Night Location: Palermo, Italy
A Muse of the Day: In search of a lunch stop, the plan was originally to go to Selinunte, however 2KM out of town, David saw a sign to Menfi and immediately deviated off route as he recalled our Agrigento guide saying something about food at Menfi. 15km on a windy road later we arrived to find Menfi high on a hill, derelict and closed. We then continued to Porto Palo where 1KM from Centro, Pablo sent us right, up a hill, and then back down the wrong way of a one way street. Once again we had issues with Pizzerias not serving pizza and so we returned to the vehicle and went back to Selinunte.
We were very tired today as the Doric Bed (our accommodation) had short beds, mouldy rooms and toilets for giants. Sadly it is only one year old, so good luck to the people that visit in twenty years! It did, however have a fabulous pool and incredible views over the valley to the temple of Jupiter.
Following a breakfast of cold pancakes and warm milk for cereal, we drove to the Valley of the Temples and met our guide who directed us immediately up to the Temple of Jupiter that we could see from the Doric Bed. It has been very helpful that we went to Athens at the start of this trip as the information that we learned there has been solidified in Sicily. Ancient Agrigento had 200 000 occupants, (more than the present day) and the Valley of the Temples formed the original outer ring of the city.
Next was the Temple of Concordia which is the best preserved example of a Greek Doric temple in the world. The reason it is so well preserved is because it was converted into a Christian Basilica. We could clearly see the Christian arches carved into the inner wall to make 3 naves. It was restored to a Greek temple in the 18th Century. We found it interesting to have another close up view of the perfection of Greek architecture and to see the modifications that were made throughout the centuries.
The wall that surrounded the city, instead of being built with stone blocks, was instead solid rock that remained after the area was quarried. When Malaria hit the ancient city, the site was abandoned only to be later used as a Christian Necropolis. Niches have been carved into the wall where the bodies were placed and catacombs run under the hill connecting the old Cisterns.
The temple to Hercules had only eight pillars standing, seven of which were reconstructed in the 19th Century. In Cicero's oration against Verres (the corrupt Roman Pro-Consul of Sicily) he mentioned the temple that stood next to the forum and that's how they know it was to Hercules.
The final stop on our tour was to the ruins of the massive Temple to Zeus. In antiquity, this temple dominated the area, being over 100 metres long and over 50 metres wide. This temple was quite unusual in architecture as the columns were built into the temple wall and there were two doors on either corner for the entrance instead of a central doorway. According to Greek Mythology, as punishment for the Titan rebellion against Zeus, he cursed them so that they would always have to carry heavy weights on their shoulders. These giants were represented as bearing the weight of the temple in between the columns.
At the end of our tour, our guide suggested that we take the coastal route to Palermo via Selinunte to see the other famous Greek temples in Sicily. After lunch, we were able to walk into a grand temple for the first time this trip. It was so impressive to be able to stand amongst the columns and look up at the capitals. This was the only temple that has been reconstructed in this area so far. All around us were more ruins with parts of columns and giant blocks visible. It was hard to imagine where to start, a bit like a giant jig-saw puzzle. Leaving Selinunte we have now seen the top four Ancient Greek temples in the world being the Athens Agora, Paestum in Salerno (2011), Agrigento and now Selinunte. Not a bad effort.
Returning our vehicle at Palermo airport was surprisingly easy and we boarded a bus that took us into the city centre. Interestingly we had been requested to place our luggage on the opposite side of the bus to the door and so while unloading the bags, cars were just missing us. Quite frightening! The hotel was an excellent relief after a long and busy day.
Tonight we had dinner in the hotel restaurant as we were all fairly exhausted from the day. Arriving at 8PM we were the first to arrive but were joined by others not long after this. We were able to try a Sicilian antipasti plate complete with caponata, potato specialties and bruschetta. The meal was very spread out and our frazzled waiter kept apologising for the wait. We ended up leaving after 10:30 and have decided that the Sicilians like to eat in a very slow and leisured way. During dinner we decided that our code word for the Mafia should be Marmalade so as not to draw attention when we are pointing out suspicious characters. Can't be too careful in Palermo.