Tag Archive: Hera

Awed in Agrigento

Hubby and I are just back from a trip to Sicily, highlighted by four nights in a lovely B&B with a view of the Valley of the Temples at Agrigento. If you’re not familiar with this site, well, you’re not alone. I suspect it’s one of most under-appreciated places in the world — a true candidate for one of the Seven Wonders. The Valley boasts a complex of enormous temples built in the fifth century BCE when the area was a Greek colony. (The Parthenon in Athens was built around the same time.) It’s the largest archaeological site in the world.

At the Valley's best-preserved temple, dedicated -- I'm guessing -- to Athena

At the Valley’s best-preserved temple, dedicated — I’m guessing — to Athena

We entered the archaeological park (10 euros to get in) from the lower end. The first temple we encountered, traditionally ascribed to Castor and Pollux, has only four columns and a corner standing. But as I walked up to the towering reconstructed remains, the beauty of the architecture and the immensity of its purpose brought tears to my eyes. It’s unclear now which deities were worshiped in which temples in the Valley, but votive offerings to Demeter and Persephone show they were important in this zone, and despite extensive robbing out of the structures for Dark-Ages building projects, the sacred atmosphere lingers.

The largest of the temples, in a very poor state, is firmly connected to Zeus. Next up the hill comes Hera’s sanctuary, followed by the best preserved temple, called Concordia (a Roman name, not Greek). Oddly, I haven’t read any theories about which deity it celebrates, but knowing that Roman cities typically had their main sanctuary dedicated to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, my guess is “Concordia,” juxtaposed by temples to Zeus and Hera, was dedicated to Athena. 😉

If, like me, you’re a lover of sacred places, Agrigento is a pilgimmage I can’t recommend strongly enough. Also, if you’re interested in Hellenistic religion (and romance!), please check out my time-travel adventure Templum.

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The ruins in my archaeological mystery/romance The Five-Day-Dig date to the same era as Pompeii, but at Paestum, Italy — an hour farther south by train (€10 or US $13.20 roundtrip) — the ancient ruins are even older, and the lizards are even bigger. 🙂

Although the town’s Greek-colonist founders named it Poseidonia after the god of the seas (“Paestum” is a Roman corruption of that), archaeological evidence shows that residents left most of their votive offerings to the goddess Hera. The mother-and-child statuettes dedicated to her intrigue me, because I’ve never otherwise seen Hera depicted in a motherly fashion, only as Zeus’ jealous consort. And the baby offering shown in the pic to the left looks like a very familiar piece from my Christmas manger (or lararium, as I like to call it).

Paestum’s big attractions are the town’s three huge Greek temples, the earliest dated to 550 BCE. At least one of them was dedicated to Hera, but it’s unclear who was worshiped at the other two — possibly Poseidon and Athena or Ceres. (Strangely, the Wikipedia entry seems to want to avoid attributing any of the temples to the god the town was named after.)

The site is in a very rural setting and a lonely 20-minute walk from the train station. Buy your return train tickets when/where you get your departure ones, because the ticket office in Paestum is often closed, and any shops that might sell tickets are way back near the ruins. When Hubby and I were there, there was also no validation box for tickets at the station, so when you board the train, get the conductor to validate your ticket (or, as a local advised us, just write “Paestum” on it, along with the date and time you left). For practical info about visiting, I recommend Rick Steves’ Italy 2012.

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