Sicily is the ultimate destination for history lovers. This beautiful Italian island has been influenced by a diverse range of societies, all of whom have left their indelible mark on its unique culture. But perhaps no legacy is more important than that endowed by the ancient Greeks.
I’ve spent many years helping clients organise holiday accommodation in a diverse range of Sicily resorts, so I know that a visitor’s ideal experience depends on what they’re most interested in. For those with a passion for delving into the past, I’ll often recommend Sicily resorts in the south-western part of the island, where they can explore the island’s fascinating Greek heritage through the magnificent temple complexes of Agrigento, Selinunte and Segesta.
The best known of the ancient Greek temple complexes, Agrigento is home to the Valle dei Templi – one of the most important archaeological sites in Europe. Interestingly, it’s actually spread over a number of rocky crests rather than a valley. Built between 510-430 BC and encompassing a vast area, the site includes eight temples: Hera, Concordia, Heracles, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, Hephaestos and Demeter.
Originally settled by the Greeks and known as Akragas, the city was surrounded by extremely fertile agricultural land and evolved into the most affluent and culturally significant Greek settlement in the Mediterranean.
Find it: Just outside the city of Agrigento in the south-western region of Sicily.
While its ruins are not as well-preserved as those of the Valle dei Templi, Selinunte’s size and staggeringly beautiful position more than make up for it. Set on an elevated coastal promontory, with far reaching views over the ocean, it sits amidst an abundance of wild flowers and herbs that run riot amongst the ruins. (It gets its name from the wild celery that grows here.) The city was abandoned more than 2,000 years ago after it came under attack from the Carthaginians, when more than 16,000 of the townspeople were slain and the city was sacked.
For those interested in the provenance of the stone used to construct the original agora, acropolis and temples, visit the long abandoned Cave di Cusa quarry, a few miles to the north-east. Here you can wander around the quarry and examine the massive column sections, which were carved into the rock and never removed.
Find it: Located on the southwest coast, between Mazzara del Vallo and Sciacca.
Despite its appearance, the 5th century Segesta temple atop Mount Barbaro was actually built by the Elymians, (a people indigenous to Sicily), although it’s almost certain the Greeks had a heavy hand in its construction. At 61 metres long and 26 metres wide it’s an impressive sight, and its 36 Doric columns form an impressive guard of honour against the backdrop of the ocean and rolling hillside dotted with olive trees.
Even though its roof was never completed (most likely due to an attack), this elegant and magnificently preserved Doric temple is one of the most evocative of all the temple ruins.
Find it: Around 70 kms southwest of Palermo
For those interested in learning more about the Greeks’ extensive influence in the shaping of Sicily, resorts in the south-western region of the island make the perfect base from which to explore.
John Dixon is an experienced world traveller and the Managing Director of Prestige Holidays. For over 30 years, he has been providing holidays in luxury Sicily resorts, as well as holidays in Bermuda, Croatia and many other destinations around the globe. John tries to visit each of the destinations regularly in order to ensure the quality of his properties, and stay up-to-date about the latest local news and events. He has a taste for the finer things in life and has an interest in arts, history and culture.