Indice · Greek remains in Sicily · The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento · Temples of Selinunte · The Temple of Segesta · Greek temples in Syracuse · Conclusion Articles

The Greek temples in Sicily

List of Greek temples in Sicily

Greek remains in Sicily

Sicily is rich in Greek archaeological sites scattered mainly along the coast, where the most important Greek colonies were located. Sometimes, the remains of that ancient civilisation can be found in the streets of Sicilian towns and cities, enveloped (or encompassed) by modern buildings. On the other hand, outside today's towns and cities, large archaeological areas have been preserved, where it is possible to admire not only the finds, but also the streets and the structure of the city, allowing one to imagine its original splendour.

Of all the Greek monuments in Sicily, the most symbolic are undoubtedly the peripteral temples, monumental religious buildings made of stone and characterised by columns along the perimeter.

The Valley of the Temples in Agrigento

The Valley of the Temples is perhaps the most extraordinary place to visit Greek ruins in Sicily. The name of this site derives from the presence of eleven temples in Doric order that, together with other monuments, create an archaeological area of 1300 hectares.

The Greek colony, called Akragas, stood three kilometres from the sea and was surrounded by a wall more than 12 kilometres long on whose perimeter there were several gates (probably ten). From the map of the ancient city, it is easy to see that the temples were located near the walls and thus at the outermost point of the city.

reconstruction of the walls of the Greek colony Akragas

The walls followed the natural course of the two hills on which the city stands, characterised by high crusts of rock that were already a kind of wall in themselves. Even today it is therefore possible to see (particularly from the east and south) how the temples stand on the edge of these natural boundaries, making them visible throughout the area below. The temple of Concord stands out above them all, wonderfully preserved.

Temple of Concord (Agrigento)


It is the best preserved temple in the valley and one of the best preserved in the world. In fact, the colonnade, entablature and pediments have remained intact. Its construction dates back to the 5th century B.C. and the deity to whom it was dedicated is unknown; the name "concordia" was in fact attributed to it in 1500 due to a mistaken comparison with a Roman inscription found in the area. Its exceptional state of preservation is no coincidence: what saved it was above all the transformation of the temple into a Christian basilica in the 6th century AD, the signs of which are still visible today. Its conversion into a Christian building reversed its orientation by opening the main entrance to the west, which led to the demolition of the rear wall of the cella. In addition, the space between the columns was filled in (an example of this operation is the cathedral of Syracuse) and arches were opened at the sides of the cell. Apart from this, however, thinking of the centuries of history (including the bombings of the Second World War) that this building has gone through, we cannot but consider ourselves extremely lucky to be able to still admire it in its entirety.


The temple of Concordia is in Doric order, hexastyle (from hexa-: six, stilos: column), i.e. it has six columns on the front wall. On the sides there are thirteen columns in line with the typical convention of double the number of front columns plus one. The building rests on a platform (crepidioma) with four steps. Inside the cell, two staircases have been preserved that allowed access to the roof. On each side of the cell there are six arches dating back to the Christian transformation. An ingenious solution was used to resolve the "angular conflict"": the space between the side columns is smaller while the space between the side metopes is slightly larger.

temple of concord: reconstruction of architecture

Temple of Olympian Zeus (Agrigento)


To celebrate his victory in the war against the Carthaginians in 480 BC, the tyrant of Akragas Tyrone decided to build a gigantic temple dedicated to Zeus Olympius (Olympieion). The temple is the largest in the whole of Sicily (112.50m x 56.30m) and Polybius (206 BC - 118 BC) considers it to be second to no temple in Greece despite the fact that it was not completely finished. According to Diodorus Siculus, the temple was never fully finished because of the Carthaginian siege of 403 BC.


We have no certain information about its real incompleteness, in particular it seems that the roof was not complete and left the central cell uncovered. However, this seems to be due to the gigantic dimensions of the temple that prevented it from being completely covered (thus a Hyptero temple). This thesis seems to be supported by the finding of a drainage channel in the centre of the temple.
In the Olympieion the space between the columns was closed, and at the front between seven columns stood five enormous Telamons, statues 7.65 metres high, one of which is preserved in the Regional Archaeological Museum of Agrigento.

The temple, which stood on a five-step krepidioma, is now completely demolished. It even seems that part of its remains was used for the construction of the port of Porto Empedocle. Nevertheless, it is still possible to observe the ruins in the Valley of the Temples and get an idea of how gigantic this building was.

Stemma della casata Vendramin

Temple of Aesculapius or Asclepius (Agrigento)

Unlike the other temples in the valley, the temple of Aesculapius was located outside the walls of ancient Agrigento. It was a destination for pilgrims seeking divine grace for illnesses. In fact, Aesculapius was, according to the Greeks, the god of medicine who had the power to make people miraculously recover from any illness.

The temple, Doric and small in size, had been incorporated into a house built next to it, which is how Goethe saw it and described it:

«The temple of Aesculapius, shaded by a beautiful carob tree and almost walled up inside a farmhouse, offers a pretty picture.»

At a later date, the house was demolished and the original remains can now be easily visited.

Temple of Hera or Juno (Agrigento)

The Temple of Hera is considered to be the twin of the Temple of Concord. In fact the plan of the two buildings is practically identical as are their dimensions. Unlike the temple of Concord, the temple of Hera rests on a krepidioma of four steps and its state of preservation is also very different. In fact, today it is only possible to observe the external colonnade, partially reconstructed and without a roof. We know that the temple was first destroyed by fire in 403 BC and was later restored in Roman times.

Temple of Athena and Zeus Atabyrios (Agrigento)

On the summit is the temple of Minerva and Jupiter Atabirio, as in the Rhodians: since Agrigento is a colony of Rhodos, there is reason to believe that this deity has the same name as the Rhodians.

This is the testimony given to us by Polybius about this temple. As he points out, this temple stood on the top of Mount Girgenti, unlike the other temples (as can easily be seen in the picture above). On the ruins of this temple is now built the church of Santa Maria dei Greci located in the centre of the modern city. Inside the church it is now possible to see the remains of the Greek temple.

Remains of the temple of Athena and Zeus Atabyrios (Agrigento)

Temple of Demeter (Agrigento)

The same fate befell the temple of Demeter, over which the small church of St Blaise was erected. This Doric temple did not have a colonnade, but was in fact a small temple consisting only of a rectangular cella. The temple of Demeter stood on the road that led from Gate I to the road where the modern town now stands.

Temple of Heracles or Hercules (Agrigento)

The temple of Heracles or Hercules was located near the upper agora and the temple of Zeus Olympus. It was found on the right as you entered the fourth gate, the one that connected Akragas to the port. This is probably the oldest of the temples in the valley and today eight side columns can be seen.

temple of heracles or hercules (Agrigento)

Temple of Vulcan or Hephaestus (Agrigento)

The temple of Vulcan stands near the Kolymbertra, a pool created by several streams and used both for defensive purposes (the walls were 'broken' in its vicinity) and as a place of entertainment for the citizens. In the excavations, the foundations of a saccello were found, i.e. an earlier temple on which the temple of Vulcan was later erected. Only two columns remain of this temple.

Temple of the Dioscuri or Castor and Pollux (Agrigento)

At the entrance of the V gate we find instead the temple of the Dioscuri, of which four columns at the corner remain. This temple was also similar in structure to the temple of Concordia.

Temples of Selinunte

Selinunte was an ancient Greek city founded by a group of citizens from Megara Hyblea around 628 B.C. and is today in the province of Trapani between the towns of Triscina and Marinella. The city prospered thanks to its vast territory that guaranteed abundant supplies of grain. The colony stood directly on the sea and its territory was divided into three sections by the two rivers Selinos (today Modione) and Cotton. In the central part was the town surrounded by walls and towards the sea was the acropolis where Temples A, B, C, D and O stood, named by letters because the deities to whom they were dedicated remain uncertain. The other three temples G F and of Hera were instead built on the eastern side (today near Marinella). A peculiarity of the temples of Selinunte, which differentiates them, for example, from those in Agrigento, is the division of the cella into two sections where, in the smaller one stood the statue of the deity.

map of the temples of Selinunte

Temples A and O (Selinunte)

These two Doric temples stood side by side in the acropolis. Today they are both completely destroyed, but it is clear from the remains that the two were structurally the same. In fact, both were hexastyle peripteral temples and the long side measured about 40 metres and had 14 columns. Inside Temple A the symbol of the goddess Tanit, the Punic goddess of fertility, was found. To resolve the angular conflict, the columns are all at progressively different distances.

The plan of the temples shows the presence of a smaller cell inside the naos called the adyton which housed the statue of the deity. There are also two of the oldest spiral staircases ever found, leading to the roof, on either side of the entrance.

Temple B (Selinunte)

Another temple located in the agora next to the great Temple C, it was small in size (8.40m long side) and was prostyle tetrastyle, i.e. it had four columns at the front of the temple only. Its size, however, should not lead us to believe that it is historically less important, as it represents a Hellenistic building that mixes many styles and was erected during the Punic domination of the city. The entire temple was covered with a thick layer of coloured stucco, which has been partly preserved, and thanks to which it has been possible to carry out extensive research into the polychromy of ancient Greek buildings, which we are used to thinking of as the colour of stone, but which were originally painted in bright colours.

Temple C (Selinunte)

Temple C is surprising both for its large size and for its characteristics. In fact, the hexastyle temple has 17 columns on its long side. Moreover, the columns are not all the same: those at the four corners have larger diameters than the others, the grooves range from 16 to 20, and the intercolumn (i.e. the space between the columns) is variable, they also lack entasis (variable size of the shaft) and are carved with drums and other monoliths. A further peculiarity are the four columns in front of the pronaos. The temple is no exception to the others in the colony and has the aditum at the back of the cella (naos).

Only the ruins of the temple can be seen today, but archaeological excavations have brought to light three metopes depicting the Quadriga of the Sun, the killing of Medusa by Perseus and the conquest of the Cercopes by Heracles, which were discovered shattered in 1823 and reconstructed at the Regional Archaeological Museum of Palermo, together with a massive Gorgon mask in polychrome terracotta.

Temple D (Selinunte)

The last temple in the agora is temple D, dedicated to Athena, located to the north of temple C. Peripteral hexastyle, it measures 56 X 24 metres, with a cella with adito and prostyle pronaos; the columns, 6 X 13, are 7.51 metres high and have a variety of grooves. To the east of it, the remains of a small temple in antis have been discovered, most probably from the Archaic period.

Temple E or of Hera (Selinunte)

The southernmost of the three temples on the eastern hill, the temple of Hera is the best preserved of those in the Selinunte archaeological park. To tell the truth, the building was partly rebuilt in 1959 (a process called anastylosis), a very objectionable reconstruction but one that allows us to observe the entire perimeter colonnade. Temple E is of considerable size (70.18 X 27.65 m) and has 6 columns on the front and back (hexastyle) and 15 on the long side. From the pronaos four steps were climbed to enter the cella, and then further up to access the hall.

temple of Hera

Traces of two older temples on which this temple was built have been found on the site. The dedication to Hera was deduced from the discovery of a female statue.

Temple F (Selinunte)

It is a temple with the particularity of having the space between the columns enclosed by walls three metres high. We have already seen this characteristic in the temple of Zeus Olympus in Agrigento and it is a way of transforming the peristasis (the arcade between the columns and the outer wall of the cella) into an additional place of worship. The discovery of two metopes suggests that the temple was perhaps dedicated to Athena or Dionysus. Compared to its predecessors, it does not have such an elongated plan, presenting in fact 14 columns on the long side.

It is still possible to recognise its remains today, although its stone has been used as construction material for other works.

Temple G (Selinunte)

Temple G of Selinunte, dedicated to Zeus, has similarities with its counterpart in Agrigento. It too is in fact of enormous dimensions (113.14 m. x 54.05 m) and because of this, the cella was not covered by a roof (hypetral temple). Unfortunately, its condition is similar, being completely in ruins. Only one column, called the "spindle of the old woman" was put back up in 1832.

The temple had 8 columns on the fronts, 17 on the sides and reached a total height of more than 30 metres. The naos was divided into aisles by columns and had an entrance hall at the back. Inside the naos was found the 'Great Selinuntine Table', a very important text on the cult of the city. The finding of such a text in this building is not stratospheric, in fact, it was common for temples dedicated to Zeus to function as city archives.

The Temple of Segesta

It may surprise you to know that including this temple in this article called "Greek temples in Sicily" is not quite correct, in fact, Segesta was an Elimic city and not a Greek one. However, the temple is clearly of Hellenistic inspiration and therefore it still makes sense to include it in this collection. The Greek influence in the city of Segesta derived mainly from the influence of the neighbouring city of Selinunte with which there were, despite the strong rivalry, continuous exchanges. In fact, it seems that Selinuntine workers were employed in the construction of the temple and this would explain its typically Doric architecture.

The Temple of Segesta

Several elements suggest that the temple was never finished: there is no cella in the temple and on the stones of the basement there are still ashlars, protrusions left in the rock to facilitate construction and then 'filed down' later.

Certainly what has attracted visitors for centuries is its exceptional state of preservation, in fact it is still possible to admire the entire colonnade formed by 6 columns on the short sides and 15 on the long sides and the trabeation above.

The temple's location is surprising: at the top of a long, wide valley, on an isolated mountain surrounded by cliffs, it dominates a vast perspective of land.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Italian Journey

Greek temples in Syracuse

Syracuse, a city that became so great and influential that it rivalled Athens itself. Unlike the archaeological sites we have just seen, in Syracuse the ruins of the ancient Greeks emerge among the modern city and sometimes merge with it.

Temple of Athena (Syracuse)

The first and most stunning example of this fusion is the Temple of Athena, today better known as the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The temple was in fact transformed, in several stages, into a Christian cathedral with a splendid Baroque façade.

side columns of the Temple of Athena visible from Piazza Minerva

The ancient temple of Athena was erected by Tyrant Hieron on the occasion of his victory over the Carthaginians and is a hexastyle Doric temple with 14 columns on the long side. You can still see the columns both inside and out, from Piazza Minerva to the left of the cathedral. As you enter the church you can also see the two columns that stood at the entrance to the pronaos. The cella (naos), although it did not have a doorway, had an altar dedicated to the divinity at the back. Similar to the Temple of Concord in Agrigento, arches were opened in the side walls of the naos to create the three naves typical of Christian churches.

Thanks to this transformation, the temple has remained in the centre of Ortigia and it is possible, albeit under more modern guise, to continue to admire its ancient splendour.

Artemision of Syracuse

Located next to the Temple of Athena, it is the only temple in Ionic order ever found in Sicily. Ionic temples are indeed characteristic of Asia Minor, but Syracuse being such an important destination for Mediterranean trade, it is easy to imagine how different cultures and artistic influences could have converged within its walls. The temple was probably never finished, since it seems that when Hieron came to power, he preferred to have a Doric temple built next to it (the Temple of Athena).

A particular feature of the Ionic temples are the columns with capitals with two volutes, and a characteristic feature of the artemision of Syracuse is a smooth band on the front columns, a band that originally contained bas-reliefs. All that remains of the artemision today are a few remnants not visible from the outside.

Temple of Apollo (Syracuse)

Also on the island of Ortigia, the historic centre of the city, are the ruins of the oldest Doric temple in Sicily. The Temple of Apollo, built in the 6th century BC. It is a temple with similar characteristics to those already seen at Selinunte, being particularly elongated (6 columns X 17) and presenting the entrance inside the cella. It also has a double colonnade at the front and the cella is divided into three naves by two rows of columns.

Over the centuries, the temple has undergone many transformations: it has been a Byzantine church, a mosque, a Catholic church and finally it was incorporated into housing. It was only thanks to excavations led by Paolo Orsi that the original remains of the temple were brought to light and can now be admired in Piazza Emanuele Pancali.

Temple of Zeus (Syracuse)

The Temple of Zeus, unlike the three Syracuse temples seen above, is not located in Ortigia, but rather in a rather peripheral area of the city. This temple is the second oldest in the city and had a colonnade formed by 6 frontal and 17 lateral columns, all monolithic (i.e. formed from a single block of stone). Like the temple of Apollo, it also had a double colonnade at the front and an adyton.

The temple served, as was the norm for temples dedicated to Zeus, as the city's archive and therefore stored important documents concerning the citizenship. Because of its location outside the city, it was repeatedly sacked by the Athenians, Carthaginians and finally the Romans.

Today, the site is not easy to visit and there are only two columns, the others having been, according to Jean-Pierre Louis Laurent Houël, destroyed by farmers to better plough the field:

The owners of the field where the ruins of the temple of Jupiter are, have completely destroyed both the columns and the capitals that were lying on the ground: they have destroyed them and taken them away to build huts and to plough the land more easily. They have preferred the small benefit of a few handfuls of ears of corn to the preservation of these ancient ruins for which they have no respect.


As we have seen, the whole of Sicily has a priceless heritage of Greek monuments. In this article we have tried to create as inclusive a list as possible, but we have been forced to leave out some small temples about which we have less information. Agrigento, Selinunte, Siracusa, Segesta are all cities that testify to the splendour of an ancient culture that first conquered the Mediterranean coast and then greatly influenced Roman society and came down to us.

The temples are none other than the most famous symbol of that culture, a culture that the Greek colonists brought with them overseas, turning the colonies into cities no less important than those in the motherland.

Today, although we can often only imagine their original splendour, they still manage to surprise and amaze us.

By Stefano Vivaldini
ancient greek paint
Painting in Ancient Greece

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letter from the middle ages
Middle Ages

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paint 'The Tempest' by Giorgione
The Tempest by Giorgione

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