Temple of Asclepius

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In 1926 an excavation brought to light the remains of the Temple of Asclepius. This stood south of the Temple Hill, outside the walls of the ancient city of Agrigento and beyond the rock Sanctuary of the Chthonic Deities. References from some historical sources and archaeological excavations conducted have allowed the temple to be attributed to the god of medicine Aesculapius. The various remains brought to light suggest that the temple was an asclepeion, a widespread sanctuary in Magna Graecia dedicated to healing the sick.

The Temple of Asclepius: the origins of the name

Asclepius (Aesculapius to the Romans) was the god of medicine and healing in Greek mythology. The centers of his worship were Epidaurus in Greece and Pergamum in Turkey. The attribution of this temple to the myth of Asclepius was first possible because of several literary references. The Greek historian Polybius mentions it in connection with the Roman siege of 262 BC. However, it was the excavations carried out from the 1920s to the 1980s that were decisive. In fact, in the vicinity of the temple, large rooms for the accommodation of pilgrims and for the care of the sick, as well as colonnaded porticoes, were discovered. The structure of the building was very similar to that of an asclepeion, the healing temples dedicated to the god Asclepius that were widespread throughout Magna Graecia. The site had a sacred purpose as early as the 6th century BC, but took on its final appearance between the second half of the 4th century BC and the 3rd century BC.

Architecture of the Temple of Aesculapius

The area of the temple of Asclepius is surrounded by a mighty wall with a monumental entrance, while in the center is the sanctuary. The building, in Doric style, has a rectangular plan in antis, that is, with an atrium in front of the entrance to the cella (naos), the area where the statue of the deity is usually located. According to some sources, a splendid statue of Apollo, made by the sculptor Myron and then stolen by the Carthaginian Imilcone, was kept here. Scipio managed to recover it, but the statue was stolen again by Verres. In the area of the Temple of Asclepius, excavations have uncovered traces of various types of buildings. These include the remains of a sacrificial altar, a small building with an entrance hall and a thesauros, a kind of well where pilgrims’ votive offerings were deposited. In the area around the temple, the remains of two colonnaded porticoes, a fountain and some buildings where visitors to the temple waited for healing after purification rituals have been found.

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