No Restaurants in Agrigento

Agrigento is a town on the south west coast of Italy. If your expertise in Greek architecture exceeds mine (a low bar indeed), you already knew that. Its importance as a center of commerce and geographic hub was at its peak 2000 to 2500 years ago, but that prosperity built the temples that draw visitors today. For those who can do better than “Doric, Ionic, Corinthian,” it is one of the most important places on earth.

In real estate terms, its major advantage was “location, location, location,” but that expression came into being after the demise of looting, sacking, pillaging, plundering, raping and burning. While those practices prevailed, a prime location was actually a disadvantage.

Agrigento was easy to conquer and hard to hold. According to one story, a general, who had just conquered the city, was standing on a hilltop watching it burn. Presumably, the looting, sacking, pillaging, plundering and raping had already taken place otherwise the burning would have precluded such activities.

The victorious general was taunting his vanquished foe by asking his reaction to the blazing fires. “None,” replied the foe, “it’s your city now.”

There is not much call for people to consider the proper order of looting, sacking, pillaging, plundering, raping and burning these days because such activities have fallen out of favor but, should the occasion arise always remember to burn last as the fires tend to get in the way of the other activities.

Also, if you plan to hold on to the city and use it as a return on investment for your war-making activities, you might want to reconsider the burning option.

Visitors to Sicily will do well to read “Sicily: An Island at the Crossroads of History” by John Julius Norwich. The eminent historian spells out in graphic detail the advantages of being a great trading location and the disadvantages of not being easily defended.

A year or so ago, my wife and I listened to the book while driving the length of Italy to get there, but we gave up partway through. We lost track of the parade of conquests and the sheer number of former owners who were either burned at the stake, drawn and quartered or flung from the ramparts. Life insurance might not have been a good business then.

Actually, we did not entirely give up on the book, but we did skip ahead to World War II and the famous race to Messina between General Patton and Field Marshal Montgomery.

What’s with the title to this story? What do restaurants have to do with looting, sacking, pillaging, plundering, raping and burning? Or with ego fueled races to capture Messina?

Well, nothing.

History books tend to cover wars more than peace and commerce. That might be a mistake because, even in Sicily, there were far more peaceful commercial days than there were battles. Also, the peaceful commercial days were the ones that financed the magnificent temples that inspire architects today.

Did you know that Greek temples were not actually places of worship so much as they were offerings to the gods? I didn’t.

During Agrigento’s prime trading years, there were virtually no restaurants.

Their custom – no matter who controlled the city – was to entertain visitors from the trading ships in the houses of the richest inhabitants.

Though ineffective against invaders, the hospitality enabled significant intelligence gathering as to market opportunities elsewhere in the Mediterranean and thus provided a source of comparative advantage for the hosts.

Agrigento long ago lost its trading advantages, and information no longer travels by word-of-mouth but you never know when you might be in need of first hand commercial intelligence or the proper ordering of looting, sacking, pillaging, plundering, raping and burning.

Besides, it kept me from facing up to a painful absence of architectural expertise. Doric, Ionic and Corinthian are styles of column, by the way, but I learned there was far more to it than that.


Addendum in response to a comment

Here is a model of the Temple of Zeus that lasted about 75 years. It would not have lasted that long if they had not added the slaves to hold up the roof.

Here is one of the slaves.

10 Responses to “No Restaurants in Agrigento”

C grenville, December 20, 2019 at 10:13 pm said:

Last I checked, Agrigento is on the south coast of Sicily


Coburn Everdell, December 21, 2019 at 12:56 am said:

I was wondering when you’d get around to our shared experience among some of the greatest temples in antiquity. Very nice essay. Someday in the future you might mention the largest ever Temple of Zeus, bigger than a football field, whose gigantic facade required additional intermediate supports in the form of giant slaves holding up the entablature. Built by the Greeks with Carthaginian slave labor in 480BC, it was subsequently destroyed with extreme prejudice in 405BC by the the Carthaginians using Greek slave labor. It was never rebuilt and its parts remain scattered in place. Sic Transit Gloria Mundi. Or otherwise: who laughs last laughs best. Wasn’t there a guy named Ozymandias?

Oh and by the way, we did eat in a wonderful restaurant overlooking the valley of the temples. Had you forgotten?

We’ll always have Agrigento, dear Pundificator. Thanks for the memory. And love to the artist. C


Haven Pell, December 21, 2019 at 8:36 am said:

I will add the Temple of Zeus as an addendum.

You are correct about the restaurant. Customs changed even before visitors like us had little useful commercial intelligence to share.


Jim Weekes, December 21, 2019 at 9:05 am said:

I believe that Gloria Mundi was a class behind us at Greenvale. Her cousin Ted was a class ahead.🥴


Haven Pell, December 21, 2019 at 9:49 am said:

Non Green Vale readers will have a really tough time with that one. Be assured, your lives will continue.


bill, December 21, 2019 at 10:11 am said:

Fine photo of the dominating temple at Agrigento. But do not go expecting to see the Igor Mitoraj sculpture in the foreground or any other Mitoraj magna opera. There were only there for a few months in 2015 (?).


Haven Pell, December 21, 2019 at 2:14 pm said:

Fellow readers, Bill edited a book of great travel writing called Scraps of Wool. He is likely to be well informed on such topics .


Guy Cipriano, December 22, 2019 at 5:18 am said:

Sicily has great natural beauty, wonderful olive oil, tasty fruit , and , umm, nothing else. Every Sicilian who had get up and go, got up and left. That includes Giovanni Musumeci and Domenico Marrone and their families. In 1963 my late grandparents spent a month in Fiumefreddo touring and visiting distant relatives. Upon their return I asked my grandfather about his trip. His response: “ I am happy to be back in Summit NJ. They should use Fiumefreddo as the proving ground for the atom bomb.”


Haven Pell, December 22, 2019 at 6:28 am said:

Another story coming on this theme


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