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Agrigento is a major tourist center thanks to its extraordinarily rich archaeological legacy. It also serves as an agricultural center for the surrounding region. Sulfur and potash have been mined locally since Roman times and are exported from the nearby harbor of Porto Empedocle (named after the philosopher Empedocles who lived in ancient Akragas).
Agrigento was founded on a plateau overlooking the sea, with two nearby rivers and a ridge to the north offering a degree of natural fortification. Its establishment took place around 582 BC-580 BC and is attributed to Greek colonists from Gela, who named it Akragas. The meaning of the word is unclear, though various explanations were proposed for it, such as that it referred to a legendary founder, Akragante. However, these were probably just retrospective explanations of an obscure name.
Akragas grew rapidly, becoming one of the richest and most famous of the Greek colonies of Magna Graecia. It came to prominence under the tyrants Phalaris and Theron, and became a democracy after the overthrow of Theron’s son Thrasydaeus. Although the city remained neutral in the conflict between Athens and Syracuse, its democracy was overthrown when the city was seiged by the Carthaginians in 406 BC. Akragas never fully recovered its former status, though it revived to some extent under Timoleon in the latter part of the 4th century BC.
The city was conquered again by both the Romans and the Carthaginians in the 3rd century BC (the Romans in 262 BC and the Carthaginians in 255 BC). It suffered badly during the Second Punic War (218 BC-201 BC) when both Rome and Carthage fought to control it. The Romans eventually captured Akragas in 210 BC and renamed it Agrigentum, although it remained a largely Greek-speaking community for centuries thereafter. It became prosperous again under Roman rule and its inhabitants received full Roman citizenship following the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city passed into the hands of the Byzantine Empire. During this period, the inhabitants of Agrigentum largely abandoned the lower parts of the city and moved up to the former acropolis, at the top of the hill. The reasons for this move are unclear but were probably related to the destructive coastal raids of the Saracens, Berbers and other peoples around this time. In 828 AD the Saracens captured the diminished remnant of the city and renamed it Girgenti – an Arabized version of “Agrigentum”. It retained this name until 1927, when Mussolini’s government reintroduced an Italianized version of the Latin name.
Agrigento was captured by the Normans under Count Roger I in 1087 and he established a Latin bishopric there. The population declined during much of the medieval period but revived somewhat after the 18th century. In 1860, the inhabitants enthusiastically supported Giuseppe Garibaldi in his campaign to unify Italy (the Risorgimento). The city suffered a number of destructive bombing raids during the Second World War.
How to get there
Frequent buses run to Palermo, Caltanissetta, Catania, Sciacca and close(ish) Eraclea Minoa. A few also run to Gela and Trapani via Mazara del Vallo, Marsala and Castelvetrano (for Selinunte).
Frequent trains run to Palermo and Caltanissetta, less frequently to Enna (but not that useful – the station is about 3 miles from the town).
There are daily boats and hydrofoils in summer (fewer or no hydrofoils in winter) from Agrigento’s port 1.5 miles away – Porto Empedocle to the islands of Lampedusa and Linosa. See SIREMAR and Ustica Lines. There are frequent local buses from Porto Empedocle into Agrigento.
Sights & Activities
The city’s monuments include:
- Ancient Akragas covers a huge area (much of which is still unexcavated today) but is exemplified by the famous “Valley of the Temples” (actually a misnomer, as it is a ridge, rather than a valley). This comprises a large sacred area on the south side of the ancient city where seven monumental Greek temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece itself. They are listed as a World Heritage Site.
- The best preserved of the temples are two very similar buildings traditionally attributed to the goddesses Juno and Concordia (though archaeologists believe this attribution to be incorrect). The latter temple is remarkably intact, due to its having been converted into a Christian church in 597 AD. Both were constructed to a peripteral hexastyle design. The area around the Temple of Concordia was later re-used by early Christians as a catacomb, with tombs hewn out of the rocky cliffs and outcrops.
- The other temples are much more fragmentary, having been toppled by earthquakes long ago and quarried for their stones. The largest by far is the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built to commemorate the Battle of Himera (480 BC) and believed to have been the largest Doric temple ever built. Although it was apparently used, it appears to have never been completed, and construction work was abandoned after the Cathaginian invasion of 406 BC. The remains of the temple were extensively quarried in the 18th century to build the jetties of Porto Empedocle. Temples dedicated to Hephaestus, Hercules and Asclepius were also constructed in the sacred area which includes a sanctuary of Demeter and Persephone (formerly known as the Temple of Castor and Pollux). The marks of the fires set by the Carthaginians in 406 BC can still be seen on the sanctuary’s stones.
- Many other Hellenistic and Roman sites can be found in and around the town. These include a pre-Hellenic cave sanctuary near a Temple of Demeter, underlying the Church of San Biagio. A late Hellenic funerary monument, erroneously labeled the “Tomb of Theron”, is situated just outside the sacred area, and a 1st century AD heroon (heroic shrine) adjoins the 13th-century Church of San Nicola a short distance to the north. A sizeable area of the Greco-Roman town has also been excavated and several classical necropolises and quarries are still in existence.
- Much of present-day Agrigento is modern but it still retains a number of medieval and Baroque buildings. These include the 14th century cathedral and the 13th century Church of Santa Maria dei Greci, standing on the site of an ancient Greek temple (hence the name). The town also has a notable archaeological museum displaying finds from the ancient city.
Sample the Greek influenced cuisine, especially eggplant and olive oil based dishes.
La Madia, Licata (Ag)
Rising star, chef Pino Cuttaia, rediscovers traditional cuisine and reinvents local flavors with an imaginative touch. The restaurant, rated one Michelin Star, suggests unique culinary creations such as: arancini di triglie (seafood rice balls), pistachio couscous and cassatina all’arancia (little traditional Sicilian pie flavor with orange zest).
Address: Corso Filippo Re Capriata, 22
92027 Licata (Ag)
Tel.: (0922) 77 14 43
Fax: (0922) 77 14 43
Hostaria del Vicolo
Address: Vicolo Samaritano, 10 Sciacca – 92019
Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit Agrigento. July and August are the warmest months with temperature up to 104° F. For more information, visit the Weather page.
The Almond Blossom Festival and the International Festival of Folklore take place every year in February.
Note: This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Metasyntactic variable” and Creative Commons by Commons Deed. This information was accurate when it was posted, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses/establishments in question before planning your trip.