Sacred Area of Chtonian Deities

3d model and reconstruction

Sacred Area of Chtonian Deities

Fundamental for the reconstruction of the large sanctuary is the book by Piero Marconi, Agrigento arcaica, Rome 1934, which includes the results of his excavation campaigns as site Engineer for Western Sicily. Here we find building plans and drawings and photos of the excavation materials for the sanctuary buildings and a possible reconstruction of raised structures.

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Short history of

Sacred Area of Chtonian Deities

Demeter and Persephone, mother and daughter, proctors of fertility of nature and men, were revered as divine couple and called chthonian deities, or deities of the earth.

In the western sector of the Hill of the Temples, starting from the residential area to the west of the Temple of Zeus, there was an immense sacred area devoted to the cult of the two goddesses, divided in the three distinct terraces which, altogether, occupy around a third of the sacred hill.

The First Terrace, sited to the east of Gate V, includes a vast square limited at the East by the temenos wall (which is currently covered by the north-south arm of an “L shaped porch”) and to the South by the circuit wall and to the West by the roadway which crosses Gate V connecting itself to the great east-west plateia. In the area we can distinguish the chronological series of the followings buildings within four phases, from the middle of the 6th c. BC to the Hellenistic period.

Few traces remain of the greater temple, represented, in the main, by rock cuts for the foundations. It was oriented north-south and it was probably dedicated to Demeter; it was placed nearby a shrine of smaller dimensions which, on the basis of the recovery of a fragment of an inscribed vase, may be assigned to the cult of Kore.

The Second Terrace, west of Gate V and marked off to the West by the temenos wall and to the North by the rock escarpment, houses several buildings, temples, shrines, temene and altars datable to between the 6th and the 4th c. BC.

During the 6th c. BC round and squared altars, as well as shrine nr.1 and shrine nr.2, were built in various parts of the area. The shrines are two tripartite buildings, with pronaos, cella and adyton; shrine nr. 1 is perfectly oriented in sense east-west while shrine nr. 2 is not perfectly oriented on a north-south line. Aligned with but to the eastern of shrine nr. 2 lies shrine nr. 3, which is constituted by two flanked rooms.

The sacred building known as Temple of the Dioscuri was built in the first decades of the 5th c. BC. This temple, now in a poor state of maintenance, is very famous on account of the partial reconstruction executed in 1836 by the Committee of the Antiquities of Sicily, which has completed work of anastylosis of the four columns in the northwest  corner. The temple was originally devoted to Demeter and from what remains it seems that it was a peripteral, exastyle, temple with 13 columns on the long sides.

The so-called, probably contemporary, Temple of the Dioscuri is the other great temple, sited slightly more Southern, the Temple L, completely destroyed and preserved only in the foundation cut and in a great quantity of columns drums. On its front there are the remains of a sacrificial altar.

The Third Terrace is sited in the western extremity of the hill, and it has been identified as the Terrace of the Donors. The terrace covers an almost triangular area, delimited to the East by the temenos of the adjacent terrace, to the South by the circuit wall and on the North and West sides it faces onto the little valley of the Colymbethra – the magnificent swimming pool described by Diodorus Siculus – whose perimeter is marked by the circuit wall, preserved in discontinuous manner.

A following phase, of the Hellenistic epoch, has also been documented in which the whole area was paved with pebbles, the donors were left in an abandon state, the building of 6th-5th c. BC sec. was turned into a shrine with two rooms and at the centre of the area an aedicule was built, whose dimensions are around m 5,10 x 3,30, with the threshold on the Eastern part.