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A Day of Temples: Selinunte and Agrigento

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We left our hotel on the outskirts of Palermo after breakfast and drove across the island on a new highway to the southern coast. This day was dedicated to the ancient Greek colonies on Sicily. We visited the temples and excavation sites of Selinunte and Agrigento - "lots of old rubble" to certain other participants on the tour. Yeah right. To the art historian it was a study of classical Greek architecture. It was a sunny day with a glorious blue sky that went well with the whiteish limestone of the temples, so the photographers were happy.

Selinunte

Selinunte used to be an ancient Greek colony on the south-western coast of the island. The old Greek-Latin name (Selinus, italianized to Selinunte) is used for the archaeological site but there is no modern settlement with that name. The Greek city was founded in the 7th century B.C. and stayed busy and thriving for about 400 years. It is located on a low hill above the coast between two rivers that brought freshwater. In the 3rd century B.C. it was ruled and inhabited by Carthaginians. The destruction in the 1st Punic War set an end to its history.

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The city had a large acropolis with various temples. The temple area is now an archaeological park. Eight temples have been preserved and excavated; since their patron gods are unknown they are, very imaginatively, named with the letters of the Alphabet: A to G and O (no idea why O not H for the eighth). In the run of the century the temples have collapsed in earthquakes and whatnot. You can see how the columns and architraves fell. One of them, the so-called Temple E, has been reconstructed by assembling the original pieces in upright position, so you get an idea of the size and outlines. Parts of the city are also excavated, and there is a little museum that presents archaeological finds from the site.

The ancient Greek ruins are said to be equal rivals to those in for example Athens, if not even bigger. I do not want to judge, though. No matter if you are after superlatives or not, they are large and impressive. We caught a fine sunny day with deep blue sky that contrasted with the whitish stone of the temples and the green vegetation in between.

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I also remember our local guide. The lady who did the German tours did not speak High German, but perfect Swabian dialect although she was 100% Sicilian. It turned out that she lived in Böblingen as a child because her father worked in a factory there; later the family returned home to Sicily. Becoming tour guides seems to be a frequent career for the children of the so-called “guest workers” of the 1960s and 70s, they make use of the language skills they acquired in their youth. It is not uncommon to encounter tour guides in Sicily who surprise their German-speaking groups with an unexpected dialect.

We then drove onwards along the coastline. Our lunch break took place by the road this time, somewhere near Sciacca. Our bus driver was well prepared. He had a large supply of food and snacks in the belly of his bus, including ten Hessian sausages the size of his lower arm that he sold portion-wise. Two brave people including yours truly even ventured for a quick dip into the Mediterranean Sea.

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Agrigento

The temples of Agrigento are lined up on a low ridge above the valley that divides the modern town from the ancient site. After Selinunte this was our second site with Greek temples in one day. So I don’t think we really did it justice. The temples of Agrigento are even better preserved respective reconstructed than those in Selinunte.

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The Concordia Temple most of all, it still has both gables and parts of the roof and looks almost complete. It was preserved this well because since the early middle ages the building had been used as a church. Only in the 18th century, when the era of classicism saw a rising interest in ancient Greek and Roman monuments, it was profaned and returned to its antique shape.

The local quarries provide ochre coloured limestone which gives the temples, the soil, and also the modern town its characteristic, predominant yellow-brownish colour.

At night the temples are illuminated. We stayed in a hotel in modern Agrigento and had the view over to the archaeological park from the terrace. This hotel had a beautiful garden full of mosquitoes which ate me alive...

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Posted by Kathrin_E 02:55 Archived in Italy Tagged sicilia

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:-) Like my Italian teacher. Ok, she didn't live in Germany as a child but later, when she gave Italian lessons. But her German is more of Bavarian than of German.

by Trekki

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