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Published: February 24th 2018
A storm system moved into Sicily yesterday, bringing with it rain, chilly winds and generally miserable conditions. The visibility is so poor that the snow-capped peak of Mt. Etna, which is very prominent from our terrace, has been completely obscured from view. So the conditions for the tour we had scheduled for today--a visit of the Greek and Roman architectural treasures in and near the town of Agrigento--did not look at all promising. Most of the day's activities would necessarily take place outdoors, and it was raining cats and dogs when we embarked upon the 3-hour bus ride from Taormina at 7:00 this morning.
Our tour group size today was slightly larger (14) than the Palermo trip we had made earlier in the week, so the tour operator decided to use a full-size bus, which provided a more comfortable ride. We encountered rain and patches of fog throughout the long drive to reach the Valley of the Temples (the term "valley" is a misnomer; the site is actually located on a ridge outside the town), an archaeological site in Agrigento (ancient Greek name = Akragas
), on the south-central coast. It is one of the most outstanding examples of Greater Greece
art and architecture, and the park of the Valley of the Temples represents the largest archaeological site in the world, encompassing more than 3,200 acres.
Miraculously, by the time we disembarked from the bus with our guide at the site, the rain had stopped, although puddles and mud were the order of the day. Our first stop was the Temple of Juno, which was built in the middle of the fifth century BC (about the year 450 BC), and belongs to the Doric period with respect to architectural style. Signs of a fire which followed the Siege of Akragas by the Carthaginians in 406 BC have been detected, and long after that the temple was restored at the time of the Roman province of Sicily. It consists of six columns on the short sides and thirteen on the long sides (similar to its nearby “twin”, the Temple of Concordia). The temple's floor plan is around 115 ft. long by 50 ft. wide.
From the Temple of Juno, we walked the short distance to reach the magnificent Temple of Concordia, named after an unrelated Latin inscription found nearby. This temple was built in the 5th century BC, and measures
129 ft. × 55 ft. Turned into a church in the 6th century AD, it is now one of the best preserved in the Valley, and one of the finest examples of Greek temples of the Doric style. The Temple of Concordia was converted into a Christian basilica in the 6th century, dedicated to the apostles Peter and Paul by the bishop of Agrigento, and thus survived the destruction of similar pagan places of worship. As you confront this temple, it is difficult to comprehend how such a massive structure could have been raised, given the technology of the times; and, perhaps more amazing to contemplate, is the fact that it still stands proudly after almost 2,500 years!
We continued our walk, passing several remnants of the ancient protective wall that once constituted the perimeter of the site; a pen with endangered goats; several almond tree groves; and spotted the distant image of the oldest shrine in the complex (500 BC), the Temple of Heracles (Hercules), the only remains of which are eight columns, 33 ft. high, jutting into the air. Our last stop on the tour was the huge Temple of Olympian Zeus, which at one time was
Floor mosaic, Villa Romana
This must have been the "ass-spanking" room.
one of the largest temples in the Greek world. Unfortunately, today it is reduced to ruins due to destruction begun in antiquity, and continued through the 18th century, when many of the temple stones were used as a quarry for jetties at a nearby port.
At this point, after our 2-hour walking tour, we took a 1/2-hour lunch break at the site's snack bar before re-boarding the bus to reach our next destination, the Villa Romana del Casale, located 40 km. away just outside the city of Piazza Amerina.
The Villa Romana is a large and elaborate Roman villa or palace, with over 3000 sq. meters of mosaics and frescoes in an excellent state of preservation, due to the landslide and floods that covered the remains. Excavations have revealed one of the richest, largest and varied collections of Roman mosaics in the world. Although less well-known, an extraordinary collection of frescoes covered not only the interior rooms but also the exterior walls. The villa and artwork contained within date to the early 4th century AD.
We proceeded on a self-guided, 1-hour tour which leads visitors along elevated, covered walkways for viewing the mosaics that cover the floors
Villa Romana, circa 4th century AD.
throughout the expansive villa. As you can see from our photographs, the intricate designs, workmanship and state of preservation of these mosaics are stunning. The villa, which has a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside, was probably part of a large agricultural estate owned by a wealthy Roman with imperial connections. Excavation of the site began in the early 19th century, and restoration programs continue today. We both marveled at the mosaics on display, and the curious scenes which they portray are like a window into a way of life we could otherwise only imagine.
Dee's comments: Early rise and shine to rain and fog; met our tour director at the bus terminal; larger bus that felt more secure going around the curves and hills (passed through 16 tunnels today). With all the rain, we were wondering how we would slog through the ruins, but when we arrived, the rain stopped! More stairs, up and down, but well worth it--found this 'rock joint' very enjoyable!
On this second tour, we again traveled with a couple (partners) of girls from Berlin, along with a retired German man (kind of a character) with whom Mitch tried to practice his rusty
German-speaking skills (seeing as how we'll be in Vienna in a few weeks); inside the Roman villa, one of the women in our group let go with a rip-snorter, turned around and spotted me, then left the scene of the crime---LOL!
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