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.
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.
Dal terrazzo del tempio di Demetra, attraverso una scalinata incavata
nella roccia, si
giunge al sottostante santuario rupestre di S. Biagio (VI-V sec. a.C.),
monumento che per
la singolarità della sua struttura e l’oscurità della sua funzione
notevole interesse. Nella parete a picco dello scosceso crinale della
Rupe Atenea si
aprono due grotte, distanti poco più di due metri l’una dall’altra. Si
due cunicoli di larghezza varia (da m. 1.70 a m. 3.50), che si
parallelamente per un tratto di m. 8 per poi congiungersi mediante uno
e per divergere nuovamente l’uno verso Nord-Ovest, l’altro verso
Sud-Est. Le grotte
furono trovate piene di busti e di statuette fittili di divinità
(Kore-Persefone), collocati nelle nicchie, nelle sporgenze e negli
delle pareti di roccia ma anche vasetti, databili dalla prima metà del V
fine del IV sec. a.C.
Nella stessa parete di roccia, a m.. 3.50
circa dalla grande
grotta, è stato trovato lo sbocco di una galleria larga m. 1 ed alta m. 2
percorsa da un acquedotto che raccoglieva l’acqua di una sorgente,
l’esterno. Addossato alla parete di roccia, dove si aprono le due
grotte, si eleva la
struttura principale del complesso: un edificio a pianta rettangolare
allungata di (m.
12,30×3) in conci di arenaria squadrati, con le due pareti dei lati
lunghi Est e Ovest
inclinate all’interno, coronate da una semplice cornice. L’edificio
una doppia serie di aperture in corrispondenza delle grotte.
era diviso in due
piani, dei quali quello superiore era di passaggio alle grotte, mentre
serviva per la raccolta dell’acqua proveniente dalla galleria-acquedotto
grande foro praticato nell’angolo di Nord-Ovest. Al santuario si
accedeva attraverso un
cortile limitato da un muro di peribolo con pilastri sulla fronte, al
c’era un sistema di vasche comunicanti. Tale cortile presentava una
trapezoidale, che sembrerebbe derivare da un’originaria forma
rettangolare alterata per
rotazione verso Sud-Est del muro della fronte orientale a causa dello