Hanging Out in Agrigento
My plan for today consisted solely of hanging out in Agrigento. I am pleased and proud to report that I achieved my objective.
This is a nice little city. There aren’t a lot of touristy things to do in town (as opposed to at the nearby Valley of the Temples). But it is a picturesque, not overly frenetic place to spend some time.
Viale della Vittoria
Probably the only street in Agrigento that I feel somewhat comfortable calling a boulevard is Viale della Vittoria.
Trees line both sides of the street. And reasonably wide sidewalks flank both rows of trees. Wide sidewalks, reasonable or not, are rare luxuries in Agrigento, not so be wasted. So I had to trod on them.
Viale della Vittoria is a straight street that runs roughly parallel to the distant seashore. Numerous benches and a couple of small parks on the seaward side of the street provide ample opportunity to sit, gaze, and contemplate the distant sea.
For the benefit of devotees of the late Douglas Adams, allow me to point out that I have it on very good authority that the sea is very much a part of life, the universe, and everything.
Furthermore, “the sea” is composed of six letters. Six is a factor of 42. Thus, contemplating the sea is undoubtedly a cosmologically significant activity. Even if not, I can definitely report that it beats, say, getting a colonoscopy. Not that that’s ever been an either/or proposition. If only it were.
For the benefit of people who aren’t Douglas Adams fans and who haven’t read the five-part “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” “trilogy,” allow me to point out that there is something wrong with you. But we can still be friends.
Agrigento has a number of old, small churches. Some of them open on Sundays. Others stay closed.
When I say “closed,” I don’t mean they shut out the pagan tourist hordes because services are underway. I mean closed, period. Today is Sunday.
Remember the San Lorenzo Church I mentioned in my first post on Agrigento? The one on Purgatory Square? Not having anything planned for today, I did a bit more research on it. It opens only from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., six days a week. It was well before 4:30 when I walked by there a couple of days ago. That explains why it was closed.
On the remaining day of the week, Sunday, as it happens, the Sabbath by the most common Christian calendar, the San Lorenzo Church doesn’t open at all. What the heck is up with that? I thought Sunday is the day Christians are supposed to go to church. That doesn’t include me, but I thought I’d be able to sneak my atheist/Jewish soul in there.
I guess I’ll never know what the interior of the San Lorenzo Church looks like.
But some old churches were open today. I went into a number of them.
For example, just about a block from where I’m staying, sits the Santuario di San Calogero. It is a smallish, charming church with an evocative crucifix sculpture perched high above the altar. Behind the altar hangs a vibrant picture that is so bright that it appeared backlit, but likely isn’t.
The picture depicts an old man with a white beard holding a red book and wearing a robe with splashes of various colours. Almost a Pride robe.
Atop his head sits a hat with earflaps. Above that is either a weird, white extension of the hat, or a thick, dense halo. I honestly don’t know which.
I also don’t know the alleged identity of the old dude. He looks much older than the usual depictions of Jesus. Is he supposed to be God? Moses? The church’s plumber? I don’t know. Although, if it’s the plumber, he looks well past retirement age.
Elsewhere in town, I visited a 12th century church built over the foundation of a much older Greek temple that was dedicated to Athena. I know this from reading the brochure they gave me when I bought my ticket. But the church also provides tangible evidence of the truth of the existence of the underlying temple.
Large stone blocks sit beside the side walls of the small church. Allegedly, they came from the old temple. Sure, anyone can put random large stone blocks in the church and say they came from the ancient temple. How would I know the difference?
But, wait. There’s more. A large portion of the church, probably close to half, has a glass floor. The glass is strong enough to walk and stand on. Beneath that lies what definitely looks like a stone foundation of something. I don’t think they made such glass in the 12th century. Obviously, they performed the excavations and installed the glass floor much more recently.
That’s a lot of trouble to go to just to trick a gullible tourist like me into believing there’s the foundation of a temple down there.
I went into a couple of other churches, but apart from the Cathedral (see below), I didn’t take any notes. And my memory being what it is, well, say no more, because I can’t.
Yeah, yeah. I know. A cathedral is basically a big, important church. But Agrigento seems quite proud of it, so I chose to create a separate section for it here.
The Agrigento Cathedral sits at what I think is the high point of the town. (High point altitude-wise, not necessarily the most significant or enjoyable part of town.)
There is a sliver of a view out to the sea from in front of the cathedral. However, the dominant view is in the opposite direction, to the hills and valleys on the other side of Agrigento. The panorama includes both built-up and pastoral areas.
To be honest, no disrespect to the Christians of Agrigento intended, but I found the cathedral kind of meh. Not that it’s ugly. I found it pleasant enough. It’s just that I found it kind of small for something that wants to call itself a cathedral rather than a church. And, for my tastes, it just doesn’t dazzle.
If it called itself a church rather than a cathedral, I probably would have been more impressed. It’s all about setting expectations.
Then again, I couldn’t look around as much as I normally would. The cathedral welcomes tourists inside during masses, even if the tourists are heathens there just to gawk. I fit in that class.
The Agrigento Cathedral ran two masses today. It just so happens, one was ongoing when I was there. (My mazel.)
I have no idea how long masses last, but I didn’t want to stick around to find out. But the drawback of being there during a mass is they limit where the gawkers can roam in the cathedral.
Maybe if I had a chance to take a closer gander it would have impressed me more.
There is a diocesan museum associated with the cathedral, about a block away. It has a small collection of crucifixes, chalices and other religious artifacts (some silver), vestments, paintings, and sculptures. One of those sculptures is a small elephant. Don’t ask me why it’s there. I can’t tell you, but you can blame that on my memory.
All of the placards and signage in the museum are exclusively in Italian. But when I entered, they handed me a Samsung tablet (I guess God doesn’t like Apple). On that tablet, I could read descriptions of the contents of each of the rooms in the museum in the language of my choice. I chose English because the other languages would have been as incomprehensible as Italian to me.
The tablet told me the reason for the presence of the elephant statue. I remember thinking it was moderately interesting. But that’s all I remember. Sorry about that.
The museum also has a small bishop’s garden with flowering trees. At least three of the trees had signs hanging from them with labels in both Italian and English. One was a fig tree, another a mandarin orange tree, and the third labeled tree was an olive tree. The sweet scent from the flowers filled the air.
I think I alluded to this somewhat in my first post on Agrigento, but the streets of the centro storico (old town) make for enjoyable walks. The sidewalks vary from narrow, to little more than a curb, and down to non-existent. But traffic is light and, in the centro storico, drivers don’t speed. What’s more, they tend to be respectful of pedestrians, pausing patiently until pedestrians move to the sides of the street.
(The same is not true on the main thoroughfares outside of the centro storico. There, many drivers whip along the streets and seem to view pedestrians as the enemy.)
Because they built Agrigento on a hill, the streets running along the side of the hill are in tiers. Drivers often have to go a fair distance to get to a vaguely cross-street (as opposed to a vaguely-cross street) to go from one tier to the other. Pedestrians have an advantage in that regard. Stairs provide frequent shortcuts. Those stairs often make for charming, or at least interesting, walks
That’s it for Agrigento. Tomorrow, I pick up a rental car for the next three and a half days of my trip. Wish me luck.
Another great day, and what looks like continued fantastic weather. Wandering is definitely your jam. I am impressed that for an atheist/Jewish tourist you go to as many churches as an atheist/Jewish tourist art historian, and that’s saying something.
Love that little elephant fellow. Maybe it was used as a base for something?
You will probably start driving while I am still sleeping. Better that you are awake. And good luck. They should have one of those signs for the back of the vehicle that says “timorous Canadian – be nice” or something like that . “Pauroso canadese – sia gentile” should get it across if you want to whip one up.