Agrigento as we know it today was given the name Akragas in the sixth century B.C. and was an area characterised by fertile land and its proximity to the Acropolis hills. The city tasted splendour and glory during the period of Greek rule, as can be seen in the Valley of Temples and the Archaeological Museum. However, with the arrival of the Carthaginians and the battles to conquer Sicilian cities, Agrigento was seized and burnt to the ground in 406 B.C. before the Romans conquered it in 210 B.C., and gave it the name Agrigentum. During the long Roman rule the city underwent varied economic and social fortunes. Whilst progress was determined by the city’s importance as a maritime emporium it was also subject to periods of decline. In the ninth century the Arabs arrived bringing with them positive social and demographic growth, and gave the city a typical Arabic conformation. Finally, with the arrival of the Normans in 1087, Agrigento increased its social power; the bishopric was reinstated and reorganised, the economic sector was enhanced and in particular commercial ties were created with North Africa. The centuries that followed saw constant depopulation and a consequent superiority of Episcopal interest, whilst during the eighteenth century it underwent new social and economic growth that involved the whole city. In 1927, the city changed its name from Girgenti to become today’s Agrigento.
The city and its monuments
The first thing you will notice when visiting Agrigento is that the city centre is very similar to a North African city. There are many churches, amongst which the dell’Addolorata church, San Francesco di Paola, San Giuseppe and San Domenico, dell’Immacolata and Madonna degli Angeli, built on the ruins of a temple. Other places worthy of visiting are: the City Hall, originally a Domenican Monastery, the Pirandello Theatre, built in 1879 and dedicated to the famous writer who originated from Agrigento. Finally, a visit to the Cathedral, dedicated to the city’s patron saint San Gerlando, is a must. Other places include: Viale della Vittoria, for centuries where Agrigento’s residents take their Sunday stroll; Villa Bonfiglio and Piazza Cavour. Undoubtedly, the most suggestive area of the city is the Valley of Temples, the remains of the splendid city of “Akragas” many centuries ago.
The geographical area
Around Agrigento there are mainly marine localities such as Porto Empèdocle, an important industrial town, seaside resort and port for connections to Lampedusa, Lampedusa itself, Linosa, Licata, Sant’Angelo Muxaro and Racalmuto, an important agricultural and mineral town, with its striking Castello di Chiaramente. Lampedusa is an authentic paradise that could seem “part of Africa” thanks to its marine atmosphere and environment. Numerous tourists visit this marvellous part of the world to see the beautiful bays and clear sea, full of sea life; the island is also famous for the presence of natural sponges, one of the island’s principal economic activities. In comparison to Lampedusa, Linosa is smaller but just as pretty. The area is essentially made up of volcanic rock, with black earth paths that, when followed, lead us to see all of the island’s wonders. Licata has ancient origins but today is a commercial port on the Mediterranean. A sulphur extraction industry is linked to this port. Finally, Sciacca is worthy of mention: it has a reasonably sized fishing port and is a very well known seaside resort and hydrothermal spa.