The story of the trip to the Valley of the Temples

Grand Tour
Following the emotional wave provoked by the first sensational discoveries at Pompeii and Herculaneum in the mid-eighteenth century, a growing number of travellers from Europe came to Italy to admire the vestiges of the past. Thanks to the sensitivity of the Bourbon kings, the cities buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD were brought back to the light, along with their beautiful paintings, images of a world that was believed to have disappeared forever. The Grand Tour, the journey to discover ancient Italian sites, was a real cultural movement, which developed alongside the emergence of neoclassicism in literature and art. Antiquity dictated tastes and became an inescapable model of beauty and harmony. The offspring of the noble European families used this trip to complete their education, sometimes dangerous and exhausting, which could last for years. Certainly an experience full of emotion, in the name of learning and knowledge on the one hand, and in the name of escapism and delight on the other. Sicily was one of the preferred destinations, drawing visitors with the irresistible charm of its ruins. Sicilian monumental heritage also offered the unique opportunity to encounter Greek civilisation without having to face a dangerous trip to Greece, then under Turkish rule. Many travellers filled notebooks with their experiences of contact with antiquity, and sometimes accompanied their impressions with illustrations. Art students, engravers and painters offer valuable evidence through their 'ancient visions' of Italian artistic sites.

R. De Saint Non, Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royame de Naples et de Sicile vol.IV, Paris 1785. View of the Agrigento countryside.

R. De Saint Non, Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royame de Naples et de Sicile vol.IV, Paris 1785. Temple of Juno

G.M. Pancrazi, Antiquities of Sicily, Naples 1751-1752. Temple of Juno

R. De Saint Non, Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royame de Naples et de Sicile vol.IV, Paris 1785. Temple of Asclepius

Pancrazi, Giuseppe Maria. Antiquities of Sicily, Naples 1751-1752. Hypogea

R. De Saint Non, Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royame de Naples et de Sicile vol.IV, Paris 1785. Temple of Castor and Pollux

J.P.J.L. Houel, Voyage pittoresque des isles de Sicile, Malte et de Lipari, Paris 1784
Temple of Olympian Zeus

The Grand Tour in Agrigento
On the Sicilian journey, a stop in Agrigento, at the time still called Girgenti, was a must, earning enthusiastic praise from visitors, who dedicated wonderful paintings to Agrigentine monuments. In particular, the Olympieion with its telamons aroused great curiosity among the travellers, impressed by the size of the ruins of one of the largest temples. Among the images dedicated to Akragas those illustrating the work by the Parisian abbot Richard de Saint Non (1785), and those of the Voyage pittoresque (1787) by Jean Pierre Louis Laurent Houel, painter to the King of France, are particularly striking. The ruined temples are depicted in a lush landscape, often populated by shepherds with their goats. The monuments of ancient Akragas are portrayed with clear and decisive strokes by the engraver Salvatore Ettore, who illustrated the volumes of the Theatine Giuseppe Maria Pancratii in 1751.

R. De Saint Non, Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royame de Naples et de Sicile vol.IV, Paris 1785. Temple of the Giants of Agrigento

J.P.J.L. Houel, Voyage pittoresque des isles de Sicile, Malte et de Lipari, Paris 1784. The Oratory of Phalaris

G.M. Pancrazi, Antiquities of Sicily, Naples 1751-1752. Temple of Ceres

J.P.J.L. Houel, Voyage pittoresque des isles de Sicile, Malte et de Lipari, Paris 1784.
Temple of Castor and Pollux

J.P.J.L. Houel, Voyage pittoresque des isles de Sicile, Malte et de Lipari, Paris 1784

Andrea Pigonati, Present State of Ancient Sicilian Monuments, Naples 1767. Tomb of Theron.

Goethe
In his Italian Journey (1817), the German poet recounts his sentimental journey made between 1786 and 1788, and describes his intellectual rebirth in contact with history. He enthused about the valley in the spring dawn light: I've never seen in my entire life such a splendour of spring as this morning at sunrise... From the window we see the vast and gentle slope around the ancient city of gardens and vineyards; under the thick green a few traces of the great and populous districts of the long ago city can be glimpsed. Only at the southern end of this verdant and flowery slope rises the Temple of Concordia, in the east the few remains of the Temple of Juno; but from above the eye does not see the ruins of temples... instead it runs south towards the sea.

R. De Saint Non, Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royame de Naples et de Sicile vol.IV, Paris 1785. Temple of Concordia

J.P.J.L. Houel, Voyage pittoresque des isles de Sicile, Malte et de Lipari, Paris 1784.
Temple of Asclepius

J.P.J.L. Houel, Voyage pittoresque des isles de Sicile, Malte et de Lipari, Paris 1784.
Burial caves of the ancient city of Agrigento

R. De Saint Non, Voyage pittoresque ou description des Royame de Naples et de Sicile vol.IV, Paris 1785. Temple of Hercules

G.M. Pancrazi, Antiquities of Sicily, Naples 1751-1752. Aqueducts

G.M. Pancrazi, Antiquities of Sicily, Naples 1751-1752. The city from the east side

G.M. Pancrazi, Antiquities of Sicily, Naples 1751-1752

J.P.J.L. Houel, Voyage pittoresque des isles de Sicile, Malte et de Lipari, Paris 1784
Plan of ancient Akragas

Credits: Story

The exhibition was curated by Giusi Messina.
General Coordination: Giuseppe Parello, Director of Archaeological Park and Landscape of the Valley of the Temples.
Texts: Maria Serena Rizzo and Valentina Caminneci
Photos: Emanuele Simonaro, Fabio Florio, Angelo Pitrone.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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