Agrigento, Sicily: The Largest Greek Doric Temple of Zeus Ever Built Was Restored

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The monumental statue that served as a column in the temple of Zeus is located in the Valley of the Temples in Acragas (Ἀκράγας, English: Agrigento) - See the video and photo.

The colossal statue of Atlas that was buried for centuries among ancient ruins in Acragas, Sicily, an ancient Greek city that still exists today under the name of Agrigento, is standing again.

The statue dates from the fifth century BC and is located in the famous Valley of the Temples in a temple believed to have been dedicated to Zeus. As the Guardian reports, the eight-metre colossal statue was restored and assembled piece by piece after a 20-year effort by archaeologists.

Watch the moment of revelation:

The statue was one of nearly 38 that graced the temple of Zeus, which is considered the largest Doric temple ever built, even though it was never completed.

“The Atlas will become one of the highlights of the Valley of the Temples,” said Francesco Paolo Scarpinato, a cultural heritage assessor, in a joint statement with the Sicilian governor, Renato Schifani. “We can finally introduce this imposing work to the international community.”

The statue was reconstructed by taking sandstone blocks and stacking each piece on shelves attached to a metal structure. The statues in the area were discovered in 1812 by Charles R Cockerell, a young British architect who visited Agrigento to study the ruins of the ancient city founded around 582 BC.

As the Guardian reports, Cockerell was one of the first people to realise that a huge chunk of sandstone near the old temple of Zeus was not part of the sanctuary's pediment, but instead the head of a statue of Atlas that served as a telamo, or support column.

In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan or god who was forced to lift the sky on his shoulders after being defeated by Zeus.

Cockerell later identified other pieces of the statues. According to the archaeologists, the Atlanteans were on the outer part of the temple of Zeus supporting the temple and helping to support the whole thrigon of the sanctuary, which was never completed because the Carthaginians conquered the city.

Over time, the temple collapsed due to earthquakes, and in the 18th century, its materials were taken by the locals to build buildings in the city and in Porto Empedocles.

In 2004, the Valley of the Temples Park began an extensive research campaign led by the German Archaeological Institute in Rome and supervised by Heinz-Jürgen Beste. In addition to providing new insights into the monument, this study led to the meticulous recording of 90 more fragments belonging to at least eight different Atlases and the decision to assemble a new Atlas, piece by piece, and place it upright in front of the Temple of Zeus.

Roberto Sciarratta, the director of the Valley of the Temples park, said: “The idea was to reposition one of these Atlases in front of the temple so that it may serve as a guardian of the structure dedicated to the father of the gods.”

The Valley of the Temples is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest archaeological park in the world, covering 1,600 hectares and including the ruins of seven temples, city walls, an entrance gate, a marketplace, a Roman forum, as well as necropolises and sanctuaries.

The Valle dei Templi or Valley of the Temples is one of the most important examples of ancient Greek art and architecture of Magna Graecia or Greater Greece and is one of the main attractions of Sicily. The term "valley" is a misnomer, as the site is on a ridge outside the town of Agrigento.

Since 1997, the entire area has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The statue stands above the temple's remains - a wide stone platform littered with crumbling columns and stone blocks. "The work we've done in Atlas and the Olympia area is part of our mission to protect and enhance the Valley of the Temples," said Sciarratta.

The history of the city

Akragantas was founded on a plateau facing the sea with two neighbouring rivers and a ridge with the role of natural fortification. The ancient Greek settlers came from Gela (582 BC - 580 BC) and gave the new settlement the name "Ἀκραγας" after the neighbouring river of the same name.

The city developed rapidly and became one of the leading cities of Greater Greece. In the 6th century BC, it reached the peak of its prosperity when the tyrants Phalaris, for 16 years, and Theron the Akragantinos ruled, and when his son Theron Thrasidaeus of Acraganta was overthrown, a republic was declared.

The population of the city at that time reached 100,000 - 200,000 inhabitants. Empedocles, an important pre-Socratic philosopher, was born here.

The city remained neutral in the conflict between Ancient Athens and Syracuse but was eventually destroyed by Carthage (406 BC). Acraganta never regained its former power; it only went through a period of prosperity when it was ruled by the Corinthian general Timoleon (4th century BC), who refounded it with settlers from Elea. Phidias of Acraganta became a tyrant and founded a new city on Cape Ecnomus, which he named "Findiada", today's Likata (282 BC), razed Gela and moved the inhabitants to the new city (280 BC).

When the First Carthaginian War broke out, the Roman Republic and Carthage claimed the city. The Romans besieged Akraganta (262 BC) and captured it after defeating a Carthaginian force (261 BC), then sold the entire population of the city into slavery. The Carthaginians temporarily recaptured the city (255 BC), but in the final peace signed between the two cities, Akragantes was ceded to Rome. Akragantas suffered significant losses when the Second Carthaginian War (218 BC - 201 BC) broke out as Rome and Carthage tried to control it.

The Romans occupied it for good (210 BC), renamed it "Agrigentum", and spent a long period of prosperity for many centuries. When Julius Caesar died (44 BC), its inhabitants received the title of Roman citizen.

READ MORE: Temple of Poseidon gets new lighting - The Ministry of Culture's plan.

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