Many people--myself included--sometimes forget how extensive the ancient Hellenic empire was. It wasn't just what is now modern Greece. It extended all the way to, for example, Italy. Today: Akragas.

The ancient Hellenic city of Akragas (Ἀκράγας)  was one of the leading cities of Magna Graecia during the golden age of Ancient Hellas. It was founded on a plateau overlooking the sea, with two nearby rivers, the Hypsas and the Akragas, and a ridge to the north offering a degree of natural fortification. Its establishment took place around 582-580 BC and is attributed to Hellenic colonists from Gela, who named it. Gela (Γέλα), was and is a town and comune on the south coast of Sicily, Italy. It, in turn, was founded by Hellenic colonists from Rhodes and Krete in 689 BC. Aeschylus lived here and died here as well, in 456 BC.

After its establishment, Akragas grew rapidly. It became one of the richest and most famous of the Hellenic colonies of Magna Graecia, the name of the coastal areas of Southern Italy on the Tarentine Gulf that were extensively populated by Hellenic settlers. It came to prominence under the 6th century tyrants Phalaris and Theron and became a democracy after the overthrow of Theron's son Thrasydaeus. At this point the city could have been as large as 100,000 - 200,000 inhabitants.

Although the city remained neutral in the conflict between Athens and Syracuse, its democracy was overthrown when the city was sacked by the Carthaginians in 406 BC. Akragas never fully recovered its former status, though it revived to some extent under Timoleon in the latter part of the 4th century.
The Romans laid siege to the city in 262 BC and captured it after defeating a Carthaginian relief force in 261 BC and sold the population into slavery.

Although the Carthaginians recaptured the city in 255 BC, the final peace settlement gave Punic Sicily and with it Akragas to Rome. It suffered badly during the Second Punic War (218-201 BC) when both Rome and Carthage fought to control it. The Romans eventually captured Akragas in 210 BC and renamed it Agrigentum, although it remained a largely Greek-speaking community for centuries thereafter. It became prosperous again under Roman rule and its inhabitants received full Roman citizenship following the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.

Currently it's named 'Agrigento' and it's a major tourist centre due to its extraordinarily rich archaeological legacy. Ancient Akragas covers a huge area, much of which is still unexcavated today. The archaeological focus is on the famous 'Valle dei Templi' (Valley of the Temples:, which is not a valley at all but a ridge. It's comprised of a large sacred area on the south side of the ancient city where seven monumental Hellenic temples in the Doric style were constructed during the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Now excavated and partially restored, they constitute some of the largest and best-preserved ancient Hellenic buildings outside of Greece itself. They are listed as a World Heritage Site.

The Valley includes remains of seven temples. All were namedn of the named in Renaissance times, apart from the the Olympeion. The temples are:
- the Temple of Concordia, whose name comes from a Latin inscription found nearby, and which was built in the 5th century BC. It was turned into a church in the 6th century AD and is now one of the best preserved in the Valley.
- the Temple of Juno, also built in the 5th century BC. It was burnt in 406 BC by the Carthaginians.
- the Temple of Herakles, who was one of the most venerated deities in ancient Akragas. It is the most ancient in the Valley. It was destroyed by an earthquake and today it consists of only eight columns.
- the Temple of Olympian Zeus, built in 480 BC to celebrate the city-state's victory over Carthage.
- Temple of Kastor and Pollux of which only four columns (famously) remain
- the Temple of Vulcan, also dating from the 5th century BC. It is thought to have been one of the most imposing constructions in the valley; it is now however one of the most eroded.
- the Temple of Asklepius, located far from the ancient town's walls.

For images of these ancient sites, go here.