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Agrigento & Eraclea Minoa, Agrigento

Sicily, Italy, Europe: The Temple of Concorde at Agrigente, Sicily.
Agrigento , Sicily
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Agrigento, on Sicily's southwestern coast, was once an important center of Greek learning and culture. In fact, during the fourth and fifth centuries B.C., this ancient city was considered as powerful and influential as the city-states of Athens, Corinth, and Sparta—and vestiges of this grand time are still visible today.

The Valley of the Temples, which sits below the scruffy modern city of Agrigento, was described by the Greek poet Pindar in the early fifth century B.C. as "the most beautiful city of mortals." And even today, the valley's ruined Doric temples, with their towering columns and eroded statuary, are stunning. The five major temples (there are eight in all) straddle a high, rocky ridge with a backdrop of the distant sea, and are surrounded by huge, centuries-old olive trees. The best preserved is the Temple of Concordia, which was converted to a church in the sixth century A.D., thus prolonging its upkeep and extending its lifespan; but the temples of Juno Lacinia, Hercules, and Castor and Pollux are all impressive, too. The best times to view the temples are at dawn, sunset, or night, when they are beautifully illuminated (bring your camera).

If you have time, it's worth taking the 45-minute drive northwest of Agrigento to the coastal ruins of Eraclea Minoa, where another Greek colony once flourished (it's been virtually deserted since the end of the first century B.C.). Built on a cliff above the beautiful beach of Capo Bianco, the city is today largely collapsed into the sea. But there are fragments of pottery everywhere—vase handles, the bases of pots, bits of amphorae—an astonishing experience for amateur archaeologists. You can actually pick up and touch the ancient objects, which anywhere else would be behind glass in a well-guarded museum.

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