its annual summer programme of classical Greek plays offers spectacular viewing making the Greek theatre one of the more famous Sicily tourist attractions. The Park also has a Roman amphitheatre and, nearby, the Latomie limestone quarries, which are home to the Orecchio di Dionisio cave and the Grotta dei Cordari.
Necropolis of Pantalica
Explore history and nature together at the UNESCO Heritage Site at Pantalica, approximately 23kms northwest of Syracuse, where the deep limestone gorge is dotted with around 5,000 burial chambers dating as far back as the 8 th century BC.
As popular for its views over the Ionian Coast and Mount Etna as its historical value, the amphitheatre at Taormina is the second largest ancient theatre in Sicily and one of Taormina’s principal attractions.
With an extraordinary Greek-Roman heritage, ancient ruins at Tindari in the island’s northeast corner include Roman buildings and baths, floor mosaics and a theatre, which is home to an annual programme of Greek plays and dramatic performances.
Phoenician settlements in Sicily
Built by the Phoenicians in about 700BC, Solunto is situated about 10km to the east of Palermo, close to Bagheria. Constructed on the site of a Phoenician village, it was expanded by the Greeks and still bears traces of former private homes, Doric columns, an Agora and other artefacts. To the west of Sicily, the island of Mozia was a colony of Carthage, the Phoenician-founded city in north Africa. Visit the island today and you can learn much about its ancient history from archaeological remains that include a necropolis and a museum in the Villa Whitaker.
Villa Romana del Casale
The villa at Piazza Armerina is the site of one of the world’s most significant collections of Roman mosaics and an one of the incredibly beautiful Sicily attractions. It also provides a comprehensive understanding of the traditional layout of a Roman villa. Buried in a mudslide in the twelfth century, the extent of the mosaics were not discovered until the start of an excavation project in the 1950’s.
For more information on the key archaeological sites in Sicily, visit our holiday guide.
The Best Ancient Greek Ruins in Italy’s Mainland: Paestum
Most of the ancient ruins in Italy you see are, not surprisingly, Roman. But just an hour south of Salerno is something different… and much older: Greek ruins.
The ancient Greek temple of Athena (or “Ceres”)
The ancient ruins at Paestum are among the only Greek ruins left on Italy’s mainland, and they’re definitely the best-preserved. (Many more wonderful remnants of ancient Greece can be found on the island of Sicily). Plus, although you’re probably used to hearing all about men and male deities when it comes to the ancients, this site is a nice example of how that wasn’t exactly the case: All three of Paestum’s major temples were built in honor of female goddesses.
The site also has a gem of an archaeological museum, with some of the most important finds of the Greek and Etruscan civilizations. Another bonus? Although Paestum is, of course, a tourist site, it’s well off the beaten track—meaning that, depending on the season, you might be almost alone with the temples.
Founded in 600 B.C. by the Greeks, Paestum was conquered by the Romans in 273 B.C. While you can still see the archaeological signs of their conquest today, the best-preserved, and most spectacular, ruins in Paestum remain Greek.
The Temple of Hera II, one of the best-preserved (and most beautiful!) ancient Greek temples in Italy
The middle of the three temples, the Temple of Hera II, is the one that awes the most. (Your guidebook probably calls it the Temple of Neptune archaeologists now know that it was dedicated to Hera, the goddess of women and marriage, thanks to worshippers’ votive offerings found buried in pits close to the temple). Dating all the way back to 450 B.C., the temple is completely intact, except for some of the inner walls and the roof. It’s in such good shape, in fact, it’s one of the best-preserved ancient Greek temples in the entire world! It’s also absolutely massive: 195 by 80 feet.
The Temple of Hera I was the first temple of the three, as well as the first one dedicated to Hera. (We know that because, again, of the votive offerings. Most are female terracotta statues with the Greek letters Η (eta) + P (rho) + A (alpha): Hera). Even here, though, there’s been confusion: Earlier archaeologists thought it was a Roman public building, so dubbed it the “Basilica” of Hera. While smaller than the other one, it’s still huge. Its date? 550 B.C.
Then there’s the Temple of Athena. A small, lovely temple that’s also been (mistakenly) attributed to Ceres, it was dedicated to the goddess of war, wisdom, and heroism. Dating back to 500 B.C., it was later used as a Christian church.
The amphitheater at Paestum
Once you’ve taken in these stunning temples and their surrounding ruins (don’t miss the Roman amphitheater, of which you can only see half thanks to an insensitive decision in 1930 to bury its northern half with a new road), head to the site’s Archaeological Museum.
While you’re there, don’t miss the incredibly well-preserved ancient tomb paintings, all found by accident in 1969 by an artichoke farmer (!). The most famous of them all are the frescoes from the Tomb of the Diver. Although they look like they were painted yesterday, they were painted back in 470 B.C. Some pictures show men frolicking at a funerary banquet. The most famous, though, shows one solitary figure leaping into the water, an image that’s been interpreted as a stunning metaphor for death—and the only image like it ever found.
Paestum’s famous Tomb of the Diver fresco
If you go, just remember that the archaeological museum is open daily from 8:45am-7pm, except for the first and third Monday of the month. The archaeological site is open from 9am daily and closes an hour before sunset. It’s only 6.50 euros for both.
You don’t need more than a day in Paestum, so in general, we wouldn’t recommend staying over (the restaurants also seem quite touristy, which is never ideal for the place you’re staying overnight at!). But Paestum is an easy day trip from either the Amalfi Coast’s Salerno (one of the reasons why we’ve recommended using Salerno as a base before!) or Naples.
For the site, you want one of two stops: either Paestum or Capaccio-Roccadaspide. You can either take the train directly from Salerno to Paestum (a 30-minute ride) or from Naples to Paestum (a 1.5-hour ride). There are also buses, which are slower but can be cheaper, including from Salerno to Paestum through CSTP (line 34), SITA or Autolinee Giuliano Bus (lines 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 10). CSTP also connects Naples with Paestum, as does Autolinee Giuliano Bus.
My 17 year son and I are going to be in Sicily for only 2 and a half days (the end of our 2 week trip around Italy) and he absolutely LOVES Greek and Roman history, so we'd like to visit the best sites in Sicily that we can fit into this time frame, yet still have time to enjoy the sites we visit.
We are comfortable with public transportation and will be staying in hostels/similar (traveling with just backpacks so we can move each night if best).
We will likely take the night train from somewhere around Paestum (I haven't checked schedules yet) and arrive Sicily in the early morning hours of Monday March 25 and will depart on the night train leaving from Catania at 8:20pm March 27.
Would someone be so kind as to suggest optimal ways to visit the main historical sites? Such as:
--Which station should we arrive into from the Paestum/Pompeii area?
--Should we change lodging each night to limit backtracking?
--Suggestions for a loop that ends in Catania, and best modes of travel between sites.
The Valley of the Temples in Sicily, Facts, History & Pictures
The Valley of the Temples is one of the most notable examples of Greater Greece art and architecture, characterized by the extraordinary state of preservation and important Doric temples. Since 1997 the whole area has been included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The archaeological and landscape park of the Valley of the Temples, with its 1300 hectares, is one of the largest archaeological sites in the Mediterranean.
Akragas (Ἀκράγας) was founded by colonists from Gela, Crete, and Rhodes in 580 BC after the river of the same name. It was an important urban center of the ancient world and it grew from a small settlement to a large city-state with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants.
Under the reign of the tyrant Theron (488-473 BC), Akragas expanded militarily with the victory over the Carthaginians. A period of rivalry with Syracuse followed. The temples date back to the city’s heyday in the 5th century. After the sacking of the Carthaginians in 406 BC, the city entered a phase of decline. Under the Roman domain, it returned to be an important economic center. From the seventh century A.D., the city began to depopulate and impoverish.
In the Valley of the Temples, there are 11 temples, all in Doric style., hydraulic works, some necropolis (Roman and early Christian), fortifications, the remains of a Roman quarter, two Agora, a council hall.
Temple of Hera Lacinia (Juno)
The Temple of Hera Lacinia, or Juno Lacinia is located at the easternmost point of the Valley of the Temples. It was built about the year 450 BC and in style belongs to the Archaic Doric period. Its attribution to Hera Lacinia derives from an erroneous interpretation of the Roman writer Pliny the Elder.
Temple of Concordia
The Temple of Concordia, built c. 440–430 BC., is the largest and best-preserved Doric temple in Sicily and one of the best-preserved Greek temples in general. The temple owes its traditional name to a Latin inscription dating to the mid-first century BC. The temple was converted into a Christian church in the 6th century AD. The blocks between the columns were removed in the 18th century.
Temple of Asclepius
The small temple was built around the late 5th century BC and is located in the middle of the San Gregorio plain. The temple originally was probably devoted to Apollo the Healer.
Temple of Heracles
The temple of Heracles is of archaic Doric style and is located on the hill of the Temples. The temple is the most archaic of the Agrigento temples, dating back to the last years of the 6th century BC.
Olympeion field (Temple of the Olympian Zeus)
The temple, the largest in all of the ancient West, was built after the Battle of Himera on the Carthaginians (480-479 BC) to honor Zeus. It was characterized by telamons, immense sculptures seven and a half meters high, depictions of Atlas supporting the celestial vault.
Temple of the Dioscuri (Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities and Temple of Castor and Pollux)
The temple is also called the temple of Castor and Pollux, sons of Zeus and the queen of Sparta. There are only four columns left, due to earthquakes and fires, which have become the symbol of Agrigento.
Temple of Hephaestus, Temple of Vulcan
The temple is Doric in style, dates back to the 5th century BC. and is of considerable size and in (43 x 20.85 m). It is located on the hill west of the Kolymbetra Garden, which separates the Hill of Temples and the Sanctuary of the Chtonian Deities. The traditional name of the Temple of Vulcan is purely conventional and supported neither by archaeological finds nor documents.
The Paleo-Christian Necropolis dates to the third to sixth century AD. Grotta Fragapane is a large catacomb composed of corridors and burial chambers (cubicles and rotundas) carved from the existing Greek cisterns. The walls of the burial chambers feature niches and arcosolia (tombs) while other graves have been excavated into the floor.
The Necropoli Giambertoni dates from the second century BC to the third century AD, also houses the Tomb of Theron. It is formed of limestone chest tombs. Several sarcophagi have been discovered, such as a child’s sarcophagus now on display at the Pietro Griffo Regional Museum of Archaeology.
Theron’s Tomb is a funeral tower dating to the late Hellenistic period. The temple was constructed in the Doric order around 430 BC. As is often the case in Agrigento, the traditional name is conventional and it was attributed to the tomb by travelers on the Grand Tour.
Akragas was surrounded by an outer wall stretching for around 12 km. Nine gateways have been classified along the fortifications, numbered by archaeologists from east to west. Gate V was one of the main entrances to the city and led to the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities.
The gymnasium dates to the Augustan age and was built a few hundred metres north of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The remains of a portico used for indoor sports have been found. An exedra, a large bath, and a large ritualistic altar used for rites associated with athletic training are still visible.
The theatre was discovered in June 2016. The eastern side was built against the rock while the northern and western sections were erected on substructures composed of a system of trapezoidal chambers arranged at different heights and packed with earth to recreate the slope on which the rows of steps were arranged.
The Ekklesiasterion and the Oratory of Phalaris
The Ekklesiasterion was a public space where the citizens’ assembly would have met and was built between the fourth and third centuries BC. In the first century BC the ekklesiasterion formed the foundations for the construction of the Oratory of Phalaris. Again, the attribution is incorrect.
The Bouleuterion was the chamber of the public house of representatives (Boulè in Greek) and was built between the fourth century and the third century BC.
The Hellenistic-Roman Sanctuary is a small temple surrounded by a square with a portico. The complex was built in two separate stages and was finished under Tiberius.
Roman Hellenistic Quarter
The Roman Hellenistic Quarter was a residential quarter. The area extends for around 10,000 square meters and includes twenty-seven houses (domus) in three insulae (apartment buildings). Alongside the domus were warehouses, workshops, and shops.
Temple of Demeter (Church of Saint Blaise)
The Temple of Demeter was built about 470 BC. Today the ruins of the building have been included in the Church of Saint Blaise dating to the Norman period (twelfth century).
The Great Temples of Sicily
There are at least a thousand reasons to visit Sicily, the great island - indeed the largest in the Mediterranean - that forms the triangular football to the boot that is the Italian peninsula.
They are all very good reasons, including amazing landscapes, a uniquely complex and delicious cuisine, a history that is diverse and multifaceted beyond belief, excellent wines, a vast array of archaeological sites, an even vaster one of historical towns and villages. A great way to explore all of those aspects is our Exploring Sicily tour, which takes place for the first time next April.
But one key reason to visit the island is missing from the list above: Greek temples!
Not all Sicilian temples are well-preserved, but the ruins are very evocative, especially in spring!
Greek temples are one of the earliest well-defined expressions of what we now recognise as the Western tradition in architecture, and one of the most influential ones by a vast margin to this day. They go back to the 8th or 7th centuries BC, and, as the name entails, they are indeed a key achievement of the Archaic Greeks, originating in what is the south of modern Greece, namely the Peloponnese and Central Greece, where Greek temple architecture appears to have its main roots, probably derived from local wooden predecessors.
The Greek mainland's architectural style is the Doric one, considered to be the most austere and "male" in character. On our Exploring Athens, we see no less than three key examples of that purest form of Greek temple: The Parthenon on the Athenian Acropolis, most emblematic of all Greek temples, the Temple of Hephaistos in the city's Agora, best-preserved example in Greece (both are from the mid-5th century BC), and the wonderfully set temple of Aphaia on the island of Aigina, predating them by half a century.
The eastern Aegean and Asia Minor were famous for their own development, the more elegant and "female" Ionic style, conceived about a century after the Doric one. Its most prominent examples at Samos, Ephesus and Didyma (much better preserved than the other two) are also marked by their vast monumental size. We visit them on our Cruising the Dodecanese and Cruising to Ephesus tours, respectively, in each case exploring visible remains of the 4th century BC or later.
What's so remarkable about the Greek temples of Sicily then?
The short answer is simply that Sicily possessed a greater density of monumental temples than any other area of the Mediterranean, and now contains more well-preserved examples than anywhere else. Not only do they make for an unusually rich ensemble of particularly impressive ancient monuments, but moreover, each of them has its own distinctive character and peculiar features, its own history and its own specific setting within a town- or landscape.
The so-called Temple of Hera at Agrigento
The reason for Sicily's wealth in such a specific type of monument lies in the early history of the island. In the 8th century BC, Sicily became a target of the movement known as Greek colonisation, which affected much of the Mediterranean and Black Sea. Greek settlers, mostly from the city states of the Southern Greek mainland, set off to found a whole series of new cities in the island, including Syrakousai (modern Syracuse), Akragas (Agrigento), Messene (Messina) and Selinous (Selinunte). In fact, Sicily (and the south of the Italian mainland) received so many Greek colonies that the region was later called Megale Hellas or Magna Graecia ("Great Greece").
These settlers brought their Greek identity, lifestyle, culture and traditions with them, a package that also included their religion. The great temples of Sicily are the most striking expression of that package. First of all, they fulfilled the practical need of providing a place of worship or sanctuary with a house for the statue of the respective god or goddess. At the same time, the choice of an architectural type from the "motherland", the Doric temple, served as a clear indication of the colonists' background and cultural alignment. Soon, the size, format and individual characteristics also began to express the "new" cities' wealth, ambition and specific Sicilian identities.
Remains of the Temple of Apollo at Syracuse (Wikimedia: Berthold Werner)
Syracuse (Syrakousai), founded by Corinthians in 733 BC, was originally limited to the small island of Ortygia, which is still the heart of its Old Town. Two major temples are found on the islet.
The temple of Apollo is one of the oldest among the Greek temples of Sicily, built before 550 BC. Although it is only partially preserved, its monumental character is still appreciable through the closely-placed thick columns, as is its already very Sicilian plan, with an adyton, an inner holy-of-holies housing the statue of Apollo, at the back of the internal sanctuary. An inscription on the front steps names Kleomenes as its architect and Epikles as the creator of the columns - such a proud commemoration of the builders would have been unthinkable in mainland Greece at that time.
For the modern visitor, the temple of Apollo at Syracuse is outshone by that of Athena, one of the most spectacular sights in Sicily. Erected by the local tyrant Gelon after a great victory over the Carthaginians in 480 BC, this was another monumental Doric temple, built of local limestone (which would have been covered in fine stucco), with a superstructure of marble imported from the Cyclades, some 900km (550mi) away. What makes the temple of Athena unique, and not just among the temples of Sicily, is the fact that it still serves as a place of worship for its city after nearly 2,500 years. It was rededicated as a Christian church around AD 600, later served as a mosque, and now is Syracuse's Roman Catholic cathedral. Hidden behind an ornate baroque façade, the visitor finds what is essentially an Early Christian basilica built into and around the basic structure of a Late Archaic Doric temple.
"Temple of Concordia" at Agrigento/Akragas
Agrigento (Akragas) was settled by people from nearby Gela and from faraway Rhodes around 582 BC. The city flourished especially in 6th and 5th centuries BC, after which it frequently changed hands between Greeks and Carthaginians before eventually falling to Rome.
During its heyday, Akragas appears to have spent a lot of resources on lavish architecture, a fact criticised by the 5th-century BC philosopher Empedocles, who was himself a citizen there: The Agrigentines live delicately as if tomorrow they would die, but they build their houses well as if they thought they would live for ever. Indeed, Akragas is known to have had at least ten large temples.
The most impressive of them today is the one traditionally called the Temple of Concordia, although its deity remains unknown. Dated to c. 425 BC, it is among the last of the Greek temples of Sicily to be completed. It counts as one of the three most completely preserved Greek temples across the ancient world (the others being the so-called Temple of Poseidon at Paestum near Naples and that of Hephaistos in Athens). The inner shrine, outer colonnades and pediments all survive in what is essentially their original state, showcasing the fine proportions of Classical architecture. Its good preservation is thanks to its early conversion into a Christian church.
A fallen antlantid from the Temple of Zeus at Agrigento/Akragas
Also visible at Agrigento are substantial remains of three further large temples, including the structure known (probably falsely) as the Temple of Hera. The most noteworthy of them, however, must be the huge Temple of Olympian Zeus, of which only foundations and fallen masonry survive. Built by the local tyrant Theron (brother of the aforementioned Gelon) after the 480 victory, it was dedicated to the chief god. While modelled on the idea of the Doric temple, it was in fact a highly unusual structure for several reasons, including its huge dimensions (110 by 52m or 360 by 170ft), its partially walled-off colonnade, and the use of massive block-built "atlantids", relief figures of giants, to support the superstructure. Some scholars have interpreted the Temple of Olympian Zeus as a hybrid of a Greek Doric exterior and a more Carthaginian/Phoenician interior.
You can read more impressions and view more pictures from Agrigento in our post Impressions of Sicily 1: Agrigento/Akragas.
Selinunte/Selinous: Temple C (Wikimedia: Janusz Rec?aw)
Selinunte (Selinous) is located in the far west of Sicily. It was founded in 628/627 BC by Sicilian Greeks from Gela, with some involvement from Megara near Athens. In many ways, it was an outpost among the Greek cities of Sicily, located close to the Phoenician/Carthaginian centres of power. This did certainly not stop its inhabitants from engaging in the construction of temples: we know of at least seven, several of them of massive dimensions.
Four were located on the acropolis, the hilltop citadel of the city. One of them, Temple C, is still very impressive. We do not know what deity was worshipped at Temple C, of which one side is preserved. It dates to before 550 BC. It shares some similarities with the slightly older temple of Apollo at Syracuse, such as the adyton at the western end of the sanctuary, housing a statue of its god or goddess. Nonetheless, its columns and overall proportions are more gracile. Especially impressive, however, are the grooves that allowed the huge bronze doors at its eastern end to open and close. It was approached via a monumental stairway of eight steps, the oldest we know in the Greek World. The museum at Palermo holds examples of its rich sculptural decoration.
Temple E, the Temple of Hera, at Selinunte/Selinous
A second group of three huge temples stood just to the east of Selinunte, by its harbour. Two, G and F, lie in ruins, but the third, temple E stands proud, partially as the result of modern reconstructions. This was the temple of Hera, wife (and sister) of Zeus and goddess of matrimony. From the mid-5th century BC, this temple incorporated a strong influence from the Greek motherland, where the style we now call "Classical" was then in full swing, while also following Sicilian architectural traditions. Temple E is characterised by a harmony of proportion that is unusual among the great temples of Sicily. Its sculptural decoration, while modest in quantity, is among the finest achievements of Greek art in Sicily. Overall, it is strongly reminiscent of the very slightly older and far less well-preserved temple of Zeus in Olympia, a site that would have been familiar to many Sicilian Greeks, due to the athletic competitions held there every four years.
The temple at Segesta in its glorious setting
Segesta, inland from Sicily's northwestern extremity, is in a way the odd one out among the cities mentioned here. It was not the product of Greek colonisation, but founded in the mists of time by Elymians, a local Sicilian tribe. Throughout its history, it chose a role between the Greek and Carthaginian spheres, adopting aspects of Greek culture, but not necessarily allying itself with its Greek neighbours. Segesta was in constant conflict with nearby Selinous. Nevertheless, late in the 5th century BC, the Segestans engaged in the construction of a fine Doric temple on a hill outside their city, probably using expert builders from their rival and enemy Selinous. Perhaps due to the outbreak of war, it was never completed. Its remains look complete at first sight, with the exterior colonnades and pediments in place. On a closer look, one notes that the delicate column flutings and other sculptural details were not applied, and that the temple is lacking an interior sanctuary. With its relatively late date and in its incomplete state, the temple at Segesta is a fit point to end this post about the important architectural achievement that are the Greek temples of Sicily.
If you are interested in seeing these impressive monuments, along with prehistoric cemeteries, Phoenician settlements, Norman churches and baroque towns, you should join us on our brand-new epic Exploring Sicily tour this spring!
Where to See Incredible Greek and Roman Ruins in Sicily
The island of Sicily at the toe of Italy’s boot has an incredible history. Over its lifetime, it has been governed by many great civilizations, from the Romans and the Greeks to the Byzantine empire. Each culture has left its mark in some way or another, the Greeks and Romans through striking architecture. Take a tour of these beautiful preserved ruins in Western Sicily to step back in time and discover the multicultural heritage of the island.
Selinunte is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Mediterranean. After nearly being destroyed during an attack by the Carthaginians in 409BC, the town was abandoned and swallowed up by earth and sand, which, incredibly, preserved the ancient metropolis for many centuries. Visitors can explore the excavated site and see the numerous temples, buildings and trinkets uncovered in recent years by archaeologists.
Agrigento, formerly known as the Greek city of Akragas, is home to one of the most famous and important cultural centres in the Mediterranean, the UNESCO World Heritage-protected Valley of Temples. The archaeology park consists of eight ancient temples thought to have been built between 430 and 510BC. Despite being around 2,5000 years old, these fascinating monuments are extraordinarily well preserved and stand almost unaffected by time and weather to this day.
Perched on top of a grassy hill, the Temple of Segesta is a flash of history in the rolling countryside. Built around 420BC by the Elymians, the grand temple features 36 imposing Doric columns. The structure lies in the Segesta archaeological park, which also includes the ruins of the ancient Theatre of Segesta, a stunning semi-circular amphitheatre that would have been used by the Greeks and the Romans to put on action-packed shows for up to 4,000 guests. The historical park is also a prime photo point as its hilltop position affords striking panoramic views over the valley with the ocean on the horizon.
An archaeological site of extraordinary cultural value, Eraclea Minoa combines the charm of ancient mythology with the natural beauty of Western Sicily. The beautiful long beach stretching along the coastline is dominated by Greek ruins. Since excavation work began on the ancient city in the early 10 th century, it has brought to light many important remains from the classical period, such as the city walls (which once ran for more than 6 km, giving an idea of the size that Eraclea Minoa assumed during its greatest years of development) and the Theatre, built around 400 BC. According to Greek myths, the city was built by Minos, King of Crete and son of Zeus and Europa, who came to Sicily to punish Daedalus for helping Ariadne and Theseus escape from the Minotaur’s labyrinth.
If you’re taking an archaeology tour of Sicily, stay at Verdura Resort , located on the south-west coast of the island, a perfect position for exploring these key sites.
Roma Numismatics auction October 2020: (Estimate: £75,000 $97,841 €82,480): Sicily, Naxos AR Tetradrachm. Circa 430-420 BC. Bearded head of Dionysos to right, wearing stephanos ornamented with ivy wreath, hair hanging in loose curly locks / Nude, bearded Silenos kneeling facing on ground, head left, holding kantharos in raised right hand which he contemplates, holding thyrsos upright in left, his tail curled behind him an ivy branch springs upward from the ground in left field NAΞION downwards in right field. Cahn 100 (V66/R82) SNG ANS 524 (same obv. die) SNG Lloyd 1156 (same obv. die) Rizzo pl. XXVIII, 16 (same obv. die) Basel 386 (same obv. die) Gulbenkian 232 (same dies) SNG München 761 (same dies) SNG Fitzwilliam 1113 (same dies) Jameson 677 (same dies) de Hirsch 513 (same dies) Ward 225 (same dies) Giesecke pl. V, 14 (same dies) Kraay & Hirmer 8-9 (same obv. die) HGC 2, 984. 16.75g, 30mm, 8h. Extremely Fine attractive cabinet tone. Very Rare no other example of this obverse die is known in such a high grade.
Silver tetradrachm: Head of Dionysos / Silenos squatting. Naxos 461-450 BC
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
…But You Don’t Have to Stay in Agrigento!
On our own Sicily road trip, we wanted to stay a little further along the southern coast rather than in Agrigento.
For some of you reading and planning your own route, you may really want to visit the Valley of the Temples but you won’t have a rental car or will be based on the west or east coast. Thankfully, it’s still absolutely possible to visit the Temples on a day trip if you don’t plan on staying in Agrigento! Here’s how.
Agrigento is cheap and easy to reach by train from Palermo (2 hours, €9), and there are regular departures. Unfortunately, train connections with the east of Sicily (i.e. Catania at 3.5-4.5 hours, €16) are really not convenient if you’re hoping to visit Agrigento for a day trip.
If you want to take the train in Sicily, we use and recommend looking and booking with the free OMIO app.
By Rental Car
As we did, you can simply stay elsewhere along the southern coast and make your own way by car to the Valley of the Temples.
There are two dusty paid parking lots at both the western and eastern entrances. They’re signposted, but in a bit of a confusing way, so our advice is to stick one in Google Maps and follow the directions.
We parked in Parcheggio Tempio Di Giunone (Google Maps) at the eastern entrance, and the parking fee was €2 for the first hour, €1 for the second hour, and then €0.50 for each subsequent hour, with a maximum daily rate of €5. So, as an example, the total cost would be €3.50 if you parked for three hours. The machine accepted notes, but we'd recommend you bring enough small change and cash for your day at the Temples generally. Don’t lose your ticket as you need it to exit!
You can find the larger western entrance car park here on Google Maps, and we imagine the parking cost it around the same.
If you don’t have your own wheels or the train connection is unrealistic, your best option is to take one of several guided day trip tours which bring you to the Valley of the Temples from other locations in Sicily.
From Palermo | Full Day in Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples | View here
From Catania | Full day in Agrigento, Piazza Armerina, and the Temples | View here
From Taormina | Day Trip to Valley of the Temples and Villa Romana del Casale | View here
Greek Ruins in Italy
If you’re anxious to see the ruins in both Italy and Greece, but simply can’t find the time to do both parts of the trip, you can get more than a sampling of Greek ruins without ever leaving Italy. Italy was part of the Greek empire during the 8th to 5th centuries BC. Evidence of the flourishing colonies are still visible today. In fact, it can be argued that some of the best Greek ruins aren’t in Greece at all – you’ll find them in Italy.
The Valley of the Temples
Sicily is home to many things, but most impressively a huge collection of sacred Greek buildings. To visit the Valley of the temple, begin your journey in the medieval town of Agrigento. State Road 118 will take you directly to the Valley of the Temples. While touring this relics, you should also be sure to stop by Museo Archeologico. This museum houses some of the most impressive remnants of Greek civilizations in Italy.
In Calabria, you’ll find the remnants of an ancient stronghold, Locri. The town is gone with time, but some of the buildings remain. Most interestingly, the remains of the small town are found scattered throughout an olive grove. Walk along and you’ll almost literally stumble upon temples, theatres and the sanctuary of Persephone. The grove and ruins are very quiet as they are all but forgotten in the busy Calabria area.
Campania is home to beautifully preserved buildings from the 7th century. Paestrum was a colony of Sybaris in the 7th century, and some of the history and greatness of the city lives on today. Three most impressive buildings still standing in Paestum, and chief among them is the temple of Poseidon.
The town was once called Poseidonia, and the city honored the sea god quite spectacularly. The temple is considered one of the most beautiful Doric temples in all of Greece or Italy. Additionally, the museum found in Paestum contains many beautiful works. Among those works are the only known Greek paintings from ancient times.
Selinunte in Sicily is the westernmost civilization of the Greeks found in Italy. The area has several well preserved temples, but the origins of the temples are mysterious. Indeed, nobody knows who the temples were dedicated to. Temple E, however, is considered to be one of the best examples of a 5th century temple. In fact, it is still guarded by its original fortifications.