Agrigento is the home to Selinunte and the famous Valley of the Temples, names that resonate throughout Sicily with the magic of the ancient civilisations that left their mark on this island. The region is considered to be the home of the most impressive ruins in all of Sicily, an awesome assortment of magnificent, crumbling places of worship that have looked out over the changing face of the island for thousands of years. Selinunte itself is the largest archeological park in the Mediterranean with an acropolis that holds its own against even any of the treasures of Greece.
It was, of course, the Ancient Greeks that founded Agrigento in 581 BC. It was initially called Akragas and due to the fact that construction took place at the site of an excellent water supply, the city expanded at a rapid rate to become one of the most notorious cities of the Mediterranean. By the 5th century BC, the city’s hedonistic population had tipped 200,000. Frozen in time despite changes in rule, Agrigento did not experience much change until the bombings of World War II which decimated much of the once-beautiful city. Fortunately, a portion of the medieval old town remains and is well worth a visit.
The highlights of Agrigento are without a doubt the mesmerising sites of Selinunte and the Valley of the Temples. Selinunte is situated to the west of the city, a sprawling collection of monuments set high on an atmospheric plateau enjoying panoramic views of the sea. The latter, a UNESCO world heritage site, is not perched in a valley as the name suggests, but up on a ridge to the south of the town centre. The distinctive Doric columns of the temples create an imposing site, silhouetted against the sky.
As well as these fine archaeological experiences, Agrigento is ideally located in the heart of Sicily’s south-west, a short journey from the glittering seas, golden beaches and picturesque seaside towns that make Sicily such an idyllic holiday destination.
This parade of ancient temples, dedicated to and named for the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece, attracts over 600,000 visitors every year. Built over the period between 510 BC and 430 BC, the eight beautifully-preserved temples are named for the Greek gods and goddesses of the time. These monuments as well as the numerous other ruins of the park are a designated UNESCO World Heritage site and offer dazzling views out over Sicily and the sea.
The ruined city of Selinunte is the number one excursion for visitors exploring this region of Sicily. Located to the west of Agrigento, this huge archaeological park is comprised of temples, an acropolis, ancient walls and many areas that are yet to be excavated. It is advisable to allow at least 3 or 4 hours to explore the ruins and to pack a picnic, water and sun protection.
This town was sacked and conquered by the Carthaginians in 409 BC, an attack which brought Selinunte to its knees and turned much of the landscape into rubble. The grand temples and sacrificial altars might initially appear to be the most impressive feature of Selinunte, but the remnants of the town with its ruined houses and shops painting a picture of ancient life make an equally captivating sight.
The modern tower-blocks and motorways of Agrigento are unlikely to deliver a sight worth writing home about. However, there is a bustling medieval heart to the town, situated around the Via Atenea with its boutiques and places to eat and drink. Twisting lanes and alleyways spiral into shady piazzas throughout this historic quarter.
Look out for the Cathedral of San Gerlando with its beautifully painted roof as well as the baroque Church of Santa Rosalia and the marble lion that guards the entrance to the Purgatory Hypogeum, a web-like maze of tunnels that span out beneath the city. Explore the Piazza del Municipo, a large square where you will find the charming, 19th century Piranello Theatre and the town hall, behind which are many more alleyways to discover.
The fishing village of Marinella di Selinunte makes for a refreshing trip after the dusty heat of Agrigento’s archaeological offerings. A charming seaside village, Marinella di Selinunte is perfect for a short break, offering a getaway filled with the simple pleasures of golden sands, seafood suppers and dreamy sea views.
Due to Agrigento’s position in the midst of the countryside, within close proximity to the stunning south-west coast, the range of Sicilian food on offer encompasses both fresh agricultural produce and the delights of the deep blue sea. Mediterranean antipasti including artichokes, anchovies and olives are an excellent way to start your meal whilst the stuffed variations of pizza make a filling and irresistible treat. Cavateli, a pasta of tomatoes and aubergine, is popular, as are roasted and barbecued meats, usually served with the vegetable preparation, caponata.
From the exquisitely prepared Sicilian specialities at La Posata di Federico II to the atmospheric interiors of Kalos, perfectly reflecting the traditional food, you certainly will not go hungry in Agrigento. Additionally, drop by Enotria for a delectable wine tasting experience in an authentic and charming restaurant.
Here at Sicily4U we have hand-picked a collection of self-catered villas in Seliunte that enable you to relax in a comfortable property throughout your holiday. Unlike a stay in a hotel, self-catered accommodation offers more space, privacy and the option of setting your own timetable, just as you would at home. A stay in Agrigento or Selinunte offers access to world-class archaeological wonders just a short distance from beautiful beaches and shimmering waters.
Most travellers visiting Agrigento and Selinunte catch the hourly train from Palermo (two hours) or the bus from Catania, Palermo, Syracuse or Caltanissetta. There is also a bus service running from Trapani to Agrigento (four hours) which makes a stop at Trapani airport.
To reach Selinunte, there is a bus running between the park and Castelvetrano (30 minutes), a town which can be reached by train on the line that runs between Trapani and Palermo. Alternatively, hire a car for the journey. The park is open from 9am-5pm daily in winter and 9am-7pm in the summer months. Visitors with mobility issues can take advantage of the electric train service which ferries passengers around the park with ease.