Sun 11 Dec 2011
There are two historical and cultural objectives in Sicily that are an absolute must, places for which one must travel to Sicily, and if he is already on the island must not leave it without visiting them. I will write and post some pictures now about the first of them which is Valle dei Templi (Temples Valley), an archeological site located near the city of Agrigento in the South part of the island. The name of ‘valley’ is quite misleading, as we are talking actually about a thread of seven Greek temples located most of them on the top of a hill long of about two kilometers. This may be the most outstanding monument of the Greek antiquity after the Acropolis in Athens, and in any case the most fascinating of all I have had the luck to ever visit.
We entered through the Western gate, so the first temple that appeared to us was the Temple of Hera Lacinia (goddess protecting marriage and birth-giving). It was built in the 5th century BC and set to fire by the Carthaginians in 406BC. What is left today is the structure of columns (13 in length, 6 on width) which profiles an elegant silhouette visible from far away.
The big prize for anybody who visited Valle dei Templi during most of 2011 was the fact that the archeological site hosted an open air exhibition of the Polish monumental sculptor Igor Mitoraj. His style and themes combine the classical techniques of sculpture with surrealistic influences, and the abrupt cuts and edges of his works suggest the work of time. They were a perfect complement of the ancient Greek ruins in the valley and as you will see in some of the following photos, the terrain looked in that sunny afternoon as a playground of the gods.
If you are to pick a time of the day for the visit late afternoon is probably the best bet. During summer it will spare you of some of the heat that must be scorching the whole area, especially as there is no place to hide from the Sun on the top of the hills. Later in the year (like in October when we visited) the sweetness of the sun in the final hours of the day envelops the area and the ruins seem to radiate warmness from within.
Another combination of art and antiquities that seem to belong to the imaginary spaces created by Dali or de Chirico. Entries to tombs in the necropolis dating from the late Roman and early-medieval era, identified as paleo-christian are flanked by two of the works of Mitoraj.
The Temple of Concordia is the best kept structure of the whole complex. The reason is that when Christianity became the official religion in the Roman empire (in the 4th century CE) it was transformed into a church. This led to works of maintenance and stegthening of the building to be conducted, but also for some of the characteristics of the original design (like the ‘pagan’ altar) to be removed or changed.
Another two of the Fascinating works of Mitoraj. The works are complex and there are are many details hidden by the larger structures (do you remember Dali’s drawers?) that become visible when you get near and walk around the works, but it is the game of forms and dimensions, of human and human-made forms that stays in memory.
Villa Aurea is the place built by sir Alexander Hardcastle, one of the two personalities whose contributions were key in bringing out of the earth the monuments in the Temples Valley and pushing them into the cultural patrimony and later into the touristic circuits. Hardcastle, barely remembered today (the English version of wikipedia does not even have an entry for him) settled here in 1921 and between this time and 1933 brought an important contribution to the archeological discoveries and the recovery of the monuments which were still part covered under the hills. He followed in the tracks of Domenico Lo Faso Piertrasanta, who started the excavation and archeological works in the valley during the Napoleonic era.
The end of the itinerary on descends at the Eastern edge of the hill towards the remains of the Temple of Zeus Olimpico. Built in 480BC to celebrate the victory over the Carthaginians and the taking back of Sicily by the Greeks, it was the largest of all in the complex. Little remains today of the original structure, but some of the huge pieces of statues or columns give a hit on the dimensions of the monument. Just a few pieces are left here of the toys of the Giant Gods.
I found on youTube a short film made at the installation of the exhibits of Igor Mitoraj – it will give you an idea about the dimensions and the immense skill of the sculptor whose works danced with the forms and shades of the ancient Greek Temples for almost the whole duration of the last year.