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?
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.