The Cultural Landscape

Valley of the Temples

Where nature meets the genius of man

Archaeology and nature 
Because of the archaeological monuments and agricultural and natural landscape that it contains and preserves, the Valley of the Temples has been named a UNESCO 'World Heritage Site', which not only confirms its extraordinary cultural value but also reinforces the belief that it constitutes a valuable resource in terms of cultural landscape, the expression of a dynamic interaction between man and nature, and evidence of a long and uninterrupted evolution (Barbera, Rose, 2000). The creation of a Park of the Valley of the Temples openly called 'archaeological and landscape' under Regional Law 20 of 2000 confirms the increased awareness of the values of the Valley and its landscape. According to the classification proposed by Meeus (1995) for European agricultural landscapes, this is attributable to the type of 'mixed cultivation': on the best flat or sub-flat lands, the almond and the olive prevail over arable crops and vines, while carob, pistachio and prickly pear are present in the poorest ground or with outcroppings of rocks. In areas where the availability of water resources is greater, there is no lack of 'gardens' of irrigated citrus trees and orchards. Also important are the strips of scrubland, of rupicolous and riparian communities on certain stretches of the rivers. In recent years, the landscape has also been enriched by areas of reforestation, mainly with pine and eucalyptus trees.

Mediterranean scrub with wild olive and dwarf palm on the ruins of the Temple of Jupiter.

An extraordinary combination of nature and archaeological remains.

'Landscape of delights, a true Eden' 
The landscape of the Valley is the result of nature meeting the genius of man, of the slow evolution of the relationship between nature and culture, of a collective project which has shown the necessity of working with the resources available and the characteristics of the environment. A traditional agricultural landscape whose foundation seems very distant: in 480 BC, Diodorus was already reporting the presence of vineyards “of exceptional size and beauty” and “olive trees, whose abundant production was destined for Carthaginian trade...”. The agricultural success of the Agrigento region is underpinned by its fertility, a feature that caught the attention of Al-Idrisi, the Arab geographer at the Norman court, who in 1138 visited the city perched on the hill which “possesses  orchards and lush gardens, as well as a wide variety of fruit products... Many are its gardens, well known are its commodities”. This is confirmed in the reports of those who made the Grand Tour travellers who, having travelled for the archaeological remains, discovered rich farming in a landscape of extraordinary fertility (Barbera, 2003). For J.H. Von Riedesel (1767), “the slope of the city down to the sea ... is covered with vineyards, olive trees, almond trees .. of all the production that the earth can administer, planted alternately with the prettiest varieties... it is a landscape of delights, a veritable Eden”. Swinburne, baronet from an ancient Catholic family who visited Agrigento in 1777, wrote: 'the ruins of the ancient city are clearly visible amid groups of beautiful evergreen trees and flowering almond trees... to which only the magic touch of the Creator could do justice”. In 1794, Friedrich Leopold, Count of Stolberg, from an aristocratic Danish family, a friend of Munther and Goethe, found in Agrigento the ideal atmosphere for his tastes as poet, scholar and lover of the classical world. The Valley, he wrote, "is divided into fertile fields ...  the fruits are all excellent in their species ...  The almond cultivations are just as extensive, and the almonds are eaten while still unripe, seeming to me much tastier than when they are ripe; also, they are also very healthy. Olive trees and fertile cornfields delight the eye in every direction”.

“A thick grove of lemons and ... in this is the premonition of the gardens of paradise”.
Jünger 1929

The irrigated arboricultural landscape and an old rural house, once inhabited by the tenant farmers who took care of the citrus fruits.

The picturesque landscape of the limestone walls with interesting strips of Mediterranean scrub and naturalised flora.

The 'Saracen olive trees'
Together with almond trees, the huge 'Saracen olive trees', as mentioned by Pirandello in his novel 'The Old and the Young', constitute the “forest of almond and olive trees” of the Valley, giving rise to ”groups of wonderful trees. ..  which only the magic touch of the Creator could do justice”, as English writer Henry Swinburne wrote in 1777. The grafting of wild olives, or the more ancient techniques of propagation, may have given rise to the olive trees of the Valley, classified today as 'monumental', due to a culmination of centuries of stories, legends, rites, and the sacred value of the species . “Trees not to the measure of human life and which therefore have something to do with faith and religion”, wrote Leonardo Sciascia, referring to some Sicilian olives. The age of these trees is considerable, but impossible to determine. From the clusters of buds that form the globular shapes found at the base of the trunk, they continuously form new trunks that overlap over the centuries. This way of growing is at the origin of the twisted shape and of the millenary survival of the trees which Pirandello called 'Saracens'. Along with the almond trees, they remain with their extraordinary shapes and sizes, as witnesses to the slow passage of time.

Monumental olive tree in the Valley with an extraordinary shape and size. It is registered in the Catalogue of Monumental Trees of Sicily.

”Trees not to the measure of human life and which therefore have something to do with faith and religion”' Leonardo Sciascia.

”It looked like an artificial tree, from theatre, born from the imagination of a Gustave Doré, an illustration for Dante's Inferno”.

'Excursion to Tindari', Andrea Camilleri.

The most representative plants
The cultural landscape of the Archaeological and Landscape Park of the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is the result of an encounter between natural characteristics and the genius of man, the slow evolution of the relationship between nature and culture, of a collective project that has measured the need to produce using the available resources and the characteristics of the environment. According to the classification proposed by Meeus for European agricultural landscapes, it can be attributed to the type of 'mixed cultivation': on the best flat or sub-flat lands, the almond and the olive prevail over arable crops and vines, while carob, pistachio and prickly pear are present in the poorest ground or with outcroppings of rocks. In areas where the availability of water resources is greater, there is no lack of 'gardens' of irrigated citrus trees and orchards. Also important are the strips of scrubland, of rupicolous and riparian communities on certain stretches of the rivers. In recent years, the landscape has also been enriched by areas of reforestation, mainly with pine and eucalyptus trees. Using data and images, this section will illustrate the most representative plants of the park, describing their origins, the etymology of the names, botanical characteristics, classical myths, curiosities and uses in folk tradition.
Sweet orange
Arriving in Sicily in the sixteenth century, it first appeared in mixed gardens, then in specialised gardens. There are sweet pulp and sour pulp varieties, and, in terms of colour, blond and different blood oranges, many of which are present in the Kolymbethra garden. In Sicily, because of their utility and beauty, citrus groves are called 'gardens'. 

Detail of the sweet orange inside the Garden of Kolymbethra

Bitter orange
Originally from East Asia, it was brought to Sicily by the Arabs at the end of the ninth century AD. It appeared in Arab-Norman royal gardens thanks to the beauty of its fruits, from which syrups, juices, jams and candied fruits were made, as well as the intense scent of the orange blossom from which essential oils were extracted, and the medicinal properties of the bark. It then spread into the Sicilian countryside as rootstock for sweet oranges, present on the island since the sixteenth century.
Black mulberry
A native Oriental plant, but which has spread throughout the Mediterranean. It can reach a height of 10-12 metres and an average age of over 100 years. The Latin name 'Morus' comes from the Celtic 'mor', meaning black (colour of the fruit). The Romans called it 'morus celsa' or dark top, to differentiate it from the low-lying blackberry. It was already known in the ancient world for its medicinal virtues. Pliny says that among the Romans, when worn, the unripe fruit of the black mulberry would stop bleeding, while mature ones mixed with honey, myrrh and saffron, were recommended for combatting a sore throat and stomach upset. Latin poets such as Pliny and Horace speak of this plant, and it is found depicted in the paintings at Pompeii. Its false infructescenses, called 'berries', are a unique feature and ripen in August-September: purple-black, shiny, fat and juicy, with a sweet and sour taste. The berries are used either as table fruit, or as components of desserts and garnishes. Mulberry granita (ice slush) is well-known.

Mulberry tree

Almond tree
It is native to the mountainous regions of Central and Western Asia. In Sicily it seems to have been present as early as the fifth millennium BC. In Egypt, almonds accompanied the eternal journey of the Pharaohs. The Romans appreciated them greatly, calling them 'nuces grecae' indicating what they thought to be their real origin. In Greek culture, the almond tree is linked to the myth of Phyllis and Acamas, becoming a metaphor of life that returns, of hope that is never lost. The almond tree, which blooms in the middle of winter – from December to March – with colours ranging from pure white to various shades of pink, is one of the elements that fed the myth of the eternal Sicilian spring. Together with the olive, they give life to the Valley's “forest of almond and olive trees” as Luigi Pirandello defined the dry landscape of the Valley of the Temples in his novel 'The Old and the Young'. The fruits are used in pastries and in the preparation of 'almond milk'. Oil is extracted from almonds, and its virtues, both medicinal and cosmetic, have been famous since ancient times. At one time the husk was used after incineration for the production of paste soap or as a fertiliser.
Carob
A species from Asia Minor, which has spread across the Mediterranean basin. As demonstrated by the Arabic origins of the name (charrùba), it was introduced in Sicily during Islamic rule. It is long-lived and slow-growing. In the Christian tradition, the Carob is associated with the Bread of St. John because, according to legend, John the Baptist ate only the fruits of this plant. The pulp of the fruit, sweet and nutritious, constituted an important part of the food of rural populations, right up to the post-war period. A protein-filled bread called 'bread of the poor' was made from carob flour. The seeds, shaped like lentils and considered to all be the same weight, were used as units for weighing gold; it is from their name - quirat in Arabic - that the term karat is derived.
Common fig
A species native to western Asia, from where it spread to all the countries of the Mediterranean. Together with wheat and olives, its fruits were the first foods of Mediterranean civilisations. The fig tree has been present in myths and legends for a long time. It was a sacred plant to Bacchus, whose image carved in fig wood protected fields and crops. Together with olive and vines, it is one of the trees most frequently mentioned in the Bible. In ancient Egypt it was a symbol of knowledge of mysteries. In Asia it is a symbol of male fertility, symbolising the power of life and the seat of elementary spirits. It is sacred to Hindus and Buddhists as a symbol of knowledge and truth: in fact, the Buddha gained enlightenment under the branches of a fig tree. In Islam, the fig tree is called the 'Tree of Paradise', and in the traditions of Oceania the 'Tree of Life'. It is said that the basket containing Romulus and Remus, destined to die carried by the current of the Tiber, ran aground miraculously in a muddy creek, under a wild fig. The ancients used 'fig milk' for the treatment of dermatitis, toothache and warts.
Prickly pear
The prickly pear has Aztec origins, and for the first conquistadores to penetrate the Central American forests, it appeared to be the “wildest and ugliest” plant of the new world, a kind of alien compared with the thousands of species that made up European flora. After a while, however, the prickly pear made a breakthrough and colonised Mediterranean agriculture, left the court gardens where it was exhibited as an eccentric phenomenon and became an element of the Sicilian landscape. The Sicilian peasant tradition knows many uses of its fruits alternative to its consumption fresh, as an extract for a syrupy liqour, mostaccioli pastries and 'mostarda'. At one time, the succulent convex cladodes were used as primitive bowls during meals. In 1891, a French traveller wrote: “With twenty prickly pear... a Sicilian can find a way to breakfast, lunch, dine and sing in between”.
Lemon
Native species of the southern Himalayas, it was known in China and India and in Mesopotamian civilisation for its antiseptic, anti-rheumatic and tonic qualities, and was considered sacred in Islamic countries, used as an antidote against poisons. The ancient Egyptians used it to embalm mummies and often placed it in tombs with dates and figs. Greek mythology has it that Arethusa, daughter of Hesperia, was guardian of the garden of the Hesperides, where beautiful trees grew, a symbol of love and fertility that tradition specifies as citrus fruits. Bringing these fruits as a gift to Zeus, Hercules achieved immortality. The lemon was brought to Sicily by Arabs in the late ninth century AD. The origins of the name derive from the Persian (لیمو Limu). Among the citrus fruits it is the species which flowers most often, which means that, during the year, flowers and fruits alternate continuously. 
Pomegranate
It is a species native to western Asia. In Mediterranean countries the pomegranate has been cultivated since ancient times for its therapeutic virtues and the beauty of its flowers and unique fruit: the interior contains many prismatic-shaped seeds, surrounded by translucent red fleshy pulp. It is one of the plants richest in myths, legends and symbols. Sacred to many goddesses, especially Aphrodite, who, according to legend, planted it for the first time on Cyprus, the island dedicated to her. For the Romans the pomegranate was the symbol of friendship and of democracy, for the Arabs it was important for the extraction of an ingredient for red and yellow dye. It is mentioned in the Bible as one of the seven products of the Promised Land, and in the Song of Songs the pomegranate is a symbol of brotherhood and prosperity among the Jews, and is given as a blessing during their new year. In the Middle Ages it was interpreted as an allegory of a Church which could unite many diverse peoples and cultures under one faith.
Dwarf palm
It is the only palm tree that grows wild on almost the entire western Mediterranean coast, where it grows in the scrubland. The genus name is derived from two Greek words: 'Khamai' (> Latin 'Chamae'), small, dwarf, prostrate; and 'rhops', shrub, bush, in reference to the form of the plant. The specific Latin epithet 'humilis, -is, -e' (< 'humus'), earth, from which the Italian noun 'humble', returns to the meaning of the Greek name. It has played an important role in history: before the introduction of cereals, it would have been the food on which the population of the island fed; its fan-like leaves are depicted on ancient Sicilian coins. Traditionally on the island witches were hunted that appeared at noon, cutting three leaves of dwarf palm with steel scissors while reciting a magic formula. The leaves are used for binding work, bags known as 'coffe' and for brooms called 'giumarre'; and like horsehair for stuffing and rope. In his 'Metamorphosis of Plants' (1790), Goethe describes it thus: “The leaves that rose from the ground were simple and like spears; then they became increasingly divided, until they appeared divided like the spread fingers of one hand”.
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.
Edited by Maria Ala, Giuseppe Barbera, Calogero Liotta
Photos by Maria Ala, Calogero Liotta, Emanuele Simonaro and Antonietta Abissi.

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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