After twenty years of study, research, and restoration, the “stone giant” of ancient Akragas has been resurrected. The “telamon”, one of the colossal anthropomorphic statues supporting the entablature of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the Olympeion, symbol of the Valley of the Temples, has been returned to its upright position.

The statue, nearly 8 meters tall, is supported by a 12-meter steel structure to which supports are anchored, holding the individual pieces of the reassembled monument in place.

According to President Renato Schifani, this stone giant of ancient Akragas, which after many years of study and research we can now observe in its natural position, is the heart of an important project to musealize the entire area of the Zeus temple.

The entire musealization project of the Olympeion area, which has so far cost 500,000 euros from the Park’s funds, includes the upcoming reconstruction on-site of part of the entablature and cornice of the temple, to give a more concrete idea of the colossal dimensions and uniqueness of the monument, while also protecting the artifacts.

In 2004, the Valley of the Temples Park launched an extensive study and research campaign on the Olympeion entrusted to the German Archaeological Institute of Rome and led by Heinz-Jürgen Beste.

The study, in addition to providing new insights into the monument, led to the precise cataloging of the elements still in situ.

Thus, over 90 fragments were identified belonging to at least eight different telamons, and from one of them, nearly two-thirds of the original elements composing it were preserved. This homogeneous core of blocks was used for the reconstruction of the telamon, a “brother” to the one already reconstructed in the late 19th century, which is currently housed in the Archaeological Museum “Pietro Griffo”.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Agrigento (Sicily) stood south of the ancient city, on the western part of the Temple Hill. It was erected as a sign of gratitude for Akragas’ victory over the Carthaginians after 480 BC, to celebrate the prestige of the tyrant Theron.

Architectural solutions never seen before were devised, such as the extremely high fluted semi-columns, each of which comfortably accommodated a man, as Diodorus Siculus writes. Of colossal dimensions, it measured approximately 112 x 56 meters (the Parthenon in Athens measures 69.54 x 30.87 meters), occupied 6340 square meters, and was built with blocks of local limestone.

It had an unusual plan (pseudoperipteral, 7 Doric semi-columns on the short sides and 14 on the long sides), with the entablature, composed of three rows of blocks, topped by a Doric frieze, the cornice, and the gutter. In the spaces between the columns (intercolumniations), about 11 meters high, there were monumental statues (telamons) holding a heavy load with their arms.

The temple suffered irreparable damage from an earthquake in 1401, was looted in the 18th century, and its blocks were used to build the Porto Empedocle pier.

Along with the Temple of Concordia and the temples of Paestum, the Olympeion fascinated travelers and scholars from the 18th and 19th centuries, especially Winckelmann, the father of modern art history, who highlighted its enormous dimensions by comparing its columns to those of St. Peter’s.

With the contribution of engravings and watercolors by Jean Houel and Philipp Hackert, the myth of the mysterious Olympeion was born. Archaeologists wondered about its size and structure, but it was a young British architect, Charles R. Cockerell, in 1812, who first identified the existence of the telamons – he recognized a head found during Bourbon excavations, mistakenly attributed to the pediment – and combined them into a preliminary figure.

Then it was Pirro Marconi, around 1920, who unearthed the various findings that are now part of the current museum project; and it was the then superintendent Pietro Griffo, in 1965, who placed the first reconstructed telamon in the newly founded Archaeological Museum (which bears his name).

In the following years, the growing interest in the remains of the mysterious colossi, never mentioned in Diodorus’s description of the temple, led to a heated international debate among archaeologists, which continues to this day.


Parco Archeologico e Paesaggistico della Valle dei Templi

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