Agrigento: Temples, a Cathedral and Purgatory

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Agrigento is one of the most famous cities in Sicily, not because of the city itself but because of the ancient Valley of the Temples beside it. This UNESCO World Heritage site contains the best preserved Greek temples outside the Greek mainland, and visiting it is one of the unmissable things to do on holiday in Sicily.

The still-inhabited medieval town of Agrigento is also worth seeing. The ideal time to visit both places is winter: on winter holidays in Sicily you can avoid the roasting sun, and enjoy the vast temples of Agrigento almost on your own - an unforgettable experience!

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Sightseeing Tour of Agrigento

Map of a sightseeing tour around Agrigento
  1. Valley of the Temples - car park
  • From the Valley of the Temples to the parking deck in the city centre
  1. Parking deck
  1. Cathedral
  • Via Atenea
  1. Town hall

Reaching Agrigento by car

A rental car for your sicily holidays

Agrigento is connected to the rest of Sicily by two Strade Statali (major roads). The SS189 (blue line) leads to Agrigento from the north, whilst the SS115 (purple line) runs in from the west. We assume your first goal is the Valley of the Temples, whose car park is indicated by marker 1.

From there, the green line leads to another parking area on the southern edge of the old town (marker 2). This is the western end of Via Atenea, where the route through the old town to the cathedral also begins. The orange lines on the map above highlight the way back to the SS189 and SS115.

Reaching Agrigento by Train (Trenitalia)

Reaching Agrigento by Trenitalia

Trenitalia connects the main railway stations of Palermo and Catania with Agrigento Station (Agrigento Centrale, marker 13 on the map above). The trip from Palermo takes about 2 hours, whilst from Catania it takes about 3 hours and 40 minutes.

From Agrigento Central Station there is a bus which runs frequently to the Valley of the Temples. If you want to go to the inhabited town instead, it is a very short walk from the station to Piazzale Aldo Moro (marker 12).

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A bird's-eye view of Agrigento

A bird's-eye view of Agrigento

Valley of the Temples

Valley of the Temples Pin it

The powerful Sicilian stereotypes of sunshine and the Mafia sometimes distract people on their holidays in Sicily from the far more interesting stories the island has to tell. Did you know that Archimedes – one of the greatest mathematicians of all time - was Sicilian? Or that the fertility goddess Demeter played a very special role in Sicily?

These and other stories derive from the fact that Sicily was a part of ancient Greece for about 500 years, placing the island at the heart of European culture.

One of the most important ancient Greek cities was Agrigento: the sheer number and vast size of the temples built here is ample proof of that. Today the temples of Agrigento are one of the main attractions for holidays in Sicily.

Agrigento Cathedral

The Cathedral of Agrigento Pin it

The cathedral provides a good reason for visiting Agrigento in the winter. To reach the cathedral, you follow Via Atenea across the narrow streets of the old town, up a steep hill. At the top, the cathedral that greets you is, essentially, a massive tower.

If you have already visited a few other towns on your holidays in Sicily, such as Cefalu, this tower may give you a sense of déjà vu. The Normans built these solid churches, which often looked more like military fortresses, all over Sicily. Therefore it is not surprising that the cathedral is located on the highest point of the old town.

The Normans had, however, not realised that they were building on a geologically unstable piece of land. The cathedral is a restoration site at the moment and is not currently open to the public, yet it is still a "must-see" for holiday-makers in Sicily: its appearance and position make it well worth the climb through the old town.

The town hall, basilica and theatre

Agrigento - Town hall, basilica and theatre Pin it

If you come to Agrigento by car, and park in the area recommended above, the first attraction you will see is Piazza Luigi Pirandello. The north side of this piazza is dominated by the Town Hall, the Basilica of San Domenico and the Luigi Pirandello Theatre.

The Basilica and the town hall were once a single building, a Dominican convent. They were also connected to the theatre, which you can only enter via the front door of the town hall. Probably the most famous of all Sicilian architects, Giovanni Battista Filippo Basile, made his mark on Agrigento by designing this theatre behind the town hall at the end of the 19th century.

At this time, Agrigento was one of the richest cities in Sicily, and could easily afford a beautiful theatre. The countryside around Agrigento was full of sulfur deposits, which were mined and shipped all over the world to fuel the industrial revolution.

Ninety percent of the world's sulphur came from Sicily at that time. Suddenly, at the end of the 19th century, a new method of cracking crude oil produced sulphur as a by-product. Suddenly the world market was flooded with cheap sulphur, produced safely, and the Sicilian sulphur mines went bust. Agrigento lost its source of wealth, until the sun-starved northern Europeans started turning up for their holidays in Sicily instead!

Palazzo dell'Orologio

Agrigento - Palazzo dell'Orologio Pin it

In the middle of Via Atenea sits an unusual building. It looks a little out of place in Agrigento, as its style evokes the Gothic revival town halls of Munich and Vienna on a smaller scale.

This Palazzo dell'Orologio (The Clock House) was built as Agrigento's town hall in the mid-19th century. The Gothic Revival style, which was then very fashionable, can be seen most noticeably in the pointed arches of the windows and doors.

The name derives from an older building that stood on the same site. It featured one of the first public clocks in Sicily.

As we have already seen, the current town hall is situated in the former Dominican convent in Piazza Luigi Pirandello. The Palazzo dell'Orologio is now home to Agrigento’s Chamber of Commerce.

Piazzetta Purgatorio

Agrigento - Piazzetta Purgatorio Pin it

Not far away from the Palazzo dell'Orologio lies a small piazza with an evocative name. You may decide the name is really apt if you visit Agrigento in summer, instead of as recommended in winter, for "Purgatorio" means purgatory - and it really can be stinking hot here!

Fortunately there is a bar in the piazza with outdoor seating, offering the perfect place to relax on your well-deserved holiday in Sicily! The piazza bears the same name as the Church of Purgatory (Chiesa del Purgatorio). The church gained its name from the nuns who took care of the Anima Sola in purgatory.

On the subject of fire, you could be forgiven for thinking that the building next to the church is the centre for Agrigento's volunteer firefighters, but in fact it is a church. The façade of this former baroque church, the Chiesa di Santa Rosalia, was "modernized" in the 1950s.

Piazzale Aldo Moro

Agrigento - Piazzale Aldo Moro Pin it

If you use Trenitalia to get around during your holidays in Sicily, you will arrive at the main station of Agrigento. Proceeding from there towards the Old Town, the first place you will come to is Piazzale Aldo Moro, at the eastern end of Via Atenea.

The main gates into the city, called the Porta di Ponte, stood here. The gateway is still visible today, and marks the beginning of the Via Atenea. "Ponte" means bridge, which suggests there was once a moat here, too.

It was filled in during the 19th century to expand the city. Today, Piazzale Aldo Moro and a small park have taken its place. An important landmark, its bars invite you to take a longer break.

The bar is one of the focal points for Italian social life and for holidays in Sicily: there is probably nowhere better to observe the rhythm of Sicilian daily life. Enjoying a coffee and "cornetto" in a Sicilian bar every breakfast time is one of the simplest, yet most pleasurable, things to do for many a visitor during their holidays in Sicily.

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