Okay, the technology has improved. But you still have to give slave labor due credit for the incredible job it did carving those building blocks for the temples of the ancient Greeks. (Not half shabby for pure manual work.) We are in awe of them just as we are astonished by medieval cathedrals and the cave paintings of prehistoric man. The basic human instinct to honor something larger and more powerful than ourselves is built into the human spirit, as evidence of it is all around us.
And then there is the competitive spark, that leads to contention over the size of monuments built to honor those whom one venerates. The old my-temple-is-bigger-than-your-temple syndrome, our-cathedral-is taller-than-your-cathedral, etc. Not much has really changed, but the human artistry at work is wonderful to see.
Today we went to another part of Agrigento, the Valley of the Temples, ranked as the largest archaeological site in the world. Rather than in a valley, the seven temple ruins remaining are on a ridge, and evidently served as a beacon for homecoming sailors.
The temples honoring Juno, Heracles, Zeus, Castor and Pollux, Vulcan and Asclepius are in various states of decay – and some have various attributions. But they are all beautiful in their own way. Some were stripped for other building projects and some fell in various earthquakes, leaving their stones to decay around them.
One temple had Atlas-like images holding up the roof. Atlas is resting on his back these days.
In one place, we were actually able to touch the plaster that originally covered a fluted column. Shivers.
There were a lot of students on the site today – mostly all Italian. Some young girls were gathered under an 800-year old olive tree, and it was amusing to note the heroines they are celebrating today.
The most preserved of all the temples is the Tempio della Concordia, which stayed so intact thanks in part to being converted to a Catholic basilica in the 6th century AD. Same address; different theology. Its image has been adopted as part of the UNESCO logo, in case it seems familiar.
We started our day on a rooftop garden, where we were served breakfast and got to see Agrigento spread out below us – even the Temple Concordia. And around the corner from us is the home of Pirandello, who had the same view.
All in all, a beautiful day with a marvelous view of the past – which doesn’t really feel that far away, even though most of these temples were built in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Some things never change.
Don’s Food Corner
After a hot day at the ruins, we were ready for something leisurely and, well, extra-special. I had a place picked out, but after wandering around (unnamed) streets trying to find it, we gave up. On our way back to a main street, I spotted another place that had been recommended. It was on a second floor and I just happened to look up or otherwise we would not have found that either.
It was a two table-cloth place. Our waiter had spent two months this past winter visiting his uncle in Staten Island. All very promising from the start.
We started with a hot antipasto dish of octopus on a bed of potatoes. The octopus tentacles appeared to have been quickly deep fried, although they were not breaded. I think that’s how they got the tentacles to achieve a tightly coiled form — which was emphasized by the way they were mounted on the potatoes. Very dramatic. There was no doubting that we were eating (or, rather, I was eating) tentacles. Jo just had the potatoes on her half. Despite the fast frying method, the meat was very even and tender throughout.
For our second course, we went with a light lamb ragu on linguine. On the menu this dish was touted as a “slow food” feature. I guess that means they had cooked that lamb for a long time. It was an extremely rich dish, but didn’t seem so until after about the third fork full. We were stuffed after sharing just those two courses.
But we had already ordered the next course. And we had a bottle of extremely nice white Sicilian wine to finish.
I went for a “salted” cod house specialty that was prepared in a tomato and olive sauce. Although terrific, it too was very rich and the portion was gigantic. Jo went for the lamb chops in pistachio crust. (We’re noticing that lamb is showing up on menus. I guess lamb is “in season.”) The four nice-sized chops were not served rare, which was a surprise, and were extremely tender and flavorful. The pistachio crust delivers a subtle flavoring to this and other pistachio-centered dishes we’ve tried.
Later we sampled some more Sicilian gelato. You’ll be happy to learn that high Sicilian gelato standards are being maintained in Agrigento. But we’ll keep testing.