In the eastern zone are Agrigento’s three best-preserved temples. The Temple of Hercules (Tempio di Ercole) is the oldest, dating from the 6th century b.c. At one time the temple sheltered a celebrated statue of Hercules, long since plundered. Gaius Verres, the notoriously corrupt 1st-century-b.c. governor of Sicily, had his eye on the statue as he looted temples across the island, though there is no record of Verres getting this prize. Eight of 36 columns have been resurrected, while the others lie rather romantically scattered in the tall grass and wildflowers; they still bear black sears from fires set by Carthaginian invaders. The Tempio della Concordia (Temple of Concord), surrounded by 34 columns, has survived almost intact since its completion in 430 b.c. It was shored up as a Christian basilica in the 6th century, so was never plundered, and its foundations rest upon soft soil that absorbs the shock of earthquakes. The Temple of Juno had no such structural resiliency and was partly destroyed in an earthquake, though 30 columns and sections of the colonnade have been restored. A long altar was used for wedding ceremonies and sacrificial offerings.
The western zone would have been the setting of the largest temple in the Greek world, if the Temple of Jove/Zeus (Tempio di Giove) had ever been completed—and if what was built had not been toppled in earthquakes. A copy of an 8m- (26-ft.) tall telamon (sculpted figure of a man with arms raised) lies on its back amid the rubble; the original is the pride of the site’s Museo Archeologico. Several such figures were used as columnlike supports on the temple; the German writer Goethe, who was much impressed with the massive 20m- (66 ft.) high columns, took home with him a painting of one of the temple carytids, a female figure similarly used for support. The nearby Temple of Castor and Pollux (Tempio di Dioscuri or Tempio di Castore e Polluce), with four Doric columns intact, honors Castor and Pollux, the twins who were patrons of seafarers; Demeter, goddess of marriage and the fertile earth; and Persephone, the daughter of Zeus and the symbol of spring.
For more detailed explanations, in both Italian and English, of the many artifacts unearthed here, stop by the Museo Archeologico (Via dei Templi; tel. 0922/40111; Mon 9am–1:30pm, Tues–Sat 9am–7:30pm), between the ruins and Agrigento town. Its most important exhibit is a head of one of the telamones (male caryatids) from the Tempio di Giove. The collection of Greek vases is also impressive. Many of the artifacts on display were dug up when Agrigento was excavated. However, after a long and dusty outing at the ruins, this isn’t a mandatory stop.