A “small valley that, because of its surprising fertility, resembles the Valley of Eden”; this is how at the end of the 18th century the abbot of Saint-Non described this corner of the world that today has been transformed into a botanical garden in which the landscape of the Valley of Temples merges with the Mediterranean scrub and citrus groves.
In the 5th century BCE, the city of Acragas, the ancient Agrigento, had reached its highpoint in terms of splendour and power and its tyrant Theron, to satisfy the need for a water supply for the about 200,000 inhabitants, started the construction of a great water supply system by digging underground chambers from which water flowed for irrigation and the construction of the great Kolymbethra basin, near the western spur of the Valle dei Templi hill. In the 1st century BCE the location had already been abandoned and it was only from the 12th century that it was once again used for the cultivation of sugar cane, and later citrus fruits, becoming a perfumed garden attracting many travellers on their Grand Tour. In 1999, after a long period of neglect, the area was entrusted to FAI, Fondo Ambiente Italiano, Italy’s National Trust, by the Region of Sicily. A thorough restoration was carried out re-establishing its original value, salvaging all the remains of rural architecture (dry stone walls, terraces, “gebbie” cisterns and the “saje” Arab irrigation system). The hillsides are covered with typical Mediterranean vegetation with myrtle bushes, mastic trees, turpentine trees, phillyrea, spurge and broom. In the areas that are not irrigated, mulberries, carob trees, prickly pears, almonds and enormous Saracen olive trees grow; rock vegetation with Mediterranean dwarf palm, osyris and caper bushes thrive. On the valley plain, as well as the stream lined with hydrophilic plants, such as giant canes or castor beans, and willows and silver poplar, the citrus grove spreads out and is irrigated using traditional Arab techniques.
The ancient hypogea
The “Feaci Aquaducts”, named after the architect Feace who designed them, date back to the 5th century BCE. These underground chambers can be visited embarking on a 185-meter underground itinerary wearing safety helmets and head torches.
The itinerary across the garden takes visitors to its various areas: the citrus and almond-olive groves, another area with typical Mediterranean scrub plants; an area with riparian vegetation, hydrophilic plants (giant cane, castor bean, etc.); and lastly an area with rock vegetation with Mediterranean dwarf palms, osyris and caper bushes.
An area of great riches
Besides the nearby “Valley of Temples”, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, around Kolymbethra there are many other archaeological sites that are worth a visit: the tombs in Sant'Angelo Muxaro, the ancient Eraclea Minoa, the Thermal Baths of Sciacca, and the Greco-Punic settlement at Adranon.