Updated: Sep 5, 2020
Yesterday, I wandered the ancient site of the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento… It is a jaw-dropping experience!
There are temples to Hercules, Hera (Juno), Demeter and Kore, Zeus (by far the largest but now lying in fragments which have never been pieced together), amongst others.
The most impressive building, simply because it is the best preserved structure on the site, is known as the Temple of Concordia.
But this wasn’t just a place of devotion; it was a great and complex city, too. There is evidence of many homes, public spaces, burial grounds, and an intricate system of aqueducts fed from two diverted rivers, which supplied water for drinking, bathing, and the huge fishing pool.
Today, it is a beautiful, peaceful location, shaded by stunted olive and graceful pine trees, overlooking a grand vista of mountains on one side, and a wide panorama of the sea on the other.
Despite this, as I moved between the crumbling stones, marvelling at what I saw, I felt a faint but definite edge.
Perhaps it was just something within me. Perhaps a part of me recognised that there was something of a forlorn air about the delapidated monuments, a wistfulness to return to their former grandeur. Perhaps it was something more sinister, and totally out of place beneath that bright sky and sunlight.
I couldn’t shake the fact that those temples were founded on the blood and sweat of thousands of slaves; they were raised to Gods who were haughty, often cruel and cold; worship in those lofty spaces involved the ritual of animal sacrifices.
The city itself fell victim to a repeated cycle of attack, plunder and rule by a succession of covetous tyrants. It rose and fell, rose and fell with each tyrannical regime, the lives of its citizens carelessly snuffed out like the fragile flame of a candle.
Then the Christians came, and made their mark by turning the Temples into churches, followed by the Arabs and the Normans. By which time the old places had long fallen into disuse, claimed by the slow encroachment of time and a return to dust.
Rediscovered by C19th adventurers and antiquarians, the site is now a Mecca to tourists and archaeologists alike, and the past and its legends live on in our modern era.