Sicily 2000 > Articles > Christina Seid

The Greek Ruins or Sicily

By Christina Seid

The only words to describe the temples of Agrigento are: "magnificent works of art." Ancient Greeks built these temples on an acropolis, surrounded by olive trees and almond orchards with a view fit for the gods.

Our tour guide was a native Sicilian, Luigi Napoli, whose English was better than mine. In a scholarly fashion he spoke about the origin of the city and the temples. I vigorously took notes, to get as much information on it as I could for class...

Agrigento was originally founded as Akragas at around 582 B.C. by a group of colonists from Gela, descended from the Greeks of Rhodes and Crete. The Romans renamed Akragas "Agrigentum." After the Romans, the Saracens renamed it Girgenti. Finally in 1927, the city was christened as Agrigento.

Although many of the temples are in ruins, and several have never been completed, they are stunning by day or night.

The temples served purposes similar to what churches do now. In Europe, churches and temples are usually placed relatively higher than everything else and people go in to worship. In Greek temples, however, only the priest or religious figure was allowed. According to Napoli, the priests often would take drugs and claim that they had talked to God.

All the public events, including sacrifices, took place outside the temples to the east. The Greeks sacrificed animals; the Carthaginians sacrificed the family’s first baby boy, by throwing him into a fire. In 480 BC, after conquering the Carthaginians, Greeks made the Carthaginians give up human sacrifice.

When the Greeks sacrificed animals, they were usually bulls. Only parts of the animal were sacrificed, because the Greeks ate the rest, a sort of ancient barbecue.

The Temple of Juno also is called the Temple of Hera, after the wife of Zeus, the Goddess of fertility. In mythology, when Hera breast-fed Hercules, he bit Hera’s breast and her milk splattered about, creating the Milky Way. While weddings were held at this temple, it also served women who had trouble in marriage, relationships, or getting pregnant. Built about the 5th century B.C., the temples’ columns were painted white, because marble was scarce in Sicily.

Perhaps most beautiful is the Temple of Concordia, named after the Latin word for peace and unity. The city of Agrigento and the western town of Marsala celebrate peace and unity with almond festivals that take place the first Sunday in February.

The Temple of Concordia resembles the Temple of Juno, but is better preserved. Because the Temple was built on a rocky plateau, it has survived earthquakes. It’s also well preserved partly for being converted into an early Christian Church. Through the conversion, lost its altar, and the temples gained interior walls with Christian arches.

Both temples have hexastyle columns: six columns in the front of the temple and 13 columns on the sides. In Sicily, 13 is a lucky number. Both of these temples are peripteral temples, meaning the columns surrounded the inside part of the temple, which was the most important. The temples were built in the classical period and used a Doric style.

The other temples in the valley, a little less impressive, include the Temple of Hercules, the Temple of the Olympian Zeus, and the Temple of Castor Pollux.

The Temple of Hercules, the oldest temple in Agrigento, though re-erected, has only one of nine columns standing. It was built to honor the god Hercules and is supposed to be the "most beautiful;" although I didn’t find it as impressive as the first two of the group.

The Temple of the Olympian Zeus is by far the largest. Its altar was at one time bigger than the temple of Concordia or Juno. The structure has seven by fourteen columns. I didn’t find this as impressive as the first two temples because it wasn’t in very good shape.

The last temple on our tour was the Temple of Castor Pollux. The name Gemini is more familiar. The Gemini were the sons of Zeus. One son was mortal, the other immortal. This temple also has sanctuaries devoted to Demeter and Persephone. This temple wasn’t in top-notch condition, either.

My favorite was the Temple of Concordia, still standing, never reconstructed, untouched since ancient times.

Although these structures are not as tall as the Empire State Building or the Sears Towers, the Greeks lacked the technology we have today. They used chisels, hammers, cranes, and a lot of manpower, including Carthaginian slaves. The Romans had not yet even invented cement.

No matter how many places I visit, I am sure that my experience of the Greek temples in Agrigento will remain among my favorites. Take time off from work and vacation, GO TO SICILY! The temples are among the most breathtaking archaeological sights in the world. The Greek poet Pindar once described Agrigento as "the most beautiful of the mortals." If you visit the acropolis and see the temples, you’ll know exactly what Pindar meant.

Sicily 2000 > Articles > Christina Seid