While in Agrigento, be sure to visit the birthplace of Luigi Pirandello, the Nobel Prize-winning Sicilian novelist, short story writer, and dramatist, in neighboring Caos, 4 km from downtown Agrigento.
The home, now the Casa Museo Regional Luigi Pirandello, is an 18th century villa standing alone on a hill, amidst olive trees, pines, and oaks, gently sloping toward the sea. The rooms contain a vast collection of photographs, reviews and autographed editions of his works, and posters of his major plays. The house periodically hosts temporary exhibitions dedicated to the writer.
A long path to the right of the house leads to his “tomb,” a large memorial stone, minimally carved by the sculptor Marino Mazzacurati, housing an urn containing the writer’s ashes. Situated near the sea, this secluded spot is where Pirandello wrote some of his works, under a very tall pine tree, and where the writer chose to be buried: “… take my cinerary urn to Sicily and place it into a stone in the Girgenti countryside, where I was born.” The pine tree was felled by a lightning strike in 1997, but the trunk has been kept and placed near the tomb. A new pine tree has been planted nearby.
The museum is open to the public every day between 8:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. and again from 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. An admission fee of €4 is charged.
This is a paradise: the inhabitants had the river bed widened into a pond - probably to store water in case of a draught or a siege. It had been converted into a garden and rescued by the FAI. It is a wonderful place and - important - cool, after the long hot walk between the temples. An additional 2 euro fee keeps the shallow people away.
"An historic, naturalist and landscape site of immense value, the Kolymbetra Garden - a small valley in the heart of the Valley of Temples near Agrigento - was entrusted to FAI under free concession by the Sicily Region for a period of 25 years. An authentic archaeological and agricultural jewel in the Valley of Temples, returned to light after decades of abandon, this is an extraordinary garden in terms of the magnificence, abundance and glory of nature, as well as the wealth of archaeological finds that are still coming to light. The favourable micro-climate which has protected the land from the cold winter winds and the heat of summer, the fertility of its alluvial soil and its abundance of water have allow an extraordinary vegetation to flourish over the centuries."
From Agrigento city centre, the valley below looks interesting with its temples, notably the Concordia which is easy to make out. Finally walking towards the Concordia, "interesting" is no longer the word you would use. The temple is huge and in such a good shape it is unbelieavable. To then be able to walk on to the Juno temple and then back to the Hercules one (which is open to stand in and has suffered more) and the ruins of the Jupiter one on the other side of the main road is just mindblowing. Especially when you then read in your guide book (there are lots to purchase at the parking lot where the bus stops) that old Agrigento was once as big as somewhere between 200-800 000 inhabitants! At least the size of Malmö where I live - absolutely mind blowing. Concordia was once used as a church when Sicily was christianised and this area really must have seen it all and if you want to see Greek temples which are more impressive than in Greece - this is the place! If you are lucky, you arrive along with a coach party from somewhere. These always have guides from the local museum so just tag along and learn a lot from these amusing and informed guys.
It became a UNESCO world heritage site a few years ago and that was probably a good idea since it seems illegal building takes place nearby and could have crept even closer. This way it should at least have some protection due to its fame.
We visited fairly late in the afternoon which gave the temples this lovely golden glow - see more in my travelogue :-)
This is a museum with a very fine collection. In our view it is a bit too much of a good thing. The first parts of the museum seems to us to be modernized and the rooms and displays are spacious; the latter part of the museum is crowded with articles and some of the rooms are worn down. We liked:
- the church at the entrance (there was an Italian marriage going on; it adds to the attraction)
- the meeting space (ecclesiasum)
- the series of vases, noticeable in the first part of the museum
- the selection of coins (downstairs)
- the room with the giant
- the tomb for a child, with the weeping parents
Entrance fee: 6 euro, free for 65+
It was said that the museum was wheel chair accessible: for large parts it is NOT. For instance, the stair lifts were too small for our travelling wheel chair; we couldn't reach the room with the giant, nor the numismatic collection and the toilets (!). Also, you have to back track the whole approach to the museum, as a wheel chair cannot use the (panoramic) exit.
In the garden is a small bar which serves good cafe and cold drinks.
Reaching the parking area is tricky: there is a small, uneven, dirt road next to the museum grounds. At the end, make a turn and slalom between the bushes. There are some trees, however, so if you're lucky, you can park in a shaded area. Leave the parking area using a wider road with large stones and you reach a round-about. I think you can also enter the parking space from here, but there were no signs.
As for Temple of Heracles a colonnade of 8 columns is all what was left from the sanctuary. It is the earliest of the group in archaic Doric style built in about 500 BC.
Its 'cella' was in 2:5 proportion (12 m by 30 m); inner width or 'naos' was more than 11 m. The temple used to have typical stairs but not much is left there.
These columns were re-erected during first half of 20ieth century. Structure still feels impressive and strong - and somewhat dramatic when black and heavy night serves as the background - when I stoped there before return to the ticket was already quite late.
This it the first in the series of temples at Eastern site of the 'Valley'.
On the second photo: columns of Heracles are in the end of view over telamones. Quite far, but they rule the area. You need to enlarge photo to see it better.
It is said that temple was erected by hero Lacinius in about 450 BC. Located at the top of the tall cliff dominates the area, it is at the eastern end of the series of Agrigentan sanctuaries; measures are 16,91 m by 38,10 m with 13 side columns. In front of the base you can still see traces of large sacrificial altar which is east of temple but not in the best condition. Temple was set on fire by Carthaginians in 406 BC. After that it was up to fate how much of its building will be left to see for the next generations.
This temple was traditionally dedicated to protector of matrimony and childbirth. Columns were partially re-erected in early 1900.
From what is left one can still imagine its greatness – get as closer as it is allowed to view grand columns – or what was left of them. It has kept shape of outer facade so it is possible to experience it in full scale yet some without entablature of roof.
It was intended to be the largest Doric temple ever constructed; however it was never completed. Earthquaqes and fights turned temple into what you can see nowsadays as impressive ruins with huge stones – and one can imagine what power of men was needed here to build such construction. Olympieion was erected in 480 BC by thousands of Carthaginian prisoners and measured 113,50 m in length by 56,30 m wide – as a gesture of thanks to Zeus for victory of Agrigetians over the Carthaginians in battle of Himera; it is believed that by constructing the biggest building people of Agrigentum wanted to prove that they can do better than their neighbors and are on par with Ionians.
Some interesting 'details': the entablature was supported by half columns which were 20 m high and 4,5 m in diameter set against impressive blind wall. Telamones (atlantes – giant males) used to stand between those Doric half-columns to hold up the entablature of roof. These sculptures measured 8 m in height and while you can see one of such atlantes lying on the ground (in the middle of temple) nowsadays you have to keep in mind that is the reproduction of giant to give you idea of scale; real one can be seen in archeological museum safe from weather conditions. Many of details and idea of how was temple really like is unknown to historians.
'Concord' was built in about 430 BC and it was contemporary with Parthenon in Athens. It is one of the best preserved buildings of Greek architecture, a fine example of Classical style with perfect balance and harmony. It has 6 by 13 columns and measures 16,92 m by 39,42 m.
The temple was turned into church in 597 AD and has undergone few alternations – luckily it helped it not to become construction material unlike other temples. It is not known to which god it was dedicated – it was named Concord because they found Latin inscription in its vicinity.
We were lucky to catch changing light on the columns and entablature right before tempest on that evening. Timing couldn't be better and there's something in the air when you stand there alone in front of ancient architecture at that unusual time of a day. You are not allowed to enter the sacred place but being that close gives you the idea of how important it was for our ancestors to be in peace with gods and godesses.
Agrigentum (Acragas) is placed in a position easy to defend – and south of what is nowsadays modern city of Agrigento - that is along the ridge rather than in 'valley' and is boundned east and west by two watercourses (named Hypsas and Acragas). Temples from 5th century BC are Doric, all except Temple of Zeus were hexastyle format (6 columns at the front; Zeus had 7 columns), built of limestone tufa which is more vulnerable to weather conditions and changes than marble.
West to east distribution of sanctuaries is:
Temple of Hephaestus
Temple of Castor and Pollux
Temple of Zeus or Olympieion
Temple of Heracles
Temple of Hera Lacinia
According to Classic criterion all the buildings face east.
Fee includes entry to entire historic area which is split in two by the main road. Site (east) with Temple of Heracles, Concord and Hera Lacinia is larger and temples are better preserved so probably you will spend more time exploring if you're on your own; but the oldest are Castor and Pollux (symbol of Agrigento) and what is left from Olympieion- trully remarkable ruins.
When we visited east site it was right before it got dark – and it was windy, cold and rainy evening with those beautiful dark and heavy clouds which set more than perfect background for watching ancient architecture. It is at those moments when you're there almost entirely alone in front of a Temple when you feel ancient energy of the sacred place. You're enchanted – and perhaps those minutes you feel like being old Greek yourself.
On next morning we did the west site.
Fee: 8 EUR
Opening time: 9 am – 7 pm
Main reason that Macalube will be on your travel list is probably because of famous 'little vulcanos' or vulcanelli: they have been described as rare geologic phenomenum called 'sedimentary vulcanism'. There are series of them in the area of muddy grey and sometimes white soils which is surrounded by pseudo-steppe landscape described before. Tallest vulcanelli are only 1 m in height. By this type of vulcanism gas is submitted to certain pressure which is in relationship with unconsolidated clay.
Gases of Macalube are consisted of methane which will travel thorugh soil and reach the surface through small wet craters - together with water and clay sediments. From time to time vulcanelli erupt explosively and eliminate clay material, gas and water altogether because of the pressure accumulated from gas under the surface. It's very interesting when this happen - these little eruptions remind me to cooking something very thick - perhaps some kind of sauce; you can actually get very close to the little vulcano and see into crater but you'll get muddy because of the wet soil around. Worth seeing it, though.
On the 4th photo here you can see closer look of the wet crater - just after eruption.
Platani is one of bigger Sicilian rivers and its plain is rich with salts and sulphur which was interesting for Greek colonizers in ancient times who searched for minerals - that could be reason for placing Eraclea at that strategic position above the plain. On the way to Eraclea Minoa there are nice views over the river basin - which has lots of agriculture (vines and citrus trees) at its soil and wetland areas along the river. These two combined have created interesting landscape pattern - which can be read from photo. River plain is also home to variety of animals, including rare bat species. By the other end at mouth of river one can find long sandy beaches - maybe worth to check out if time and weather permits.
This very interesting area near Aragona in Agrigento province has been recognized as Natural reserve of Life Natura project: it is land of dry landscape and a place where 'vulcanelli' arise in contrast to surrounding area.
At the entry to the reserve you can first see land of grass - named pseudo-steppe - which is result of arid climate and poor soil; during rain it will be colorful place when grasses are lightly green and orchids bear flowers (in spring) which later in summer will be replaced by yellow tones of dried grass - as it is typical for Sicilian warm season. Macalube is habitat for endemic vegetation (grass species) which can survive higher salinity and scarce rain and place abundant with amphibians, reptiles and migratory birds when they're flying to warmer places. Not far away land is arable hence brown patches of fields in your view. In general it is place with almost no trees near and when visited on cloudy and windy autumn day has that very nice feel and vivid colors of dry landscape - all perfect but wear light jacket to enjoy these moments! I thought I could watch it forever.
Amidst that natural setting there're 'vulcanelli' which make trully different, contrasty landscape: there's their different natural color, material, different softness in perception and geometry of the vulcanos.
There's no admission fee to enter the area. There is path leading to vulcanelli, an easy one to take and it is short walking distance from the parking place.
Capo Bianco is the reef upon which lays Eraclea Minoa ancient site. Its white cliff descend steeply into Mediterranean sea and it forms one of the most dramatic sights here by the coast. We decided to have a look into new settlement below Eraclea, a small village where they had few houses - and most of them had some rooms to rent. Looked quite lonely in September with noone in the streets. Although it was nearly rainy that day... the view from coast to Capo Bianco was stunning. Maybe even more than otherwise due the color of the sky and water which were changing from minute to minute. A few people were playing with waves at the beach and it looks like really nice place to swim in hot weather - with pine grove right in front of beach and before the village. Few bars and restaurants by the coast were open with terraces at the edge of the sea - good to try some food and local vine (a very nice one) again.
West of Capo Bianco there's Platani Valley Nature reserve and more wide sandy shores.
Eraclea Minoa is small archaeological site above Platani river valley, some 30 km west of Agrigento. This ancient settlement was according to Herodot founded in 550 BC by Selinute and was probably a base to Agrigento during Greek occupation of Western coast. Eraclide reported that Minoa was placed on the site of indigenous village Macara where there found Greek necropolis. The name is derived from Cretan king Minos; his navigators were trying to find sulphur and salt in the Platani river valley and left traces of their culture and mythological stories (like that one on Dedalus). Minos had expedition to Sicily and was killed by Sicanian king - his bones were laters returned to Cretan people when Eraclea was under domination of Akragas in 5th century BC.
Turbulent history of wars and rebellions throughout the ancient times had brought different rulers; Karthage took it over in end of 5th century, then there were slave rebellions and Romans who occupied Eraclea in 3rd century - until the end of 1st century Eraclea was depopulated and destroyed. Later findings discovered basilica and necropolis outside the city which were built between 3rd and 7th century AD.
That interesting site is worth a visit - it's located in elevated place overlooking the bay with wonderful tall white cliffs. Ancient structures are nowsadays partly covered - there's small Greek Theater which was made of soft stone and was already visibly eroded by time and it's nowsadays covered with roof.
There's small museum by the entry which displays findings from neolithic through Greek era until begining of Millenium.
Entry fee is 2 EUR.
The four columns of the north-west corner of the Temple of Castor and Pollux was rebuilt in 1836 with materials found on the site. On the columns and architrave there are still traces of the plaster and white stucco used as a facing material on temple structures. The cornice is decorated with relieve mouldings of an evidently Hellenic nature, which are thought to have been the resold of a restoration of the temple subsequent to its destruction in 406 BC when Akragas fell to the Carthaginians.