Sicilia: Day 5—Agrigento (Greek) and Piazza Armerina (Roman)

Olive and almond trees

Olive and almond trees at the Valley of the Temples near Agrigento

Tuesday we waved goodbye to Palermo and headed south to Agrigento, on the central coast, to feast our eyes on the astonishing Greek temples still standing there after some 2,600 years. Gives me shivers! On the sunny two-hour trip we passed fields of persimmon and orange trees in bloom, olive trees (of course), almond trees, and barren fields of rich, black soil waiting for spring planting. Kate kept exclaiming that her father and her friend Bob, who were farmers, would be impressed with the good soil in the middle of the island. Small villages and the remains of old Norman and Arab castles and watch towers dotted the tops of the hills.

By the time we got to Agrigento, the sky was becoming cloudy, but that just added to the mysterious atmosphere of the Greek ruins. I was surprised to learn that an art exhibit was mounted among the ancient temples and thought that was a little strange, but that was before I saw Igor Mitoraj’s 17 enormous sculptures, which seemed to belong in Agrigento. The last day of the exhibit was the day we were there—lucky us! In the photos for this blog post, you’ll see a couple of the 67-year-old Polish sculptor’s sensational pieces.

Temple of Juno

Temple of Juno

The Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) is perched on a ridge below the city of Agrigento and above the surrounding sea-level pasturelands. To see the beautiful countryside, all I had to do was peek over the walls surrounding the temples. Of the seven remaining Greek temples, the most complete is the Tempio della Concordia (Temple of Concord), one of the best preserved Greek temples in the world. The Tempio di Giove (Temple of Jove), which was ruined by an earthquake, was the largest in the world.

City walls—also used as burial sites (photo by K. McKenna)

My right leg had been giving me fits since our daughter, Alison, visited in October, so I was elated when the leisurely tour began at the top of the hill and wound its way to the bottom. All of us enjoyed the relaxing walk, and the Valle dei Templi is one of the most impressive—and peaceful—sights that I’ve ever seen.

We ate our “light” lunch at a restaurant just below the Valle dei Templi. This was my least favorite lunch, but it was still outstanding, especially the selection of four dolci at the end of the meal. The most amazing thing about the lunch was the size of the restaurant, which could probably seat about 300 people in the large dining room and the enormous umbrella-covered patio outside. We were the only diners that day—in fact we were practically the only tourists everywhere we visited. We traveled at a perfect time of year for avoiding lines and snapping people-free photos.


The battle of the giants in the Triniculum (an enclosed large central square) in the villa

We then made our way about two hours east to Piazza Armerina to visit Villa Romana del Casale, which boasts 40 rooms with 37,600 square feet of some of the most colorful and best preserved Roman mosaic floors in the world. Unfortunately for us, but happily for the mosaics, much preservation work is in process at the villa, and we were able to see only five rooms. The villa was built by a wealthy patrician around the beginning of the fourth century AD, and the lively mosaics were made by craftsmen from North Africa. In the 12th century the villa was destroyed by fire and later buried in mudslides, so as astonishing as the mosaics are, the fact that we can see them at all is downright miraculous. That’s due to the discovery of the villa in 1950, based on reports from locals, thank goodness!

Note the original floor in the upper left corner.

Note the original floor in the upper left corner.

Although everything we saw at the villa took my breath away, the most famous room is the Sala delle Dieci Ragazze (Room of the 10 Girls), where maidens wearing strapless bikinis do different exercises. From 1,600 years ago! WOW! Unfortunately neither Kate’s nor my photos do justice to the vivid colors of the mosaics in the villa.

As we made our three-hour trip to our last hotel, in the resort town of Taormina on the northeast coast of Sicilia, the rain arrived. Poor Giuseppina had to drive the van while the rest of us nodded off, as we did every day—tired but thrilled to have seen such remarkable remnants of Sicilia’s multicultured past.

Weather = mixed but no rain until the end of the day. Company = outstanding! Food and drink = great! Agrigento = glorious, especially with the Mitoraj sculptures! Piazza Armerina = breathtaking! Total score = 7 of 5


Mitoraj sculpture

Photo by K. McKenna

The Temple of Concord

The Temple of Concord

Kate and Sue

Countryside to the west of the villa

Detail from the Hall of the Great Hunt

Detail from the Hall of the Great Hunt

Detail from the Hall of the Great Hunt

Detail from the Hall of the Great Hunt

Detail from the Hall of the Great Hunt

Detail from the Hall of the Great Hunt

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