Whether you first come upon the Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) in the early morning light, bathed by golden floodlights at night, or at its very best in February, when the valley is awash in the fragrant blossoms of thousands of almond trees, it's easy to see why Akragas (Agrigento's first name, under Greek rule) was celebrated by the Greek poet Pindar as "the most beautiful city built by mortals." One ticket covers all temples, and none of the plaques is particularly helpful.
Though getting to, from, and around the dusty ruins of the Valle dei Templi is no great hassle, this important archaeological zone deserves several hours. The site, which opens at 8:30 am, is divided into western and eastern sections. For instant aesthetic gratification, walk through the eastern zone; for a more comprehensive tour, start way out at the western end and work your way back uphill.
The temples are a bit spread out, but the valley is all completely walkable and generally toured
on foot. However, since there's only one hotel (Villa Athena) that's close enough to walk to the ruins, you'll most likely have to drive to reach the site. Parking is at the bottom of the hill, a distance of 2 km (1 mile) from the furthest temple. There are shuttle taxis (€10, not included in the price of entrance) that will drop you at the highest point of the valley, meaning that you walk back downhill, or you can walk all the way, taking in the temples at your leisure as you go.
The eight pillars of the Tempio di Ercole (Temple of Hercules) make up Agrigento's oldest temple complex, dating from the 6th century BC. Partially reconstructed in 1922, it reveals the remains of a large Doric temple that originally had 38 columns. Like all the area temples, it faces east. The Museo Archeologico Nazionale contains some of the marble warrior figures that once decorated its pediment.
The beautiful Tempio della Concordia (Temple of Concord), up the hill from the Temple of Hercules, is perhaps the best-preserved Greek temple in existence. The structure dates from about 430 BC, and owes its exceptional state of preservation to the fact that it was converted into a Christian church in the 6th century and was extensively restored in the 18th. Thirty-two Doric columns surround its large interior, and everything but the roof and treasury are still standing. For preservation, this temple is blocked off to the public, but you can still get close enough to appreciate how well it's withstood the past 2,400 years.
The Tempio di Giunone (Temple of Juno), east on the Via Sacra from the Temple of Concord, commands an exquisite view of the valley, especially at sunset. It's similar to but smaller than the Concordia and dates from about 450 BC. Traces of a fire that probably occurred during the Carthaginian attack in 406 BC, which destroyed the ancient town, can be seen on the walls of the cellar. Thirty of the original 34 columns still stand, of which 16 still retain their capitals.
Though never completed, the Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jupiter) was considered the eighth wonder of the world. It was probably built in gratitude for victory over Carthage and was constructed by prisoners captured in that war. Basically Doric in style, it didn't have the usual colonnade of freestanding columns but rather a series of half columns attached to a solid wall. Inside the excavation you can see a cast (not the original) of one of the 38 colossal Atlas-like figures, or telamones, that supported the temple's massive roof. This design is unique among known Doric temples, and with a length of more than 330 feet the building was once the biggest of the Akragas temples and one of the largest temples in the Greek world.
The Tempio di Castore e Polluce (Temple of Castor and Pollux) is a troublesome reconstruction of a 5th-century BC temple. It was pieced together by some enthusiastic if misguided 19th-century romantics, who, in 1836, haphazardly put together elements from diverse buildings. Ironically, the four gently crumbling columns supporting part of an entablature of the temple have become emblematic of Agrigento.
Right opposite the Temple of Castor and Pollux, facing north, the Santuario delle Divinità Ctonie (Sanctuary of the Chthonic Divinities) has cultic altars and eight small temples dedicated to Demeter, Persephone, and other underworld deities. In the vicinity are two columns of a temple dedicated to Hephaestus (Vulcan).
To the left of the Temple of Concord is a Paleochristian necropolis. Early-Christian tombs were both cut into the rock and dug into underground catacombs. At the end of Via dei Templi, where it turns left and becomes Via Petrarca, stands the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (Contrada San Nicola, 0922/401565 €8, €13.50 including temples Tues.–Sat. 9–7, Sun. and Mon. 9–1). An impressive collection of antiquities from the site includes vases, votives, everyday objects, weapons, statues, and models of the temples. Visit the museum after you've seen the temples.
The Hellenistic and Roman Quarter, across the road from the archaeological museum, consists of four parallel streets, running north–south, that have been uncovered, along with the foundations of some houses from the Roman settlement (2nd century BC). Some of these streets still have their original mosaic pavements.
Zona Archeologica, Via dei Templi, Agrigento, Sicily, Italy