“Akragas”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_two/two_one/index.html was once the fourth largest city in the ancient world. Not only did it include the “Valley of the Temples”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_two/two_two/index.html , it also extended up to the ridge now occupied by the modern city of “Agrigento”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_two/two_four/index.html , as well as to the east. It was huge and surrounded by a wall 12km in length.
The area was first settled around 582BC by Greeks from Rhodes and Crete and was named Akragas. It was a very fertile area and close to the sea with a natural harbour at the mouth of the river, on one of the most important trade routes in the Mediterranean, trading in grain, wine and olive oil. It had a population of around 300,000. The city was attacked by the Carthaginians in 406BC. The red colouration on some of the stones of the temples is a result of fire damage.
The city fell to the Romans in 210 BC who gave the temples the names of Roman gods and renamed the city Agrigentum. The Romans encouraged farming and trade and the city flourished and became an important commercial centre. After the fall of Rome, the city came under Byzantine rule, The temples were either destroyed or converted into Christian basilicas. Most of the inhabitants moved to the top of the ridge to the site of the present day city of Agrigento. The city was overrun by the Saracens in the C9th and eventually came under Norman rule in the C11th.
Parts of the wall which surrounded Akragas can still be seen in places along the south side of the site. This was used for Christian burials in the C6th, when large cavities were carved into the wall.
There is another partially excavated early Christian cemetery between the Temple of Concordia and Temple of Hercules. Bodies were buried in the foetal position to save on space.
Much of the city with its streets, houses and amphitheatres is still unexcavated. The remains of the agora used for public meetings can be seen outside the “Archaeology Museum”:http://wasleys.org.uk/eleanor/otherholidays/sicily/day_two/two_three/index.html . This stood on one of the important east west thoroughfares through the city.
To the west of the Archaeological museum is the Ekklesiasterion and Phalaris tomb. The semicircular Ekklesiasterion was built between the C4th and C3rd BC and was used as a meeting place by Greek citizens and could hold 3000 people.
Phalaris was a C6th BC ruler of Akragas who was responsible for the rapid growth of the city. He was also renowned for his cruelty and his victims were placed inside a huge bronze bull that was then heated over a fire. The screams of the victims made it seem the bull was bellowing with rage.
The ‘tomb’ was erected around 100BC and still has some of its protective white marble stucco. It was probably that of an important Roman family. It has survived as it was used as a chapel in Norman times.
There are other unidentified remains scattered around the hillside below the modern town of Agrigento.
The word ‘imprssive’ hardly begins to describe Akragas.