After Palermo, we went south to a town called Agrigento. This town was recommended to us because it was supposed to be less touristy than Palermo, and more Sicilian. What we found when we got there did seem to be a little less touristy, but not much. It took about 4 hours of a train and bus combination to get to Agrigento and once we got there it was early evening. We could see that the town was within sight of water, but we didn’t know how to get to it. We put our bags down and asked a bus driver how to get to the beach. Jeff said “down into the valley?” meaning do you go down hill to the water. The bus driver said “yes, yes” and shuffled us aboard. Well, a few minutes later he stops at the main local tourist attraction and more or less yells at us to get off the bus. He had dropped us off at a place titled Valley of the Temples.
I didn’t have my camera, and we didn’t really want to explore the place just then, so we hopped on the next bus and went to the beach. The beach was of large coarse sand and the water looked really rough. We sat on the sand and relaxed, and booked a hotel for the next night in a bed and breakfast nearby. We then took a bus up the hill back to the bigger part of town.
The next day Jeff and I spent the morning exploring the upper part of town. Agrigento had been a prosperous, and wealthy town during the Greek empire, and has been fought over and claimed by many empires. Eventually the Roman empire was in control of the town, yet it kept its Greek language and roots. It is theorized that the town has been developed more on top of the hill due to the number of coastal raids the city was victim too. The population of the town is very small, at 59,136, which doesn’t compare to any notable city in the US.
During our explorations of the upper city we visited St. Lawerence’s Cathedral which was built in a baroque style. The amount of ornament in the church made that pretty clear though. There was an old lady wandering the church asking people for money, whether as a donation for the church of for herself, I don’t know.
The economy of Agrigento is mostly tourism, but it has a serious unemployment problem, as the unemployment rate is at 19.2%. After tourism, the mining of Sulphur and Potash is the next source of income. The mining of these materials has been happening for centuries.
As we continued around the city, we found lots of stray cats. Some afraid and some very friendly. One in particular seemed to actually smile while we petted him. We couldn’t help but photograph him and then later some kittens being cute and kitten-like.
About midday we made our way to the beach to check into our bed and breakfast, but we kind of messed up on the buses and ended up going to the end of the route and back… getting off at the Valley of the Temples. We decided to explore the valley now, with our bags, rather than try to figure out the buses again later. The Valley of the Temples is not actually a valley, but despite that it is an impressive example of Greek art and architecture. Most of the restoration was funded by an individual in 1801-1812, not by the city or by Italy, but just the motivation of one person. He may of been the Duke of Serradifalco, but still, very inspiring.
The Valley has seven temples in it, in about a 400-800m distance. All of the temples are in a Doric style, which mainly refers to the pillars. Some of the Temples were at one point completely destroyed, by natural forces. The Duke is who put them back together. The pillars are made of pieces of stone, and have holes or extruding parts in order to keep them aligned and in place. Another technique was to have a hole completely through the piece of the pillar, and a piece of wood through the center to keep them stable.
The Temple of Concordia is one of the best remaining examples of Greek architecture today. The temple was changed into a church at some point, and a wall was added to the structure, and pagan alters were removed.
Across the road from the temples, more archaeological searching is continuing. There was at one point a Temple of Zeus, but much of it has been lost. One of the remaining bits of it has been a statue of Atlas that may of been an artistic means to hold up some of the structure. The tallest part of the laying remains is about 8 feet (2.5 meters) tall, and is impressive to stand beside. It is a huge pieces of art, complex because it had to of been built in pieces, and this is for one pillar out of several I’m sure.
After the valley of the Temples, Jeff and I went to the bed and breakfast and checked in. We decided to go for a swim because despite high winds in the Valley of the Temples, we were sweaty, and a dip in the ocean seemed appropriate. The beach was blocked by large rocked, which the waves splashed against with forceful roars. Sometimes though, a gap in the rocks made a pool, but the pool was still mostly protected. Basically, it was like a natural(ish) wave pool. We threw a frisbee around (difficult in the wind) and laid out while being propelled with the waves trying to catch it. We exhausted ourselves until about an hour before sunset, showered, and headed for dinner.
During dinner we met with an adorable Canadian couple, named Sal and Susan who after our meals joined us for a bottle of wine. Sal was born in Sicily and then moved to Canada, where he cut hair and eventually met Susan. We shared stories and talked about politics for hours until we finally had to call it a night. I am surprised we don’t meet other people more often, we hear English being spoken often enough, but we rarely feel comfortable approaching them, or more often, we don’t feel the need to talk to them. Generally we are content in our own company, but that seems like missed opportunities. To me, I feel like it is the risk of a failed conversation, the awkward silence where we don’t know what else to say. Funny how silence can be awkward or comfortable, depending on who you’re with.
The next day we headed back to Messina to catch a night train to Rome. The bus made me nauseous, so I missed the beautiful country side. Then the train was an absolute nightmare, and I couldn’t sleep well at all. Mostly the reason was noisy Italians, who wanted to sleep with the light on, and the car being stifling hot, but opening the window being insanely loud. Anyhow, in order to get across the water from Sicily to the mainland, they put the train on a ferry. Yup, put the train on a ferry.