Early Christian Agrigento

Valley of the Temples

At the end of antiquity

In 210 BC, at the end of a heavy siege, Akragas was conquered by the Romans. It took the name of Agrigentum, and from the end of the second century BC received some important public works, particularly in the central area of the city. From an urban point of view, these served to show that the city belonged to the Roman Empire. Among these, perhaps the most significant and best known from an archaeological point of view is a small temple on a podium, Roman-style, on the hill of San Nicola, which rose in the centre of a large colonnaded square. Although at this time it was no longer counted among the most important in Sicily, the city enjoyed a remarkable affluence, which can be seen by visiting the houses that occupy the three residential blocks highlighted in the 'Hellenistic-Roman Quarter' many of which are large, monumental and richly decorated. The prosperity of the city depended largely on resources that were produced in its hinterland, mainly agricultural products, grain, oil and wine, and the sulphur extracted in the mines of its territories. From the end of the fourth century AD, as in many cities in the empire, a profound transformation of the urban landscape began in Agrigentum which, over several decades, greatly changed the face of the city.

In the area of the Roman Temple recent studies have found traces of the use of the porticoed square for breeding animals. It came to be used as a rubbish dump where household waste was thrown away

Reconstruction of the Roman Temple

The Early Christian necropolis
Walking along the ancient walls of the city, we see a series of arcosolium tombs, consisting of a crypt crowned by an arch-shaped niche, and numerous small underground burial chambers, underground environments into which mortuary chests and arcosolium tombs were dug.


Grotta Fragapane 
One of the largest catacombs is the Fragapane hypogeum, the entrance to which consists of a corridor lined with 'sub divo' tombs, open air trapezoidal chest tombs (formae). The hypogeum, made up of a series of rotundas obtained from ancient Greek era cisterns, connected by corridors, is densely packed with tombs, which also occupy the rotunda floor and connecting corridors. Small hypogea and sub divo tombs are also visible in the garden of Villa Aurea. In addition, numerous formae are dug all around the Temple of Concordia, and inside the building, in its basement. In the ancient world, the spaces provided for the dead were completely separate from those of the living: in the Greek and Roman worlds, the walls that encircled the city also constituted the limit beyond which the burial areas stretched. In Agrigento, except for the few traces which can be traced back as early as the end of the third century, the expansion of the necropolis into the urban area took place mainly in the fourth and fifth centuries, and seems to have continued into the sixth, and perhaps even the next century.

It was only in late antiquity, particularly from the fourth/fifth century onwards, that burials began within cities.

Burials began within cities because of population decline, which left large uninhabited space that could be occupied by burials.

Another reason for burials within cities was the spread of Christianity, which introduced a new concept of death and the relationship with the deceased.

Transformation of the Temple of Concordia
At the end of sixth century, according to records, the transformation of the temple of Concordia into a Christian cathedral took place. Two series of six arches were opened on the cell walls and the spaces between the columns were closed with walls; the dividing wall between the cell and the opisthodomos or the rear porch was knocked down; and the entrance was repositioned to the west. It was thereby transformed into a three-aisled basilica, which was dedicated to Saints Peter and Paul. The biographical account written in the eighth century by friar Leonzio attributes the transformation to Saint Gregory (bishop).

According to the story, Bishop Gregory consecrated it after having chased away the demons who lived there, who were known as Eber and Raps.

According to Leontius, with the great necropolis and the church, the southern end of the city which had been the seat of the main temples in Greek times became the heart of the Christian city.

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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