Agrigento Historic Centre
Modern Girgenti was built on the top of the hill where ancient Camico used to be , facing west and south and the nearby sea; hence includes that fortress, made by nature and by men, described by Polybios. It is all built on a sloping site. At the very top, the main church adorned with episcopal see, sacred since 1301 to Saint Gerlando first bishop of the city.
The old “Girgenti”
The historic center of Agrigento (named Kerkent by the Arabs,Gergent by the Normans and Girgenti until 1927) takes up, almost entirely, the hill of Girgenti. This perched position was chosen in the Middle Ages for defensive purposes and also for its proximity to the new harbor, and therefore more favorable to trade. Strolling down the streets and alleys of old town Girgenti you can discover quaint corners and significant monuments that reveal Agrigento’s multi-cultural past:and complex history: the Arab maze of streets and courtyards, the Norman palaces and churches and the Baroque architecture of Spanish derivation.
The visit to the historic centre or Girgenti old town ideally begins in Piazza Vadalà where there is a monument to the philosopher Empedocles. Throught Porta di Ponte (Bridge’s Gate) we enter Via Atenea, the long and winding main street, which crosses from west to east the lower part of the old town. Along or near this street there are a number of churches and buildings of interest.
Churches and monuments
The Church of San Pietro and the church of San Francesco or Basilica of the Immaculate Conception partly damaged by bombing in WWII. Remarkable the Chiaramonte style architecture of the chapel of St. Anthony .
The Church of San Lorenzo or Purgatory where you can admire the stucco- works by the Serpotta school and a Madonna and Child by Fra Felice of Sambuca, the Church of Santa Rosalia, also in Baroque style and adorned with eighteenth century stucco- works. At the end of the square, topped by a marble lion, the entrance to the Purgatory Hypogeum, an imposing complex of underground tunnels dating back to the fifth century. B.C. and attributed to the architect Phaiax.
Further up the street, the Church of St. Joseph and, next to it, the former Collegio dei Padri Filippini. Recently restored, it houses several temporary and permanent exhibitions (paintings by Giambecchina, Lo Iacono, Politi and Santella). At the end of Via Atenea, the large Piazza del Municipio, irregularly shaped and dominated by the elegant Baroque facade of the Church of San Domenico, and the Municipio (Town Hall, a former convent) within which is the 19th-century Pirandello Theatre.
Walking up Via BacBac or one of the many charming alleys behind the Town Hall, you plunge into the heart of the historical center of Agrigento in the vicinity of Piazza Bibirria and the Cathedral of San Gerlando. Founded by the first Norman bishop in the 11th century and enlarged in later times, it has a beautiful wooden painted roof to the west and a coffered ceiling to the east. Along the aisles notewothy are the chapels such as the Chapel of Saint Gerlando with the silver reliquary by Michele Ricca and the De Marinis Chapel attributed to the Gaginis. The Cathedral Museum preserves vestments, reliquaries and a great picture gallery with paintings dating from the sixteeenth to the nineteenth century.
Coming down the Via Duomo, following the signs, you get to the Church of Santa Maria dei Greci (St. Mary of the Greeks), for a long time cathedral of the Greek clergy. The building incorporates the remains of a Doric temple, not unanimously identified with that of Athena.
Walking along Via San Girolamo you reach the Monastero of Santo Spirito, the most important monument of medieval Agrigento. The structure called by the locals “Bataranni” or great abbey of the Cistercian order, was for centuries the largest building in the city. Do not miss the abbey church with the stucco-works by Giacomo Serpotta and the cloister with the façade of the convent which is regarded as the prototype for Chiaramonte art in Sicily. This section of the convent belongs to the municipality of Agrigento and hosts some collections of the Ethno-anthropological Museum. From Piano Gamez you return to Via Atenea.