Summer of Classics 2015: Sicily and the Valle dei Templi

Every year, the Exeter University Classics Society organise one of the highlights of their calendar: a trip abroad to visit various ancient sites.  A wonderful post-exams treat, these trips allow students to visit sites and see artefacts studied as part of their courses, develop and broaden their perspectives on the Classical World, and catch up with friends after weeks of isolation in the library.  This year's trip to Sicily was a lovely way to round off the final year of my undergraduate studies, and mark the end of my Classics Society presidency.  Organising and managing students can be challenging at the best of times (trust me, it's like trying to herd fish!), so when you throw in flight bookings, risk assessments, and passports, everything becomes that bit more complicated.  Eventually, our adventure got underway, thanks to the hard work and limitless patience of some very dedicated committee members.  We embarked upon a glorious Sicilian adventure, travelling in style in a convoy of five Fiat Pandas.

The whole Sicily party!
Transport for the week!

Our trip focussed on two areas of the island: Agrigento and Syracuse.  The first leg of the trip took us from our landing site in Catania to Agrigento, and the famous Valle dei Templi.  I had studied this area very briefly in my first and second years of my BA degree, while looking at Greek architecture and colonisation.  However, my lectures and seminars had not prepared me for the intensity of the sun on a Summer afternoon, or the size of the archaeological area.  Needless to say, we were very grateful for the ice cream shop halfway through the walk around the temples!  The Valle Dei Templi includes temples to Juno, Concordia, Olympian Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Hercules, Vulcan, and Asclepios, all in varying states of preservation.

The Temple of Castor and Pollux (reassembled ruins)

All the temples here (despite the rather deceptive name, these temples actually stand along a ridge, not in a valley) are built in the Doric style, the first order of Classical Greek architecture, most popular in the Archaic period.  The Doric style is recognised by its 'stout' columns, simple pediments, and characteristic frieze constructed of metopes and triglyphs.  

Doric elements on the Temple of Concordia

Temple of Concordia
Doric columns on the
Temple of Concordia
The scale of the archaeological park meant that there was a lot to see and take in, which could be a little overwhelming at times.  Of all the temples on the ridge, the Temple of Concordia was easily the best preserved, having been later maintained and converted into a Christian basilica.   

Despite not being as well preserved as the Temple of Concordia, the Temple of Olympian Zeus (the largest Doric temple ever to be constructed) has many beautiful artistic and architectural features which set it apart from the rest of the temples in the area. The most striking of these features is definitely the enormous stone atlases, which once stood between the huge Doric columns around the temple's perimeter.  Supposedly erected to celebrate a victory over the Carthaginians in the 5th century BC, it is easy to see why this temple was constructed on such a massive scale, as a monumental celebration of Greek culture.  

Remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus

Remains of the Temple of Olympian Zeus (one of the Atlases can be seen in the centre)

One of the Atlases at the temple of Olympian Zeus

Situated right at the top of the 'valley', the Temple of Juno offers stunning views out across the Mediterranean.  Given the goddess' fondness for Carthage (detailed extensively in Virgil's Aeneid), it is fitting that her temple should look out towards the North African coast.  The beautiful views and refreshing breeze were welcome rewards after a long, hot afternoon of walking!

The Temple of Juno
Views from the Temple of Juno

Views from the Temple of Juno

The Valle dei Templi was a great way to start off our Sicilian adventures, and set the cultural tone for the rest of the trip!


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