Electronically Serving Monterey Park, Alhambra, San Gabriel, & Rosemead


This is the seventh in a series of articles about southern Sicily, chiefly the interesting town of Agrigento that we visited in the 1990s


By Charles N.Stevens

Had I walked 2,300 years ago where I walk today, I might have strolled with Plato, the renowned Greek philosopher who had arrived in the great city of Akragus in Sicily to be a teacher for Dionysius the Second. Had I been here even earlier I might have walked with Empedocles who was born here, becoming an esteemed philosopher, statesman and physician known throughout the Greek world. At another time I might have tagged along with Simonedes, the honored lyric poet who had won prizes for lyric poetry and choral song year after year.

Today I follow a Sicilian guide with a troupe of American tourists in the Valley of the Temples, now a barren ridge containing the remnants of Greek temples built during the age of Pericles in the 5th century BC. We begin at the east end of the old acropolis, our guide standing in front of the naked sandstone columns of the Temple of Juno. We sit on a low ancient wall, the remains of a once bloody platform used for the sacrificial killing of animals, listening to him. The temple was built with the help of Carthaginian slaves at a time when Akragas had been the fourth largest city in the world, perhaps having a population of 300,000 people, six times the present population of modern Agrigento where we are staying.

I listen to the statistics about the temple, the baritone voice of our bearded guide, but try to absorb the temple in my own way. I look at its weathered columns, trying to reassemble the temple in my mind, to imagine it as it was, and to feel its incredible age. Some of the sandstone is flaked or shattered, some pocked, hollowed out or grooved by the rain and winds of thousands of winters. The Greeks had always used local stone to build their temples, the squared-off geometric cuts of their quarries still visible in the side of a hill.

The Greeks had applied a stucco of powdered white marble to the textured yellowish sandstone to smooth it out and add brilliance. They had also applied paint, and erected statuary, attached gorgons to frighten away evil spirits, the entire temple glowing brightly in the Sicilian sun.

We move along the path to the next temple, the hazy afternoon sun warm, the autumn air cool. A tangle of cirrus clouds promises a fiery sunset. We shuffle along behind the guide, each of us doting on what interests us. We pass the old city walls carved out of the sandstone itself, walls that once completely encircled the ancient city of Agrakas. The Greeks had found a paradise in Sicily, the rich volcanic soil nurturing grain, olives, grapes, figs and fruit orchards, the hills supplying timber, the constant sun flooding the hills and fields with abundant warmth. They had built a city where we walk now, in full view of the sea, their harbors busy with trade. We pass arched graves carved in the sandstone walls by the Byzantines who arrived hundreds of years later, who had toppled most of the Greek temples in the name of Christianity.

We arrive at the Temple of Concord, still standing after over 2000 years of weather, wars and earthquakes. Like the other temples, it faces east so that the god or goddess in the temple sees the sun rise, the symbol of light and life. I stand in front of it admiring its solid form even though all its decorations—its sculptures, lion head gorgons, the bas relief of its frieze, marble stucco and paint are all gone. The Romans had used the temple after they had conquered the Greeks. stripped it of its pagan statuary. Timber beams had once supported a tiled roof that directed its rainwater runoff through the mouths of lion head gorgons.

All along the way we pass by tombs, the graves of Byzantines, Romans and Greeks, the resting places of men, women and children who had lived in the ages of the past, who had loved, admired the fire of sunsets, ducked in out of the rain, enjoyed their favorite foods and cried when they were sad. Their graves are only indentations in the ground, a honeycomb of them, the substance of their being dissolved long ago. Many of the graves are small, the graves of children who often died in childbirth. The larger graves were those of adults whose average lifespan was 37 years. I might have been walking with Simonides who wrote, “When youth is in flower, and the heart of man is light, he nurses idle thought, hoping he will never grow old or die; nor does he think of sickness in good health. Fools are they who dream thus, nor know how short the days of our youth are and our life”.

A half dozen columns stand at the Temple of Hercules, reassembled from the rubble. They stand alone like giant old bones against the light blue sky, traces of white stucco staining the yellow sandstone. Their Doric capitals are nearly worn away, most of them weathered rippled knobs that support nothing but the sky. Nearby is the grooved stone pathway where slaves once rolled the great blocks of stone on wheels.

The greatest temple of them all, the Temple of Jupiter, once seven times the size of the Temple of Concord, lies totally in ruins, a mass of stone rubble. Thirty-eight stone giants, each twenty-five feet tall had once adorned the temple. The “Sleeping Giant” found inside the temple has been reassembled in the local museum. Clusters of tourists stand along paths among the broken stones, their guides, in several languages, trying to resurrect the magnificence of the vanished temple. It had taken 30,000 slaves over 74 years to construct it, and now it is nothing but a disorderly pile of weathered rocks.

Wandering out to the edge of the temple site, we look out over a vast area of uncovered ruins, the remains of buildings associated with the temples. Their crumbling foundations appear like a stony blueprint of a planned community. Dolores and I amble across the unsure footing of the excavated grounds, wandering around and through the old foundations, to get closer to the columns. As we do not have much time, we never quite reach them, but stop to see them silhouetted against the sunset, riotous reds and yellows caught in the twists and strands of feathery clouds. The city of Agrigento, high on the hill above us, glows in a rosy light.

I would have liked to have walked with Plato or Empedocles or Simonides, their robes rippling,  along the way we had come when the temples once graced the hills with their resplendent white brilliance and their artistic and architectural glory, but today I shall have to be satisfied  with a Sicilian tour guide and our group of American tourists. I do have my imagination, however, and in my mind, I had walked quietly with Plato, and had begun to see the splendor of the temples appear out of the haze of time.

MONTEREY PARK AUTHOR PUBLISHES 4th BOOK – Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s:

Charles “Norm” Stevens, a 43 year resident of Monterey Park has recently published his 4th book: Seeking More of the Sky: Growing Up in the 1930’s. This is the story of a young boy growing up in Inglewood, California in the l930’s. This was a time during the depression when unemployment was affecting many and the banks were closed, while the clouds of war were gathering in Europe. But he was lucky enough to be raised in a loving family, the power of that love reflected throughout his stories.

Stevens is the author of three previous books about his experiences during WWII:

An Innocent at Polebrook: A Memoir of an 8th Air Force Bombardier (Story of his 34 bombing missions from his base at Polebrook, England over Germany and France)

The Innocent Cadet: Becoming A World War II Bombardier (A prequel to the first, telling of his training in the U.S. before going overseas into combat.)

Back from Combat: A WWII Bombardier Faces His Military Future from Combat: (This book details the time from when he returned from combat in England until the end of the war.)

He is known to the readers of The Citizen’s Voice as the author of Travel Log Articles including “Cruising the Rhine and Mosel”,” Best of the West”, “In Search of Snow” ,  “From Paris to Normandy on the Seine”, and “Exploring New York”.  He is retired, having taught for 32 years, primarily in the Montebello Unified School District.

Those interested in purchasing an autographed copy of any of his books, may contact the author at 323-721-8230 or  Normstevens24@gmail.com.

Leave a Response