Under the Mediterranean sun in Sicily, not far from the sea, is the city of Agrigento. It has a lot of modern buildings, elevated roadways teeming with traffic and a population of about 60,000 people.
Just down the hill is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Sicily, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the best-preserved Greek temples in the world. The juxtaposition is typical of what is often found in Italy: yesterday and today standing side by side, the past often overshadowing the present. I once heard the former premier of Italy, Matteo Renzi, say that Italy is more than a museum. And while that is true, the museum aspect of Italy is the best there is.
The reason so many people travel to Agrigento is the nearby Valley of the Temples. The area was home to the ancient Greek city of Akragas, which was estimated to have a population of more than 200,000 before 406 B.C. Much of the ancient Akragas is unexcavated. But at the Valley of the Temples are seven Greek temples in the Doric style that were built in the 6th and 5th centuries.
Most of the temples have only pieces still standing but the Temple of Concordia is nearly intact. I was told that's because it was converted to a Christian church at some point, which spared its stones from being quarried for other uses. Even the temple fragments are impressive. On a recent visit to Sicily, I walked among them in awe. Visitors are allowed to be within feet of the massive structures that rise majestically from the ridge on which they were constructed. (That's right - the temples really are not in a valley despite being called the Valley of the Temples.)
Because of how well preserved the Temple of Concordia is, it was easy to imagine life all those centuries ago. I'm sure my vision was more glamorous than life actually was then. But with the sea in the distance and the sun starting to set in the west behind the temple, it was hard to see it any other way. I also understood, again, how grateful I am to Italy for preserving all this history. Italy is, indeed, more than a museum but the museum aspect of it is such an important part of our world.
-post by JG