25 June 2020 - Day 75 –Agrigento 2
No firm time schedule today, so I slept in, getting up at 8:30 and slowly getting together. Bright and sunny with no clouds visible out the balcony windows, I went more casual than my usual tourist fare: mid-weight t-shirt and shorts. I found my sunblock, sunglasses and hat, and applied my first coating. Rucksack loaded, I headed downstairs, then to the train station where I was able to pickup a local bus to get me to the Museo Archeologico Regionale Piero Griggo, where I could validate my pass and collect a decent self-guide map.
When planning, I’d looked into a local guide. Basically, there are two options – half or full day. The half day has a guide meet you at the entrance, walk you along the ridge to several of the temple ruins, and drops you at the museum. For the full day, you get picked up and taken to the Turkish steps and beach and then get dropped at the first temple and get walked to the others, and then the museum, where the guide leaves. No variations, options or alternate stops. It wasn’t going to work for me.
Based on what Carmelo had texted me yesterday, I knew to start with the most eastern site and work my way west, so that I could also go see one more cathedral. But you need to get validated, so that meant starting at the museum (which I’d rather have visited in the heat of the day, had the daylight temperature range not been so comfortably in the 70’s.)
So I exited at the museum, went in and go my “real” pass and map, and stayed to explore the museum. Divided into two sections, I began with the second room which started with the prehistoric settlements and Mycenaean colonization, followed into subsequent rooms of Greek and then Roman times. Mixing models with photography, recovered artifacts with reconstructions, the pre-Christian world came to life.
What amazed me most was the scale – how big the large objects were, and how fine and delicate the smaller exhibits could be. And how much had been recovered!
The museum is next to the Chiesa di San Nicola, an old convent, which includes a small circular agora.
Across the road is the Hellenistic-Roman quarter, the remains of an urban village laid out in rigid right angles and consistent spacing. Some floor tiling has survived.
Continuing a bit further east, the church of St Biagio had been a temple to the goddess Demeter, so I figured it was worth seeing.
A small rectangular building, it showed well how the Christians were clever at repurposing the converts’ culture. Just up the hill slightly were the remains of the Greek fortification walls, currently being excavated.
Ascending still slightly higher, I came to the Temple of Hera, or Juno Lacinia for the Romans.
I stood with others on one side of the fencing, frustrated to not be able to walk around this temple ruins. By going back down, a second path to an alternate view gave me a few more shots.
Continuing westward, I came to the prize temple, the Temple of Concordia. Best preserved and largest of the Doric temples on Sicily, the Greek god/goddess is unknown, the goddess of harmony was assigned due to an unassociated Latin inscription found nearby.
In the fifth century CE, the local bishop had the site converted into a Christian church, resulting in its current excellent state. My memory of the Parthenon on the acropolis in Athens (or in Nashville) turned out to be correct – this is very similar. And the classic shot taken includes the bronze statue lying on its side, usually in the foreground.
Continuing my walk west, the next stop is the Necropoli Paleocristiana, the early Christian burial site.
This is an active archeological area where metal footpaths guide the visitor through caves carved into stone and areas with large burial monuments have survived. A bit further down, and across the road, was the Templo di Ercole, or in Greek, Herakles.
One wall of partial columns survives, with tumbled sections massed on the ground.
Next on the tour is the Temple of Zeus (or Jupiter), of which very little survives. With the temple of Hercules, this was yet another disappointment.
Wanting to continue west towards Villaseta, I walked past the Tomba di Terone, a mausoleum from the 3rd-2nd century BCE Hellenistic-Roman era, mistakenly named for the #Agrigento tyrant Theron of 488-472 BCE.
Depending on where I stood west of this tomb, I had my choice of the temples of Concordia or Herakles for the background.
Back up the hill a bit, I first strolled to the Tempio di Castore e Polluce, another fully ruined temple. Four columns support a corner pediment.
Away from the temples of Juno and Concordia, this site wasn’t getting the sightseer traffic. I had one more temple to visit, Hephaestus, or Vulcan, and that had me scrabbling through a small tree line and across sandy scrub and a rail line, which I probably shouldn’t have done. (But I got away without a scolding.)
The Hefestos temple has two columns remaining, although the blocks used for flooring and outer support are in good shape. Set a bit higher on the hill, Agrigento is evident in some backgrounds of my photos.
It was after two, I’d finished both bottles of water I’d brought with me (and mercifully had found a WC, as discrete trees were few and far between) as well as some nibbles. Now on to the church in #Villaseta. Per Maps, I was about half an hour away, 2 ½ km. I had to cross under the single-track railroad line (I’d walked across between these last two temples) and head down to a road over a culvert. (Walking the railroad track did occur to me, but I knew I couldn’t run fast enough if a train came.) The Viale Cadut di Marzabotto (named for a Nazi massacre of civilians near Bologna in 1944) that I T’d into took me over the dip in the landscape and up and around small orchards until I came through the center of Villaseta. A right turn took me a long block to the Chiesa Concattedrale di Santa Croce.
Being that it was the middle of the afternoon, the church was locked pending 6pm Mass. A boxy, big modern white structure, it has three entry doors off a protected patio up a set of stairs from the plaza in front of the building. Slit windows of colored glass face south, with a large parking lot to the south and west. The outer sides have deep coffered windows well above the nave flooring. A bell tower is in the northeast corner, near the presbytery. There was no open office to plead for access, so I reluctantly left and continued west until I arrived at the Centro Commerciale Citta dei Templi, the shopping center. On the opposite side was a bus stop, and after waiting 15 minutes, I was able to get a 35-minute ride back to the train station in Agrigento.
Four in the afternoon, and I was ready to settleback. Deciding to take a different route to climb the little hill to the flat, I walked the Piazza Pirro Marconi so that I could cross through the formal four quarters of the park where Via Atenea ended at Via Roma. Using the Via Porcello to get to the alleyway, I had 12 gentle steps down to the entry to the B&B. I figured I’d best use that route to avoid so many other steps to get to the train tomorrow. Before heading inside, I went back to Cana Bistrot, to just have a glass of wine. I asked what Sicilian white they had opened, and she poured me a glass of Cusamano Insolia Terre Siciliane IGT, a single varietal (inzolia, typically used to make Marsala, known as ansonica in Tuscany) which was pleasant, light, dry and a nutty-citrus flavor.
Once I finished, I headed up to the B&B and then up to the room. I pulled out my bottle from yesterday and some of the nibbles I still had, and, with the balcony door open, spent a relaxing hour writing in my journal and grazing. When I was done, I downloaded photos from the camera and thought about the blog. But I decided to check emails, and that took another half hour or so. Changing into long pants and a polo for dinner, I wrapped up the little bit of food left and grabbed the now empty wine bottle and my rucksack and headed downstairs.
Wanting to explore another district, I wandered a bit around the station and easterly and wound up at Aguglia Persa (which apparently translates to lost needlefish.)
The sun was heading to behind the hill, the clear sky was deepening into a royal blue, ad they had enough tables inside but near windows to keep me happy. As I’d nibbled at home, I skipped the appetizer, and went straight to a primi and secondi: risotto zafferano e umami di mare and trancio di tonno all’aceto. These called for a decent white wine, so I consulted with the waiter, and he brought me a Catarratto, the most widely planted native white in Sicily. After trying it, I was pleased, and got a bottle: called Arèmi, a catarratto superior Menfi DOC, the color was gold, medium body with a citrus note and hazelnut on the palate. I was going to enjoy this wine.
The risotto was superb – creamy, moist, rich in saffron flavor with tender shrimp and mussels. The sliced tuna had been lightly breaded after a first sear with balsamic, and then back briefly on the grill: medium rare, the way I like tuna, nicely seasoned crumbs, and the potatoes had been roasted with EVO and dill, and went wonderfully with both the tuna and the wine. And to cap it off, I really scored: they had a cheese plate, which I’d been missing for too long. Besides, that gives me a better reason to have another glass of wine, and to skip dessert.
My walk home took me through the park again, and convinced me that it was the route for the morning. I had a very late start tomorrow, so when I finish uploading this blog, I’m heading down to have a nightcap.