woensdag 1 februari 2012

Italy, Archaeological Area of Agrigento

Founded as a Greek colony in the 6th century B.C., Agrigento became one of the leading cities in the Mediterranean world. Its supremacy and pride are demonstrated by the remains of the magnificent Doric temples that dominate the ancient town, much of which still lies intact under today's fields and orchards. Selected excavated areas throw light on the later Hellenistic and Roman town and the burial practices of its early Christian inhabitants.



Agrigento was one of the greatest cities of the ancient Mediterranean world, and it has been preserved in an exceptionally intact condition. Its great row of Doric temples is one of the most outstanding monuments of Greek art and culture.
According to tradition, the Greek town of Akragas was founded by colonists from Rhodes and Crete coming from the founder colony in Sicily, Gela, around 580 BC. However, excavations have indicated that there was an earlier classic Greek settlement here in the 7th century BC on the flanks of a hill on the coast, which allowed the city to expand and to prosper within a very short time after colonization. During the reign of the tyrant Phalaris (570-555 BC) defensive walls were built to reinforce the natural protection of the difficult topography. The political expansionism of Akragas begun under Phalaris reached its height during the rule of the tyrant Thero (488-473 BC). After defeating the in 480 BC he extended his rule to the northern and eastern coasts of Sicily. The wealth this brought to the city and the resulting cultural are illustrated by the great temples built at this time on the southern extremity of the hill. A democratic regime was established in the later 5th century BC, and the city enjoyed a short period of tranquillity, albeit one of rivalry with Syracuse. This came to a brutal end in 406 BC, when it was besieged and sacked by the Carthaginians. It struggled to regain its former glory, and succeeded briefly under Timoleon, who crushed the Carthaginians in 340 BC and brought in new colonists. However, the city became a prize fought over by Romans and Carthaginians. It first fell into Roman hands in 262 BC, and was definitively incorporated into the Roman Empire in 210 BC. During the last years of the Republic and in the Early Empire, Agrigento benefited from being the only market town still active on the southern coast of Sicily. However, the decline of the Western Empire and the ascendancy of Christianity led to depopulation and impoverishment of the city. From the 7th century AD onwards it shrank in size; the older quarters being abandoned and the remaining population clustering on the hill.
The Valley of the Temples covers most of the built-up part of the ancient city and its public monuments. It is closed by the ridge running parallel to the sea that was assigned the role of a sacred area in antiquity. The area between the acropolis and the temples was laid out in the early 5th century BC on the traditional Hippodamian grid pattern. The sacred area was created in the second half of the 6th century BC, as shown by the early temples at the western end of the ridge. However, the most impressive remains are those of the temples built during the reign of Thero and after to Herakles, Olympian Zeus, Hera Lacinia, Vulcan and Concord. The Temple of Olympian Zeus, only the foundations and main altar of which survive, was one of the largest of all Greek temples, and it has some unusual features. Instead of the more common open peristyle, it was surrounded by a wall varied by immense Doric columns on the outside and pilasters in the interior. The cella is defined by two rows of massive quadrangular pillars instead of internal walls, and was open to the sky. The so-called Temple of Concord is the most impressive surviving Doric temple in the Greek world after the Parthenon in Athens. It has survived to a remarkable degree owing to its having been adapted for use as a church in the 6th century AD. It is built on a four-level stylobate and is surrounded by 34 columns. Built at the same time as the Temple of Concord and in very similar style is the Temple of Hera Lacinia, at the eastern end of the ridge, where remains of the Greek fortifications can still be seen. It was burned by the Carthaginians in 405 BC and traces of the fire are still visible. The Temple of Herakles is earlier than the other Doric temples on the ridge. The two temples dedicated to the Chthonic divinities, Demeter and Persephone, and that to the Dioscuri were begun in the 6th century BC, but rebuilt in 480-460 BC. In addition to these outstanding monuments, there are substantial excavated areas of the residential area of Hellenistic and Roman Agrigento. A number of the houses have well-preserved mosaic pavements. There are also extensive ancient cemeteries on and south of the ridge with tombs and monuments from the pagan and Christian periods. The so-called Tomb of Theron is actually of early Roman date, but its form, that of a small Ionic shrine set on a podium, is Graeco-Asiatic, originating from Asia Minor. Other features of this site are the upper and lower agoras and the complex network of underground aqueducts.

Historical Description

According to tradition, the Greek town of Akragas was founded by colonists from Rhodes and Crete coming from the founder colony in Sicily, Gela, around 580 BC. However, excavations have indicated that there was an earlier Greek settlement here in the 7th century BC. It is a classic Greek settlement site, on the flanks of a hill on the coast, and this allowed the city to begin to expand from the original acropolis (now occupied by the modem town) and to prosper within a very short time after the 6th century colonization. During the reign of the tyrant Phalaris (570-555 BC) a system of defensive walls was built. to reinforce the natural protection afforded by the difficult topography. It was at this time that the series of so-called Chthonic temples were built on the south-west flank of the Temple hill.
The political expansionism of Akragas begun under Phalaris reached its height during the rule of the tyrant Thero (488-473 BC). After defeating the Carthaginians decisively in 480 BC at Himera he extended his rule to the northern and eastern coasts of Sicily. The wealth that this brought to the city, and the cultural life that this wealth supported, are illustrated by the great temples that were built at this time on the southern extremity of the hill. One of its most notable sons at this time was the philosopher, doctor, and musician, Empedocles.
A democratic regime was established in the later 5th century BC, and the city enjoyed a short period of tranquillity, albeit one of rivalry with Syracuse. This came to a brutal end in 406 BC, when it was besieged and sacked by the Carthaginians. It struggled to regain its former glory, and succeeded briefly under Timoleon, who crushed the Carthaginians in 340 BC and brought in new colonists. However, the city became a prize fought over by Romans and Carthaginians. It first fell into Roman hands in 262 BC, and was definitively incorporated into the Roman Empire in 210 BC.
During the last years of the Republic and in the Early Empire, Agrigento, as it became known, benefited from being the only market town still active on the southern coast of Sicily. However, the decline of the Western Empire and the ascendancy of Christianity led to depopulation and impoverishment of the city.
From the 7th century AD onwards it shrank in size. the older quarters being abandoned and the remaining population clustering on the hill. The reduced settlement was which was successively occupied by the Arabs (who called it Kerkent or Girgent), in 829 and by the Normans (for whom it was Girgenti, the name that it retained until 1927) in 1086.


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