Category Archives: Temples

I Templi della Valle dei Templi di Agrigento

Temple of Iside

Non si conoscono le preesistenze ellenistiche insistenti nell’area del terrazzo settentrionale dell’agorà superiore in contrada San Nicola, ma di esso è stata ben portata in evidenza la sistemazione di un’ara sacra iniziata in età augustea con modifiche attuate nel corso del I–II sec. d.C. Essa consiste in un triportico delimitante una piazza di m 60 x m 36, su cui si erge un tempio con podio. Il tempio, probabilmente dedicato alla dea Iside, si compone di cella e pronao ad avancorpo su podio. La lunghezza complessiva dell’edificio è di m 18,00 x 7,60; e l’altezza massima conservata relativa al basamento è di m 1,50. Al podio si accedeva mediante due rampe laterali di nove gradini contenuti tra l’aggetto laterale del muro nord del podio medesimo e il muro di spalla sagomato a volute. Probabilmente il tempio aveva una cella indivisa su basamento con pronao ad avancorpo più largo è aggettante sui lati e con sei colonne sulla fronte e due laterali. La trabeazione presenta un fregio dorico. Il triportico aveva un numero complessivo di 62 colonne a fusto liscio intonacato e due mezze colonne terminali. Il portico è largo m 4,80. Interessante è il blocco del fregio dorico del portico, costituito da metope alternate a triglifi, con l’inserimento di un elemento a rilievo liscio che, con un intervallo di due triglifi, si sostituisce al triglifo stesso. Portico e tempio sono di età tardo augustea-tiberiana; La costruzione dalle rampe laterali di accesso si pone nel corso del II sec. d.C. Il complesso monumentale è rimasto in vita sino oltre la fine del IV sec. d.C., finchè sopravviene il suo abbandono: avvenimento da porre verosimilmente in relazione con il sacco di Genserico del 440 d.C.

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Temple of Demetra

In the eastern part of the city, beside the steep slope at the edge of the Rupe Atenea in the valley of the river Akragas (which is now a stream called San Biagio), is the Temple of Demeter. This Doric style building (480-470 B.C.) in local calcarenite has a simple plan, with no colonnade and with a main rectangular cella and porch with two columns. The roof was decorated by lion-head-shaped drips for rainwater.

 

Part of the elevation of the temple was incorporated into the Medieval Church of San Biagio, while its foundations are still partly visible behind the apse of the church. Not far from here, there are two round altars with central wells, which at the time of discovery were full of votive offerings. On the terrace below the temple, outside the city walls, is the so-called cave Sanctuary which was also dedicated to the cult of Demeter. The temple was connected to the Rupe Atenea (the acropolis of the city) by a road (the carriageway of which is still visible on the bedrock), which dominated the monumental sector of the fortifications of the First Gate.

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Sanctuary oh the Chtonic Deities and Temple of the Dioskouroi

Demeter and Persephone, respectively mother and daughter, patrons of nature’s and humankind’s fertility, were called Chthonic or Earth deities by the Greeks. Their cult was so widespread in Sicily that the ancient authors defined the island as “Zeus’s wedding gift to Persephone” and Akragas as the “land of Persephone”.

In the western part of the Collina dei Templi (‘Hill of the Temples’) there was a vast sacred area devoted to the cult of these two divinities. This area was divided into three terraces that surmounted the Kolymbethra, the ‘wonderful pool’ built in the 5th century B.C. which collected the waters from a complex network of aqueducts. The study of the artefacts recovered in the sacred area has allowed archaeologists to reconstruct the religious rituals that took place in this area from the foundation of Akragas (in the 6th century B.C.) till Hellenistic times (4th-2nd centuries B.C.) and that were mainly practiced by women.

The devotees reached the sanctuary through the Fifth Gate and probably bought votive figurines in the ceramic workshops just outside the city walls. They would then reach the terrace to the east of the gate with their offerings, from where they would begin their procession by visiting the small temples, the meeting rooms and the portico. The cult continued in the adjacent terrace, where there were small temples, enclosures and altars for the celebration of animal sacrifices, which were carried out amidst chants and surrounded by a smell of incense. After the sacrifices had taken place, the meat would be cooked and eaten by all the devotees. The procession would finish in the westernmost terrace (occupied by few structures and platforms with statues dedicated to the goddesses) by chanting, dancing and placing votive offerings (such as vases, lamps or terracotta figurines) in holes dug into the ground and sealed with stones. A small terracotta head recovered in this area and dating back to the 7th century B.C. is the oldest evidence for the cult of Demeter and Persephone.

In the middle terrace there is a temple, traditionally attributed to the cult of the Dioskouroi, the north-western corner of which was entirely restored in 1836 by the Commission for the Antiquities of Sicily. This temple built in local calcarenite is in Doric style (480-460 B.C.) and had a similar layout to the other temples in Agrigento, with six columns at the front and back and thirteen along the sides.

The 19th century restoration has compromised its original appearance, because architectural elements of different ages have been used to reconstruct the temple, as the lion-head-shaped drips which were used even though they are Hellenistic in age.

A little further south from the Temple of the Dioskouroi is the so-called Temple L, the only surviving features of which are: its foundation trench, some of the cylinders of its columns and the ruins of a sacrificial altar.

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Sanctuary of Asclepius

Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine called Esculapium by the Romans, was venerated in Akragas in a large sacred area (mid-4th to 2nd centuries B.C.), which included many buildings for the cult and for therapeutic rituals. These rituals also took place at other sanctuaries devoted to Asclepius throughout the Mediterranean, where the devotees were mainly sick people.

According to a hypothetical reconstruction, the pilgrims would leave their carts and buy votive offerings in the buildings to the northeast of the sanctuary. They would then start the ritual and therapeutic procession with rites of purification near the fountain. The procession then continued by placing the votive offerings into wells and in the small temple (sacellum). This building consisted of two rooms: a porch (pronaos) and a cella with a central cabinet (thesaurus). The pilgrims would then visit the other buildings.

The temple is in Doric style and was divided into two rooms: a porch with two columns at the front and a rectangular cella, the back wall of which is characterized on its outer side by two grooved half-columns. On either side of the entrance to the cella, there were stairs leading up to the roof, decorated by lion-head-shaped gutters. In the porticoed buildings, on the western and northern side of the sanctuary, there were rooms for short stays and for treatment. In the northwestern portico there was a room called abaton, where the incubation ritual took place. This ritual consisted in sleeping in the abaton so that during a dream the vision of the god would either suggest a possible cure or miraculously cure the devotee. The presence of a large cistern and of an enclosure with an altar, opposite to the portico, suggests that other rituals were also performed here. It has been hypothesized, on the basis of pollen remains recovered during archaeological excavations, that trees were present between the buildings in the sanctuary. For this reason oak and olive trees have been planted between the ruins by the Park Authority.

Amongst the archaeological finds from the sanctuary are votive figurines portraying anatomical parts that devotees prayed Asclepius to cure or that had been ‘cured’ by the god. Many restorations have taken place since 1926, when thanks to the joint initiative of captain Alexander Hardcastle and Pirro Marconi, a country house built on the temple was demolished. The last interventions, under the aegis of the Park Authority with funding from the European Union (POR Sicilia 2000-2006), have been aimed at securing the static stability of the building and at conserving its stone blocks.

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Temple of Hephaestus

The Temple of Hephaestus, built in local calcarenite stone, is founded on a rocky spur to the west of the Collina dei Templi (‘Hill of the Temples’). It is separated from the Sanctuary of the Chthonic deities (‘Earth deities’) by the natural shear of the Kolymbethra (the “wonderful pool”, built in the 5th century B.C., which collected waters from a complex network of aqueducts).

The name given to this temple is only conventional, as it derives from the interpretation of a passage by a Latin author, which suggests that the Collis Vulcanius (‘Hephaestus’s Hill’) was in this area, probably because of the presence of sulphur springs. The building in Doric style (450-425 B.C.) is erected on a base (crepidoma) with four steps and it has six columns at the front and back, and thirteen along the sides. The columns have grooves with flat edges.

The interior of the temple was divided into three rooms: the central room or cella (in which the foundations of a smaller and more ancient temple of the 6th century are visible) was preceded by a porch (pronaos) and followed by a room at the rear (opisthodomos).

Numerous restorations have taken place to preserve this building, starting in 1928-1929 when some country houses leaning against the temple were demolished, thanks to the initiative of Alexander Hardcastle, a retired British army captain. The latest interventions, under the aegis of the Park Authority and with funding from the European Union (POR Sicilia 2000-2006), have been aimed at improving the stability of the building and at conserving its stone blocks.

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(Italiano) Tempio di Athena

Sulla collina di Girgenti, sorgeva un tempio dorico periptero, con
pronao ed epistodomo, risalente al 2° quarto del V sec. a.C.
la cui attribuzione ad Athena rimane incerta. Il tempio risulta
inglobato nella Chiesa
medievale oggi denominata di Santa Maria dei Greci, e di esso è ancora
visibile parte
del basamento e di alcune colonne della peristasi settentrionale e
meridionale,
incorporate nelle pareti della Chiesa, mentre sono andate perdute quelle
della fronte orientale e occidentale.

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Temple of Concordia

The Temple of Concordia owes its name to a Latin inscription with a dedication to ‘the harmony of the people of Agrigento’ found in its vicinity, albeit not associated to it.

The building, in calcarenite blocks, is in Doric style (440-430 B.C.) and is founded on a base with four steps; it has six columns at the front and back, and thirteen along the sides. The interior of the temple was divided into three rooms: a central room called cella was preceded by a porch (pronaos) and followed by a room at the rear (opisthodomos); both the pronaos and opisthodomos had two columns in front. On the sides of the door to the cella, there were stairs that allowed access to the roof.

The interior and the exterior of the temple were coated by white stucco with polychrome decorations. The twelve arches on the walls of the cella and the tombs in the floor are relicts of the transformation of the temple into a Christian basilica. The temple has survived so well because of these later modifications. According to the tradition, around the end of the 6th century A.D., the bishop Gregorius took seat in the temple and consecrated it to the Saints Peter and Paul, after having expelled the pagan demons Eber and Raps from the building.

The persistence of a double dedication has been taken as evidence for the original dedication of the temple to the Dioskouroi: Castor and Pollux. On the spur, west of the temple, there was a Palaeochristian necropolis (3rd-6th century A.D.) linked to the transformation of the building into a basilica and which included an extensive area with rock-cut burials (sub divo) and communal catacombs with individual hypogea destined to different families. On the eastern side of the temple, there is a series of arcosolium tombs dug into the rocky outcrop, on which the Greek period fortifications had been founded. Numerous restorations have been undertaken since 1788, when the Prince of Torremuzza directed the removal of the remaining structures of the Christian church.

The last restorations, under the aegis of the Park Authority with European Union funding (POR Sicilia 2000-2006), have been aimed at securing the stability of the building and at conserving its stone blocks

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Temple of Olympian Zeus

The Temple of Olympian Zeus, in local calcarenite stone, is one of the few sacred buildings in Agrigento that is securely attributed to the divinity to which it was originally devoted. This building is mentioned in ancient texts and it was the largest Doric temple in the western Greek world. Polybius (2nd century B.C.) refers to the temple in his historic text and says that it had not been completed. A later account by Diodorus Siculus (1st century B.C.) describes the temple in detail. This description is partly problematic, because it suggests that the temple was completed in 480 B.C., after the victorious battle over the Carthaginians in Himera.

Recent archaeological investigations have demonstrated that the plan of the temple is different from the plans of the Temple of Athena in Syracuse and of the temple in Himera, both of which were constructed after the peace treaty (480 B.C.). It is, therefore, probable that the planning of the temple and its construction started earlier, possibly at the beginning of the tyranny of Theron (488-472 B.C.).

The monumental ruins visible today are what survives of the destruction produced in ancient and modern times, when the stone blocks from the temple were used as building material. For example, in the 18th century the ruins of the temple were used as a stone quarry for the construction of the dock in Porto Empedocle (1749-63). This great temple was erected upon an imposing rectangular platform on which a large base (crepidoma) with five steps was placed. The last of these steps was double the height of the other steps, forming a kind of podium for the temple and rising it above the surrounding buildings. Instead of having an open colonnade (peristasis), the temple had an external wall with Doric half-columns (pseudo-peristasis), seven on the front and back and fourteen along the sides. On the internal side of the wall, there were rectangular pillars in correspondence to the columns. The interior of the temple was divided into three rooms: the central room called cella was preceded by a porch (pronaos) and followed by a room at the rear (opisthodomos). The rooms were delimited by walls with twelve alternating pillars. Some decorative elements of the superior part of the temple (trabeation) are present amongst the ruins. These decorations include fragments of the sculptured pediment at the front of the temple. According to Diodorus Siculus half of this pediment was decorated by a Gigantomachy, while the other half portrayed the scene of the Fall of Troy. Some of the most peculiar features of the temple are columns, about 8 metres high, which supported the entablature and which are shaped as colossal mythological figures called Atlases. These figures have often been interpreted as portraying the defeated ‘barbarian’ Carthaginians. About 50 metres from the eastern frontage of the temple are the ruins of a sacrificial altar with its monumental staircase to the level where the sacrifices took place.

Many excavations and studies have been undertaken, since the beginning of the 19th century, to reconstruct the original appearance of the temple. The latest project has been funded by the European Union (POR Sicilia 2000-2006) and entrusted by the Park Authority to the German Archaeological Institute (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut) in Rome.

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Temple of Juno

This temple was erroneously attributed to Juno (Hera) due to the incorrect interpretation of a text of a Latin author. It is built in local calcarenite stone and is erected in a dominating position, on the eastern extremity of the Collina dei Templi (‘Hill of the Temples’).

The temple in Doric style (450-440 B.C.) rests upon a base (crepidoma) with four steps and has six columns at the front and back, and thirteen along the sides. The interior was divided into three rooms: the central one called cella was preceded by a porch (pronaos) and followed by a room at the rear (opisthodomos); both the pronaos and opisthodomos had two columns in front. On the side walls of the cella there were stairs leading to the roof. The base with three steps below the cella is a later addition. Some stone blocks are reddened, which is probably evidence of the destruction of Akragas by the Carthaginians, who set fire to the city in 406 B.C.

On the eastern side of the temple are the remains of the monumental altar preceded by ten steps, which led to the level where the sacrifices took place.

The temple has been subject to many restorations starting in the 18th century, when the columns of the northern side were re-erected. The last interventions have been undertaken under the aegis of the Park Authority with European Union funding (POR Sicilia 2000-2006) and have been aimed at securing the static stability of the building and at restoring its stone blocks.

West of the temple is the Third Gate, only a few ruins of which survive to this day due to a landslide. The gate used to open obliquely to the line of the fortifications and was crossed by a carriageway, which is still visible. The defensive system, dating back to the 6th century B.C., was reinforced in the 4th century B.C. by the construction of a large tower, which survives in the form of collapsed rubble to the north-east of the gate and of the temple.

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Temple of Heracles

The Temple of Heracles has been attributed to the divine hero Heracles on the basis of a plausible testimony by Cicero. It is the most ancient temple in Agrigento, as its origin dates back to the end of the 6th century B.C. The building, in local calcarenite stone, is Doric in style and rests upon a base (crepidoma) with three steps; it has six columns at the front and back and fifteen along the sides. The interior of the temple was divided into three rooms: the central room called cella (or naos) was preceded by a porch (pronaos) and followed by a room at the rear (opisthodomos); both the pronaos and the opisthodomos had two columns in front. At the sides of the entrance to the cella, there were two stairways to the roof, which was decorated by drips for rain water, shaped as lion heads. To the east of the temple are the remains of a monumental altar. During the Roman period the cella was divided into three parts, probably because the cult of Heracles was associated to that of other two divinities. One of these could have been Asclepius, a statue of which was found in the modified cella

Numerous restorations have taken place since 1921, when, as a result of the initiative of the English captain Alexander Hardcastle, eight columns were re-erected on the southern side of the temple. More recent interventions by the Park Authority, with European Union funds (POR Sicilia 2000-2006), have been aimed at the conservation of the building.

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