Let's try a different route from the usual tourist trail
Archaeological sites, art & history, natural beauty
by Emma Ackerley
Founded by the Greeks around 528 BC, the Sicilian town of Agrigento represents the best of what Italy’s southern island has to offer. Combine the archaeological sites at Valley of the Temples, Agrigento’s historic city center shaped in time by the Roman, Byzantine, and Arab influences, and the unmatched natural beauty of the Agrigentan coastline with the area’s rich traditions of art, literature, folklore, food, and wine, and it’s no wonder Agrigento was to Greek poet Pindar “the most beautiful city of the mortals”.
While Sicily’s location on the Mediterranean sea means tourism peaks in the summer months, Agrigento has much to offer even in the off-season. Although it’s not warm enough to enjoy the water, the temperature rarely drops below 10° C (50° F), making it the perfect time to explore the area without large crowds or the summer heat.
Valley of the Temples
Set foot in the Valley of the Temples (La Valle dei Templi) and it’s easy to see why the archaeological ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site. Situated on the top of a ridge just outside the city are eight Greek temples and their ruins, including the Temple of Concordia, one of the best preserved Greek Temples outside of Greece itself. The best way to take in the true wonder and beauty of the historic site is to walk from one entrance to the other, a distance of about 2.5 km. At 230 meters above sea level, walking along the path gives you not only an up close view of the temples, but also a panoramic view of the sea and surrounding countryside and cityscape, including the almond groves that blossom from December to March.
Historic Town Center
Wander through Agrigento’s center and you’ll find a plethora of churches, ancient buildings, squares, courtyards, and historic streets that tell the town’s story, how history has shaped the area and its people. If you’re looking for a panoramic view of the Agrigentan coastline and Valley of the Temples, take a stroll down Viale della Vittoria, a pedestrian friendly street lined with benches that starts from Piazza Guglielmo Marconi near the main train station. In the other direction, you’ll see Porta di Ponte, a historic entrance to the city. From there, you’ll find Via Atenea, lined with shops, restaurants, and bars, which offers a great place to enjoy a meal, gelato, or explore the city’s nightlife. The center has something to offer for everyone. There are several churches, including the Monastery of the Holy Spirit (Monastero dello Spirito Santo), Church of San Pietro, Church of San Lorenzo, and the Cathedral of San Gerlando. Literature lovers will enjoy the Theater Luigi Pirandello in Piazza Luigi Pirandello at the end of via Atenea. The city’s architecture is also something to marvel at, as it’s a true reflection of the city’s multicultural history.
Scala Dei Turchi (Turkish Staircase)
Located in the western part of Agrigento near the town of Porto Empedocle, the Scala dei Turchi or Turkish Staircase is a white limestone cliff on the rocky coastline. Sculpted by the wind and the sea, it has formed the shape of a staircase from which, along with the fact that ancient Arab and Turkish ships would harbor at the site, it takes its name. The sharp white of the cliffs contrasts the deep blue and turquoise of the sea, making this destination a truly stunning representation of Sicily’s natural beauty and a must-see on your trip to Agrigento.
Even without the attraction of Sicilian beaches in the summer a trip to Agrigento in the off season will give you the chance to truly live the full Sicilian experience, from Archaeology and history, to city life, to the natural beauty of the island — all without the scorching summer heat and tourist crowds.