Southeastern Sicily is home to two unique UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Greek temples and Baroque architecture, and with 2 days you can visit them both. The Valley of the Temples, in Agrigento, has some of the best-preserved Greek temples still standing. Several towns in the Noto Valley have buildings that are outstanding examples of Sicilian Baroque style.
The Valley of the Temples, Valle dei Templi, in Agrigento is one of Sicily’s must-see sights. The Greeks settled in this area 2500 years ago. Extensive remains of Greek temples are in the archaeological park. In ancient times, this was a large sacred area where monumental Greek temples were erected in the fourth and fifth centuries BC. These temples are some of the largest and best preserved Greek temples outside of Greece.
Perched on a ridge, the stunning Temple of Concord stands out as you approach the area. In the big parking lot are the ticket office, souvenir stands, a bar, restrooms, and the entrance to one section of the park, the area di Zeus.
Across the street is a second section, Collina dei Templi, with the most complete temple remains lined up on a ridge, another bar, and restrooms. There’s another ticket booth and entrance at the opposite end of the Collina dei Templi section. You’ll also see Roman tombs, Greeks walls, and remains of the ancient Agora. At the ticket office, ask for a map of the temples that tells a little about them.
Further up the road toward town is the very good Regional Archaeology Museum with a few more ruins near it, including a Roman neighborhood. Inside the museum is a good collection of finds from the area. Recreations of the Temple of Zeus and Gigante show the size and form of the temple, once supported by 38 gigante . Other interesting exhibits in the museum include lion-head water spouts, a large collection of vases, and Roman mosaics. Buy a combination ticket that includes both the park and museum but you don’t have to do them both at the same time.
If you have more time, go up the hill to visit the historic center of the medieval town of Agrigento. Eat at one of the restaurants in town if you want to have lunch there instead of by the temples.
Right by the temples is the Villa Athena Hotel, a good place to spend the night or enjoy a meal on their terrace with views of the temples.
The Baroque towns of the Noto Valley, or Val di Noto, were rebuilt in Sicilian Baroque style following an earthquake in 1693. Many of the buildings are ornately decorated with interesting figures near the roof and beautiful balconies. Although Noto is the principal town for which the valley is named, there are 8 towns included in the UNESCO inscription for their late Baroque architecture.
Ragusa is a stunning and unusual town, divided into two parts – the Upper Town and Ibla. After the earthquake destroyed most of the town, half the people decided to build on the ridge above town and the other half renovated the old town. Ibla, the lower town, is reached on foot by a series of stairways or by bus or car on a winding downhill road. The part you want to visit is Ibla (leave your car in the parking lot) but from the edge of the upper town the views of Ibla are beautiful.
In the center of Ibla, behind a large piazza with cafes and shops, sits the spectacular Baroque Duomo di San Giorgio. While you’re by the square, stop in for a gelato at Gelati Divini, a shop that makes unusual ice cream made from wines. The best Baroque buildings not to miss are Palazzo della Cancelleria, Palazzo Cosentini, Palazzo Sortino Trono, Palazzo La Rocca, and Palazzo Battaglia. Ibla has several UNESCO inscribed churches to see, too – Santa Maria dell’Idria, San Filippo Neri, Santa Maria dei Miracoli, San Giuseppe, Santa Maria del Gesu, San Francesco, and Chiesa Anime del Purgatorio. Ibla has several hotels and places to stay if you want to spend the night in this area.
Two smaller towns to visit if you have more time are Modica, known for its chocolate, and the even smaller Scicli. Modica has several Baroque churches including the Baroque Cathedral of San Giorgio, an archaeological museum with a Bronze statue of Hercules from the 3rd century BC, and a collection of 15th century tapestries in the Church of San Domenico.
Scicli is dramatically set in a canyon. As you approach by car, watch for great views of the town. Several monasteries and churches sit on the rocky cliffs above the town. Stroll along the pedestrian street of the historic center to admire the Baroque buildings, then walk up the hill toward the former mother church of San Matteo, passing more buildings. You will be rewarded with views of the town and of caves in the cliffs.