Akragas and Theron the Tyrant
Akragas reached its maximum power, wealth and monumentality in the fifth century BC, especially under the government of the tyrant Theron, who seized power in 488 and died in 472. Belonging to the family of Emminidi and related to Gelo, tyrant of Gela, Theron commissioned from the great poet Pindar the celebration of his chariot victory in the 476 Olympic Games. Pindar himself visited Akragas, and called it the most beautiful city of mortals in his Pythian II. Another famous Greek poet, Simonides, also spent some time at the court of Theron in Agrigento, where he died and was buried. It was under Theron that the city experienced its greatest development, expanding its territory to the north. Now it could be considered one of the main Greek cities of Sicily, rivalling Syracuse in terms of power, wealth and splendour. Large public works were designed and built by the tyrant: above all, an impressive system of underground aqueducts, whose designer was the architect Feace, and the construction of an artificial lake, the Kolymbethra. According to some scholars, it may have been Theron who, at the beginning of his tyranny, had the city's first great peripteral Doric temple (surrounded by columns on all sides) built, the so-called temple of Heracles, which marked the role of Akragas in the development of the Doric order in the colonial Greek world. Its antiquity compared with the other temples of the hill is evident in its elongated layout (6 columns on the front and 15 along the sides), and by the style of lion's head gutters, now on display at the Archaeological Museum. But the expansionism of Akragas, which had extended its sphere of influence to the north coast, occupying Himera, worried the Carthaginians, who settled in the western sector of the island. The pitched battle took place on the plain of Himera: here the Carthaginian army led by Hamilcar confronted the army of Theron, who was joined by the tyrant of Syracuse, Gelo. The Greeks triumphed, capturing a huge amount of plunder and an immense number of slaves. For the Greeks of Sicily, it was so important a victory that ancient historians created parallels with another major victory which occurred in the same year, that of the Spartans and the Athenians over the Persians barbarians.
Temple of VolcanoValley of the Temples
Theron had the resources necessary to carry out the work he had in mind to showcase the wealth and power of the city, and the man who had made it possible.
Democracy in Akragas
Among all the works the Temple of Olympian Zeus stood out as the largest of the western Greek world, and certainly the most magnificent and original in conception. On the death of Theron, his son Thrasydaeus inaugurated a policy of rivalry with Syracuse, governed by the tyrant Gelo, with whom he clashed at the Akragas River and was defeated. The tyranny was thereby overthrown, and Akragas created a system of democracy (471-406 BC). In this period, dominated by the figure and actions of the philosopher Empedocles, there was a new upswing in building activity, but showing a marked change in style: enormous buildings were abandoned in favour of smaller sizes and greater focus on quality of execution, with particular attention paid to the proportional relationships of the buildings.
The Temple of Juno
The Temple of Juno, dedicated in fact, like almost all the temples of Agrigento, to an unknown deity, was built around 460 BC. It has 6 columns on the fronts and 13 along the sides, and it shows all the required elements of the Doric style; in front of the eastern end was the altar, where rites of worship took place, while inside the cell the statue of the god was kept, accessible only to the priest. Around 450 BC, the temple still visible beneath the church of S. Maria dei Greci is thought to have been built, in the historical centre of Agrigento.
Temple of Juno (-400)Valley of the Temples
Splendour before the end
Around 440/430, the temples of Concordia and of Castor and Pollux were erected, developing and refining the model of the oldest temple of Juno. The last great Agrigento temple building is thought to have been the temple of Hephaestus, construction of which was probably interrupted by the Carthaginian siege of 406. This temple concludes the series of sacred buildings built along the city walls, which are a feature of the topography of Akragas: their presence must have strengthened the defences of the city, making them sacred and instilling fear in those who observed from the outside. But at the end of the fifth century, BC Greeks and Carthaginians clashed once more and this time it was the Greek city that succumbed. Akragas was besieged and conquered in 406; many visible traces of fire on Agrigentine monuments are attributed to this Carthaginian destruction. The conquest marks the end of the golden age of Akragas. Reduced in size and decimated in population, which was able to return to the city on the condition that the walls were not rebuilt and that tribute be paid to Carthage, the city struggled to survive for many decades. Only in the age of Timoleon, between 338 and 334 BC, was the city repopulated by new settlers from Elea and the walls rebuilt. But Akragas was never return to the large, rich and powerful city that it had been until a few centuries earlier.
Temple Of Concord (-400)Valley of the Temples
Temple of Concordia at night.
Fallen Icarus by the artist Igor Mitoraj
Shrine of the Chtonic Deities (-500)Valley of the Temples
The Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities with the Temple called of Castor and Pollux
Temple of DemetraValley of the Temples
The Church of San Biagio above the Temple of Demeter
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.