Temple of Heracles

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The Temple of Heracles (or Hercules for the Romans) is the oldest sanctuary among those in the Valley of the Temples in Agrigento. Built in the late 6th century BC in the Doric style, it is peripteral and hexastyle. We know that this temple was dedicated to Heracles thanks to references in the works of Titus Livy and Cicero. Both authors also refer to a bronze statue kept inside the sanctuary, the object of a heartfelt devotion among the population.

Temple of Heracles: the origins of the name

«There is a temple of Hercules at Agrigentum, not far from the forum, considered very holy and greatly reverenced among the citizens. In it there is a brazen image of Hercules himself, than which I cannot easily tell where I have seen anything finer; (although I am not very much of a judge of those matters, though I have seen plenty of specimens;) so greatly venerated among them, O judges, that his mouth and his chin are a little worn away, because men in addressing their prayers and congratulations to him, are accustomed not only to worship the statue, but even to kiss it».

Cicero, Verrines, II 4,94

In Greek mythology, Heracles (Hercules to the Romans) is sometimes considered a god, sometimes a hero, endowed with extraordinary strength. The most famous legend associated with the figure of Heracles is that of the “Twelve Labors”. The attribution of this sanctuary in the Valley of the Temples to Heracles is possible thanks to references in the works of Titus Livius and Cicero. Both speak of a splendid bronze statue that adorned the Temple of Heracles and of a cult that was strongly felt by the population.

Architecture of the Temple of Hercules

The Temple of Heracles (or Hercules) is the oldest of the temples in the Valley of the Temples of Agrigento. The remarkable length of the temple, the coarseness of the colonnades and the conformation of the capitals date the construction of this building to the end of the 6th century BC. The temple, in Doric style, is peripteral, that is, with columns along the entire perimeter, and hexastyle, that is, with six columns on the short side. Inside there is an entrance hall (pronaos), a cella (naos) where the statue of the deity was kept, and a rear compartment (opisthodomos). The roof was decorated with gutters in the shape of lion heads. Excavations have found examples of two different series: one from the late 6th century BC and the other from the first decades of the 5th century BC. To the east of the Temple of Hercules, the remains of a monumental altar can be seen, as well as those of an archaic temple.

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