Just off the coast of Italy on the country’s island of Sicily, sits the cultural city of Agrigento. This town that rests on the southwestern edge of the island has a long and rich tradition of Greek and Italian influences that are still evident today, particularly so in tourist destinations like the Valley of Temples. As you wander the city, explore the historical old town and the modern city, as well as the cultural mecca of the temples to partake in the entire Agrigento experience. This interesting city seems to come alive with history and captures the hearts of visitors daily. Agrigento stands at the ready and is waiting to welcome you too.
ARCHITECTURE IN AGRIGENTO
Although there are some beautiful historic churches and convents in old town Agrigento, without a doubt the most visited pieces of architecture are located on a ridge just outside the modern city in ancient Agrigento. The Valley of Temples is a United Nations Educational Scientific Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site with roots that can be traced all the way back to the fifth century BC. These temples are largely in ruins due to the effects of time and weather, but the stunning Temple of Concordia has retained much of its original form. The other temples include the Temple of Juno, the Temple of Hercules, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the Temple of Hephaestus, and the Temple of Asclepius. The temple complex is quite vast and should be traveled on foot. It can easily take several awe-inspiring hours to explore. The Valley of Temples is home to possibly the most renowned ancient architecture in all of Sicily and should not be missed.
One of the main churches in the city of Agrigento is the Cathedral of San Gerlando in the city’s historical center. This structure is estimated to be circa twelfth century, but has been renovated several times over the years. The church’s façade is largely understated with a stairway leading to the entrance and is made of brown stone and brick. The cathedral features a primary rose window above an ornate entry way and to the right stands a bell tower. After a visit to this cathedral, it is easy to see why it has lasted so many years and is beloved by the people.
Another local church is San Nicola. This thirteenth century Romanesque-Gothic structure that overlooks the Valley of Temples is made of big blocks of tufa. The church’s façade features an ornate main arched entryway, a few small square windows, and a rooftop balcony. The church has several interior chapels and is home to a white Roman sarcophagus that illustrates the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus.
The Church of Santa Maria is unique in that it is built upon the previous site of a Greek temple. The exterior of the church is rather small and is made from a variety of brown colored stones. It features a small frosted circular window marked by a cross and one main arched entryway with a small bell on the top right. The floor of the church has glass panes in which visitors can see some of the previous site. Be sure not to miss the frescoes inside. Visitors often claim the Church of Santa Maria as one of their favorite stops because of the atmosphere of reverence and worship this small structure emanates.
The Church of San Lorenzo, sometimes known as the Church of Purgatory, is also located in the historic city center. The simple brown brick façade of this structure is elevated above the street by a stairway. The building features a main and ornate rectangular entry way, as well as a main window, several statues, and a bell tower. The interior of the church is far more ornate and elegant than its exterior would indicate.
The Convent of Santo Spirito, also known as Monastero di Santo Spirito, is located in the old town of Agrigento. It is estimated to be a thirteenth century structure established by Cistercian nuns. Today nuns still reside here and spend their time in prayer, and in the kitchen baking delicious treats such as conchigliette (made of marzipan and pistachio paste) and dolci di mandorola (almond pastries), which they often sell to interested visitors.
The current Church of San Francesco was built during the eighteenth century, though an original structure can be traced back to the 1300s. The Baroque church features an elegant façade with two towers. The interior is home to several chapels and beautiful frescoes by Domenico Provenzani of Palma di Montechiaro.
Italian eighteenth and nineteenth century painter Paolo Girgenti was born in Agrigento and studied under fellow famed Italian painter Fedele Fischetti. Girgenti spent much of his later career in Naples and eventually went on to become the president of the Neapolitan Academy of Fine Arts.
While many of the historic churches in old town Agrigento boast religious frescoes and detailed interior artwork, for this city the adage that life imitates art would seem to hold true. Evidence of this sentiment can be found primarily in the Valley of Temples where ancient Agrigento was estimated to once be home to a dozen temples or so. The mostly ruins of these temples are the biggest tourist draw today for the city and are as beautiful as they are historical.
Perhaps the most defining individual of the literary movement in Agrigento was Luigi Pirandello. This renowned nineteenth and twentieth century Italian author was a poet, novelist, dramatist, and play writer. Pirandello is perhaps best known for the way in which he weaved tragedy and psychological analysis into his plays and novels.
Much of the tragedy found in his works was a result of what he experienced in his own personal life. Born in Agrigento, Pirandello seemed to always have a love for writing. He eventually married Antonietta Portulano who in the early years of their marriage became greatly unstable with hallucinations and caused great suffering amongst the family who tried unsuccessfully to care for her at home. In the early twentieth century, Pirandello finally placed his wife in an asylum. From those experiences, came a new tone and personality for his literary works.
Luigi Pirandello wrote roughly twenty plays, seven novels, and seven poetry collections. His works live on today and many of Pirandello’s plays and poetry have now been translated to English. Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1934, Pirandello is considered to be one of the most influential Italian playwrights of all time.
The Pirandello House Museum, located approximately two and a half miles from the center of Agrigento, features a collection dedicated to the writer with letters, photos, awards, books, and other memorabilia on display.
Each year the Sagra del Mandorlo in Fiore takes place in the Valley of Temples in Agrigento. This joyful celebration is marked by folk dance and music. Today, it is not uncommon for musical folk groups from across the globe to come and share their gifts with the people of Agrigento, with the gorgeous Valley of Temples as a stunning backdrop.
As a whole, the intense natural beauty and shorelines of Sicily have made it attractive to the film industry over the years. While a number of films have been set amidst the beauty of this island of Italy, the Valley of Temples specifically located in Agrigento was famously captured in Francesco Rosi’s 1976 thriller Cadaveri eccellenti. Other movies filmed in the province of Agrigento include Il nome della legge (1949), Il cammino della speranza (1950), La sposa era bellissima (1986), Il giudice ragazzino (1994), and La scomparsa di Patò (2010).
Nineteenth and twentieth century mathematician Giuseppe Lauricella was born in Agrigento. Lauricella is best known for his research that contributed to the theory of elasticity.
The culture of Agrigento is best defined by the remarkable ancient Greek temples found in the city’s famous UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to the Valley of the Temples, a visit to Agrigento is worth the trip in order to admire the city’s historic churches and museums, and to follow in the footsteps of Agrigento native Luigi Pirandello.
It was wonderful. Definitely one of the best vacations we have ever taken. We spent 5 days in Rome, 5 days in Positano, 8 days in Sicily and
"Hi Tommaso, we are really enjoing the vacation of our lifetime that you make it happen! Thank you! Very much!"