We were up late. Realistically, we should have known that we weren’t going to get an early start on New Year’s Day. Over breakfast, complete with homemade lemon and mandarin preserves (made by Antonella, the proprietress, herself!) we asked to add another day at the pensione. No problem.
So, off to Agrigento’s main tourist site! It was the first real tourist site in Sicily, popularized by Goethe of all people in the late 1700s. Agrigento was at one time called Akragas, and was one of the most prosperous of all of the colonies of Magna Graecia (greater Greece). As a rich colony, it erected several beautiful temples, parts of which are still visible on the plain below modern Agrigento.
They are lit up beautifully at night.
We hopped into our fugly Smart Car and drove down to the valley, paid for parking and entrance fees and an audio guide, and started on our tour.
Of course, we immediately got all turned around, but we eventually found the Temple of the Dioscuri (Castor and Pollux). Four of the columns and a corner of the peristyle have been rebuilt, to show how amazing this temple must have been when the whole thing was standing.
We noticed these large U-shaped grooves in many of the rocks, and our audio guide helpfully told us that they were used during building – ropes could be fitted into them to help lift the blocks into place.
(These particular blocks come from among the ruins of the Temple of Zeus, which was completely destroyed by the Carthaginians. It was never finished, but was at one time apparently the size of a football field.)
We then crossed back over the street to visit the better-preserved area of the ruins. Probably the most impressive of the ancient temples is the Temple of Concordia, which is in a good state of repair because it was repurposed as a church in the 6th century AD, before it could be torn down for building materials. A roof was added and arches built into the sides, but all of this was removed during the 1700s.
Our audio guide said that this is considered the best example of Doric architecture remaining in the world. It’s certainly impressive – and really different, with the uniform color of the sandstone versus other Greek buildings you see made of, or sheathed in, marble.
There were enormously old olive trees all over the site. I’m sure some of them had to be over a hundred years old – olive trees don’t grow fast. Their wide twisted stumps added to an overall feeling of age amongst the ruins.
On the way to the next temple, which is known as the Temple of Hera due to a Roman attribution that’s probably inaccurate, we walked past walls that had been hollowed out.
According to the guide, the Romans hollowed them out to use them as tombs – but no bones or funerary objects have ever been found in them. Which sort of begs the question… why do archaeologists think they were tombs, if they haven’t found any evidence? The audio guide was silent.
At the more ruined Temple of Hera, we listened to details about Greek sacrificial rites. I liked that the roasted meats left after the sacrifice were shared with other worshippers, while the gods got the burnt bits. Seems fair.
The last of the ruins you can visit in the site is the Temple of Hercules. An eccentric Englishman named Alexander Hardcastle arrived in Agrigento in the 1920s and became obsessed with the site. He was allowed to buy a house right amongst the ruins (it’s now a hotel… nice location!) and spent a bunch of time and money re-raising 8 of the temple’s fallen columns. You can even clamber all around them now.
That was it for the archaeological site. We returned to the car by way of a nearby bar where we bought a really, really bad arancino (the fried meat-filled rice balls) and a bag of Indian-flavored chips.
On the back of the chip bag, it states that Crik Crok also makes ketchup flavored chips for… get this…
“Extravagant Needs.” In English!
I love it!
We wandered Agrigento some more in the late afternoon and early evening, trying to find an Internet place (we found only one, and it was closed for the New Year… I can’t believe we haven’t had Internet yet for these posts!). For dinner, we planned to go to a place out of Lonely Planet that reeled us in by saying “If you have your own car, go to Kokalos for wonderful pizza!”
We were expecting a dive with great pizza on the road out of town, but we had a lot of trouble finding the place and when we did there were two tour buses parked in the parking lot! The inside was filled with large groups, Asian when we arrived and Italian when we left.
Whatever, we were hungry, and most of Agrigento’s restaurants were closed for the New Year… so we ordered a big plate of fried everything, which we always seem to do when we’re hungry… bad habit…
And a couple of pizzas to split, one with mushrooms and radicchio and the other with prosciutto crudo and ricotta. Both were good, and surprisingly cheap considering all of the waiters were in suits. Odd place.
That’s it from Agrigento! We’re leaving early in the morning to drive to Noto, which is supposed to be a Baroque jewel of a town. Where we don’t have a place to stay yet.
Yay! It’s great traveling during the low season!