Archaeologists’ Secrets from The Valle Dei Templi

Rocco Forte Hotels

High on a mountain in Sicily, flanked by rocky outcrops and vast stretches of sky, is a perfectly preserved Ancient Greek temple. At the front, steps lead up to six huge pillars, as impressive today as they must have been when first built almost 2,500 years ago.

How was this temple so well-preserved, when many surrounding it are in ruins? Unearthing facts like these is the job of Maria Serena Rizzo, archaeologist at the Valle Dei Templi, one of the most exciting Ancient Greek sites in the world. 

Born and raised in nearby Agrigento, Rizzo remembers playing in the Temple of Concordia as a child, as well as climbing up the replica of the Telamon in the Temple of Zeus. She is interested not just in the aesthetic value of the sites, but in the stories that have been woven together through time in this historic region – from classical antiquity through the mediaeval period and into the present day. Here, she shares with us more hidden secrets of the Valle Dei Templi.

A fiery end

“We have been excavating the Classical residential district near the Temple of Juno and it’s revealed clear evidence that the city of Akragas (ancient Agrigento) was destroyed in 406 BC by the forces of Carthage. Beneath the collapsed roof, objects from daily life were found, abandoned by the citizens who were forced to leave their homes and flee quickly.”

A recycled temple

“The Temple of Concordia is one of the best-preserved temples in the Western Greek world. Its exceptional preservation is because of its mixed-use which allowed it to continue as a working building through the centuries: it was transformed into a Christian church by Bishop Gregory in the 6th Century AD. The church remained in use until the end of the 18th century.”

A gruesome legend

“The 6th century BC saw the reign of Phalaris, ‘the tyrant of Akragas’, infamous for his horrifying Brazen Bull. Devised by the inventor Perillos of Athens, this method of execution trapped the condemned inside a hollow bull over a fire, roasting them alive. Ingeniously, the bull was designed so the victim's screams echoed like a bull's bellow and the resulting smoke smelt like incense. This brutal form of punishment came full circle when, so the legend goes, Phalaris himself fell victim to it, overthrown by Telemachus of Agrigento.”

An Intriguing Discovery

“In 2016 we excavated the ‘Ancient Theatre of Akragas’. This Hellenistic theatre is a crucial piece of the archaeological puzzle, revealing not only the city's monumental character in Greek and Roman times, but also clarifying the ancient agora's layout. This find is even more exciting because it was something of a white whale to Alexander Hardcastle, the English naval captain who first excavated these sites. It is rumoured he drove himself mad in his doomed search to find it.”

An unwritten final chapter: your visit to Valle Dei Templi

"Visitor contributions are key for the Valley's conservation, restoration, and research so we love to see tourists. A three-day visit is ideal because it allows a comprehensive exploration of the lesser-known areas and the archaeological museum. 

However, if you only have one day, focus on the main route from the Temple of Juno to the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Divinities, as well as the Museum. Include the Hellenistic-Roman Quarter too. It will help you gain an understanding of the lives of the ancient Agrigentines."

Thanks to Maria Serena Rizzo. 

Verdura Resort in Sicily provides the ultimate blend of relaxation and culture. Situated close to Agrigento in the charming fishing village of Sciacca, our hotel team can provide a chauffeured service to guests wanting to visit this ancient site. Email or call +39 0925 9980 01.

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