Tag Archive: Sicily

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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This cryptic thought is from Andrea Camilleri’s mystery The Shape of Water (or La Forma dell’Acqua in the original Italian). Since the concept is key to how Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano unravels a suspected murder, I won’t reveal what it means, but it’s one example of the fascinating way this Sicilian author thinks. His characters are not only funny, smart, daring and charming but even philosophical.

cover, Italian edition of La Forma dell'AcquaAnother line I like from the book is, “At that moment, the studio door opened, and an angel appeared.” You might expect the tough cop Montalbano to have this thought about a beautiful woman (especially since he tends to meet lots of them), but the angel turns out to be a sensitive young man overwhelmed with grief for the victim in the story.

The book lovers on Bookflurries first led me to the Montalbano books and the TV series based on them. Figuring that the subtitled TV shows might help in my slow quest to learn Italian, I started watching them with Hubby and got hooked at the opening aerial views of hillside architecture in bella Sicilia. Hubby bought me La Forma dell’Acqua after I mentioned wanting to try reading the book in the original language.

Even with my limited fluency, stumbling through La Forma was a labor of love. Like Winnie in my own Italian-set mystery The Five-Day-Dig, I’m fascinated by language. It’s interesting to note that some English idioms translate almost word-for-word into Italian. Montalbano worries about dealing with someone “non avrebbe voluto spartirci il pane,” literally, with whom “he wouldn’t want to break bread.” And when a colleague he dislikes asks how he knew something unexpected, he says, “Mi l’ha detto il mio uccello,” the way we might say, “A little bird told me.”

Loved both the book (linked above) and the TV version. The episode isn’t currently available for video streaming on Amazon (even though it’s listed here), but you can get it on DVD with two other episodes here.

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