The Greek Intellect in Sicily
The World Heritage Site of Agrigento is located near the city of the same name in southern Sicily. It contains several Greek temples of the ancient city Akragas, which at one time boasted as many as 800,000 inhabitants and exerted a major influence on the Mediterranean world. The remnants of several Doric temples built in the sixth and fifth centuries can be seen in what today is known as the “Valley of the Temples.” Among the best preserved are the Temple of Juno and of the nearly intact Temple of Concord.
Most visitors to Agrigento visit the temples, then move on. They neglect the modern and quite picturesque city of Agrigento, and worse, they forget to visit one of Europe’s finest collections of ancient artifacts at the Museo Archaelogico Regionale di Agrigento. The Museo’s seventeen spacious exhibition rooms house thousands of Greek vases, sculptures, and other objects of historical interest.
However, the Greeks left other evidence of their civilization. Just west of Agrigento lie the remains of Selinunte, a city of about 30,000, founded by colonizers from Megara Hyblaea, a city near Siracusa. Many of its temples and other buildings are now undergoing restoration. North of Selinunte is Segesta. Its temple, built by the Elymians, is in Doric style. In almost perfect condition, the temple is still without its roof because the building’s construction, begun in 460 B.C. by a Greek architect, was never completed. High above the temple on a nearby hill sits a well-preserved Greek theater and the remains of several other buildings that provide clues to fifth century Greek life in Sicily.
Other important evidence of Greek primacy exist in other cities, including Siracusa, whose splendid Greek theater continues to be used to this day. It is surrounded by a row of burial caves, in one of which, legend tells us, Archimedes is buried. Visitors to Siracusa should not miss the city’s Duomo, or cathedral, built originally as a Greek temple dedicated to Aphrodite in the fifth century. The original Doric columns are still prominent.
Ear of Dioynisius, Siracusa