Agrigento, Sicily

Sicily: An Island of Bounty, Beauty, and Battles

Zegrahm Contributor|June 8, 2015|Blog Post

The collective whisper of an olive grove’s rustling leaves at twilight, the trees seem to exhale after a day beneath the intense Mediterranean sun; soft, rolling hills, dotted with vineyards, lush and fragrant, the vines hang heavy with clusters of the patiently-ripening fruit; the crystalline waters of the sea, alive with fish and fisherman alike, each playing their age-old role in feeding the people of island. The breathtaking beauty of Sicily is reason enough to experience the area firsthand, but did you know the island has a history as rich and varied as the landscape? Our 13-day expedition circumnavigates this entire island.

What is now Agrigento, located on the southwestern coast, was once Akragas, a Greek colony settled in approximately 582 BC by those attempting to get as far as possible from the troubled city of Selinunte. A wise choice, indeed, for in 409 BC, the Carthaginians (rivals hailing from the Carthago, located in modern-day Tunisia in northern Africa) reduced the once-thriving Selinunte to rubble. Not only was Akragas a safe haven, but it was extremely fertile, too. It was not long before crops of grapes, grains, and olives were being harvested.   

However, as tales of Akragas’ abundance and wealth spread across the land, so too did plots to lay siege to the city. In 406 BC, Hannibal, a Carthaginian military leader, teamed up with the tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse (a city on the east coast of the island, which you will explore on the expedition) and took control of the coveted Akragas. After many years of peace, Akragas found itself once again in the throes of war: The First Punic War began in 264 BC and Rome eventually claimed the city (and all of Sicily, for that matter) in 210 BC.

But olive oil, wine, and war are not the only legacies left by the ancient Greeks and Romans. Various examples of ancient architecture throughout the island have survived the ravages of both war and time. Numerous Roman amphitheaters, many of which are built on top of smaller, Greek amphitheaters (further evidence of Sicily’s war-torn past), can be found scattered throughout Sicily, particularly in Catania and Syracuse. Eight Greek temples—towering monuments honoring various gods and goddesses such as Hera, Zeus, and Demeter—still stand just outside Agrigento, in what is known as the Valley of the Temples. When walking in the shadows of their impossibly massive stone columns, you may find it easy to lose yourself in the mythology of ancient times, when mischief and mayhem between mortals and the divine were everyday occurrences. It’s no wonder Sicily has held the imagination of the world for millennia; here’s your chance to let it grab ahold of yours. 

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