Sport in Akragas

Valley of the Temples

Springs and archaeological research

The Champions of Akragas
The remarkable sporting tradition of the ancient city of Akragas is shown in the enthusiastic praise of ancient sources, celebrating the Agrigentine athletes for victories in the Panhellenic games. Esseneto, champion in stadion, sprinting, one of the disciplines of the pentathlon at Olympia, was received with full honours on his return to the city, triumphant in a chariot drawn by white horses. In the early fifth century BC, Pindar, the Theban lyric poet and composer of victory odes for contests in Olympia, Nemea, Corinth and Delphi, celebrated Theron, the tyrant of Akragas, from whom he had received hospitality, with two Olympic odes for chariot victory. The stables of Emminidi achieved another prestigious triumph in Delphi and Corinth with Xenocrates, brother of the tyrant, extolled by Pindar with a Pythian ode and an isthmus. Earlier, in the first century BC, Virgil remembered Akragas as a “generous breeder of horses” for which, according to Diodorus, the Akragantines even erected lavish tombs. Attic black and red-figure pottery found in the Greek necropolis of the city shows many scenes of wrestling and athletes in the act of throwing the javelin or shot, or being cleansed with a strigil, iconography appreciated by the wealthy Akragantine clientele, who chose to be accompanied by these fine vessels in their final journey.

Ruins of the monumental altar of the Gymnasium

Detail of the exedra and the engraved seats of the Gymnasium of Agrigento

The Gymnasium of Agrigento
No archaeological trace remains of the buildings and spaces dedicated to sporting activity in the city of the Greek period. The only evidence of a building linked to fitness activities belongs to Agrigentum, that is to the city of the Roman period. The gymnasium dates from the Augustan age, built in a public area to the north of the Hill of the Temples. Of the building, remains were found of a porch, which was used for indoor gymnastics, aligned on a north-south axis, crowned by a Doric frieze with metopes and triglyphs and topped with a sloping roof. An exedra and a monumental altar for rites connected to the athletes' sporting preparation also remain, while at the northern end the remains of a large basin have been identified. Two rows of seats have also been found, each divided into two areas, distinguished by their armrests, arranged along an outdoor track, presumably used for races. The plaster that covered the surface of the seats still shows large tracts of Greek inscriptions, which recall the rule of Augustus, the flamen Lucio and the protective deities of the gymnasium, Heracles and Hermes. The use of Greek even in Roman times in official documents and public areas is a significant sign of the persistence of Greek culture in the ancient city. At the beginning of the fourth century AD, the area underwent a major transformation. The gymnasium facilities were obliterated by the construction of four buildings, one of which is circular, interpreted by archaeologists as warehouses or covered markets. In mediaeval times the area, now countryside, was occupied by commercial buildings. Around the seventh century AD, a winery was built and, in the eleventh century, two furnaces for the production of ceramics.   

Reconstruction of the Gymnasium

Engraved seat

Fragment of Greek inscription on one of the seats

Engraved seat

Detail of circular building from the fourth century AD

Building from the fourth century AD

Reconstruction of the buildings from the fourth century AD

Panorama of the gymnasium area

Winery from the seventh century AD

Winery. Detail of the wine collection tank

Furnace from the Middle Ages

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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