Nestling among the wilds of the Sicilian landscape, the Valley of the Temples comes as a surprise. Sicily is unmistakeably Italian: we had explored hilltowns and Roman remains, and spent long evenings with Italian food and wine. But here we were, in a pocket of ancient Greece, surrounded by Doric columns and camera-toting Japanese tourists.
Classical Landscape of the Valley of the Temples
Most visitors are aware of Italy’s long history, but Sicily’s Greek legacy is less well known. The city of Agrigento was an important Greek colony in the 6th century BC, and this area has some of the best preserved Greek remains outside of Greece itself, becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
Much of the Greek heritage still lies underground, but the Valley of the Temples, just outside modern Agrigento, has been excavated and is one of Sicily’s main tourist attractions. The temples were partially destroyed by the Carthaginians, restored by the Romans and then damaged by a mixture of human and seismic activity.
Today you can walk among the remains of seven temples, all facing east towards the rising sun. This is in fact not a valley, but a ridge, and the temples are perched on the hillside, creating a dramatic classical landscape.
We left the tour groups to their exploration and went in search of another remarkable site, the Kolymbetra Garden, sunk into a basin in the Valley of the Temples. The basin was created for irrigation purposes and later planted by Arabic settlers. It became known as a place of beauty and reflection and throughout the centuries it has inspired Roman and Italian poets including Virgil and Pirandello.
For us it was a place of calm. We had the garden almost to ourselves and we spent some time wandering through the olive and citrus groves, admiring the freely growing cacti and succulents, and picking our way between ripe oranges and limes that had fallen to the floor.
But finally it was time to leave this Arcadian idyll. We bid farewell to the garden and the Greek ruins and went in search of some very Italian pasta for lunch.