Just a couple of hours' drive from Catania or Palermo, on Sicily's southern coast, you can visit the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas. The Valle dei Templi (Valley of the Temples) archaeological site is said to be one of the best places to visit in Sicily.
From the crumbling Temple of Hercules, to the incredibly well-preserved Temple of Concordia, the valley has a diverse assortment of temples, tombs, gardens, and sanctuaries, as well as pagan and Christian necropolises. There’s also a maze of underground aqueducts and the whole site is surrounded by a great fortified wall.
Originally settled by travellers both from Gela and Rhodes in 580 BCE, the ridge in the valley was primarily used to worship the gods. These Greek temples held many beautifully carved statues that were believed to hold the spirits of the gods.
Between the 6th century and the 5th century BCE, the city underwent a huge transformation, with buildings popping up at an exponential rate. It's now an archaeological park and UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Greeks arrived in Sicily during the 6th century BCE, and in the years that followed, erected many temples to form one of the largest cities in Magna Graecia and the larger Western world.
With the arrival of the philosopher Empedocles, democracy swept Akragas and it grew from a small settlement to a large city with a population of over 200,000. It was later destroyed by the Carthaginians (in around 406 BCE) and then again by the Christians (in the 6th century CE).
Over the millenia, the temples have been rebuilt, repurposed and evolved time and time again with the many changing rulers of Sicily.
The archaeological park now covers around 13 square kilometres after being rediscovered by Western Europe in the late 18th century, finding its well-deserved place as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997.
The Valley of the Temples holds some of the best-preserved examples of Doric temples dedicated to Greek divinities outside of Greece, alongside add-ons and modifications of many other cultures throughout its 2600+ year history.
Perched on a hillside, with far-reaching views out over the Mediterranean Sea, for the Greeks, this was deemed the perfect spot to worship the gods and to give thanks for all that nature has to offer. Even today, as you wander through the blossoming almond trees, vast olive groves, and lush gardens of the park, nature is an integral part of what makes this site so special.
The road to Agrigento in itself makes the Valley of the Temples a trip worth doing - especially if you are coming from the north. Sicily’s mountainous interior makes the drive unforgettable - even if the roads are a little worse for wear. Make sure to hit the big five temples; the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Herakles, the Temple of the Dioscuri, the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the Temple of Juno.
As far as views go, the easternmost Temple of Juno is the most spectacular. Perched high on the hilltop, you will see Juno (Hera Lacinia) long before you enter the park and from its high elevation you can see why the Greeks picked this location. With sweeping views over the calm Mediterranean Sea, and countless olive and almond groves below, the sandstone monument glows almost ethereally in the morning light.
The Temple of Herakles (Ercole) is believed to be one of the oldest in the valley, built by the area’s Greek tyrant, Theron. Constructed in the 6th century BCE, it was dedicated to one of the ancient Greeks’ most revered deities, later known by the Romans as Hercules - son of Zeus and god of strength. An earthquake has since reduced the temple to rubble, leaving just eight grand Doric columns standing today.
This is one of the best temples to photograph as it’s the best preserved. The 5th century BCE Temple of Concordia was saved from destruction when it was modified into an early Christian church. Walls were added, preserving the temple perfectly. Then in 1748, the temple was restored to its original style and a bronze statue of Icarus was added as a symbol of humanity - the misguided god was best known for reaching for the stars and failing.
As with many temples of the park, the Dioscuri was named after a case of mistaken identity. This area is, in fact, thought to be the Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities which was devoted to subterranean gods, i.e. the temple actually worships Demeter and Persephone. Whatever its purpose, this was once the stage for bloody sacrifices, and today, its four remaining columns have become the symbol of the city of Agrigento.
From here, you can look down into the valley to the fertile Garden of Kolymbethra, where you can take the four-kilometre-long environmental trail, or head on an underground tour of the vast aqueduct system.
The almost indecipherable Temple of Olympian Zeus was erected after the Greek victory over Carthage at Himera in 480 BCE. Thought to be one of the largest Doric temples of classical antiquity, it was never actually finished, instead it was (rather ironically) sacked by the Carthaginians, damaged by earthquakes, then used as a quarry in the Middle Ages.
But standout features remain, like the enormous statue of an Atlas (now laying down), one of a set of eight-metre-tall giants that originally held up the temple.
It costs € 10 to visit the Valley of the Temples, and € 5 for concessions. You can combine a ticket with the Pietro Griffo Museum for € 13.50 or the Garden of Kolymbethra for € 16.
The park of the Valley of the Temples is open from Monday to Sunday from 8.30 to 20.00, with the last admission one hour before closing. You can find the official tickets and buy them online, and there’s also a free official app.
On certain bank holidays and the first Sunday of every month entry is free to people of all nationalities. It’s also free for children under 18 years old at any time, and free for pets.
Audio Guides are available in English, Italian, French, Spanish, or German for €5.00, or you can buy a guidebook and keep it as a memento. It’s always best to do some research before visiting an ancient site, but there are plenty of signs and information boards dotted around the park if you want to see it at your own pace.
That said, no amount of reading can replace a passionate local guide. In low season tours can be booked on the day from the Juno gate, though it’s best to book ahead if you want the tour in a specific language or are visiting at a busy time of day (between 10am and 2pm).
Top tip - Book ahead to skip the line with a guided tour in peak season.
You can comfortably visit all of the main sites in around 3 hours, but there’s plenty more to see for those who are interested.
With the addition of the Archaeological Museum "Pietro Griffo", the walking trails, and the Garden of Kolymbethra you could easily spend two or three full days here.
Stay near Agrigento for at least a night to make the most of a full day visiting the temples. There are lots of options in town, from here it’s easy to make your way into the park by public bus, taxi or a 30 minute walk.
If you’re looking for something a little quieter, B&B Templi e Arte is a friendly family-run hotel just minutes from the archaeological park - the homemade breakfast is particularly good. They offer private secure parking and are pet friendly.
Head along the SP4, the Valley of the Temples is only a 4-minute drive from Agrigento on Sicily's southern coast - a 2 hour drive from either Palermo or Catania (though there are ongoing roadworks making the journey a touch more difficult). Agrigento has train and bus links to other parts of the country, a public bus runs visitors into the park.
You can park at either end of the site, the Temple of Juno ticket office or the Porta V Ticket Office. If you park at Porta V you can get a shared taxi to the other side to begin your (downhill) tour of the Valley of the Temples, in summer there’s also an internal shuttle and public bus to save doubling back over 2 kilometres to where you started. Camper vans and vans are only permitted in the Gate V car park.
A popular tourist sight not to miss 20 minutes southwest from Agrigento are the cascading white rocks of Scala di Turchi, or Stairs of the Turks. These gleaming white cliffs offer great views and are an interesting look at Sicilian geology.
Other important ancient sites in Western Sicily include the rural Temple of Segesta and the trade settlement of Selinunte. While in the east the historic city of Syracuse is home to Parco Archeologico della Neapolis - another of Sicily’s greatest archaeological sites with highlights like the Ear of Dionysius, Teatro Greco, and the Roman Amphitheater.
Last Updated 4 September 2023