Goethe wrote that “the key to Italy is Sicily”: he might also have noted that Sicily is the key to ancient Greece. From 800BC, the Greeks began to colonise Sicily so that the island became home to more Greeks than Greece itself. Some of the greatest Greek myths, temples and amphitheatres are Sicilian.
AGRIGENTO: The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento is an outstanding monument from the ancient world and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Founded in 581 BC by Greek settlers, the site, today comprising nine splendid Doric temples, would have been a thriving city and major cultural centre. The “valley” is a misnomer as the temples were, in fact, sited along a ridge, designed to be clearly visible from the sea. As you walk through the ancient ruins you can still get a feel for the magnificence the city would have exuded in its heyday.
Start your visit at the Temple of Juno, where some of the immense statues that supported the roof are still visible. Nearby is the well-preserved Temple of Concord, with imposing façades and many columns intact. The site is especially beautiful in spring, when almond trees are in blossom, and stunning at night, when the edifices are magically illuminated.
SELINUNTE: This huge archaeological site, set on hills overlooking the Mediterranean on the south-west coast of the island, is the remains of one of the most powerful and wealthy cities of the ancient world. Though many of the temples have crumbled — largely as a result of earthquakes — you can still see huge fragments of Doric columns and piles of carved marble where they once stood. Wind your way through these remnants of a golden past, with just the sounds of sheep bells in the distance. Admire the magnificent Temple of Hera, which faces the rising sun, with its treasury and Hera’s altar surrounded by imposing pillars. And make sure not to leave without taking a walk to the beach below, where you can enjoy breathtaking views of the great temples from the water’s edge.
SEGESTA: An hour’s drive from Palermo is one of the island’s most startling sights: a massive, unfinished temple, which stands alone on the edge of a canyon amid a wild and barren mountainscape. On a breezy day, you can hear the wind whistling through all 36 of the 5th-century temple’s columns, creating an eerie, organ-like effect. The surprises don’t end there: on a hilltop above the mysterious temple is an imposing amphitheatre; climb up to it to be rewarded by spectacular vistas of the landscape and the Mediterranean beyond.
TAORMINA: Carved out of a rocky slope on Mount Tauro, with the sea and magnificent Mount Etna as its backdrop, the Greek amphitheatre at Taormina enjoys one of the most dazzling settings in the world. Initially built in the 3rd century BC by the Greeks, then rebuilt by the Romans, the theatre is still used today for concerts. Nevertheless it is hard, gazing up at the tiers of stone seats, not to imagine yourself as a Greek actor or, less happily, a gladiator preparing to fight for his life.
Contact our Concierge to organize your private visit to these marvellous sites.