The city of Akragas, defined as the “most beautiful city of those inhabited by man” by the Greek poet Pindar, was founded by colonists from Gela and Rhodes in 580 BC. The settlement sits atop a plateau not far from the coast, sheltered to the north by the hills of Rupe Atenea and Colle di Girgenti, to the south by the so-called Collina dei Templi - hill of the temples, and surrounded by the rivers Akragas and Hypsas. Its port (empórion) is located at the mouth of the two rivers where the fishing village of San Leone is found.
Between the middle of the sixth century and the end of the fifth century BC, the city was the site of feverish construction; indeed, the majority of the remains visible today and the imposing 12-kilometre wall with its nine gateways date to this period. From the tyrannies of Phalaris and Theron through to the arrival of democracy expounded by the philosopher Empedocles, Akragas grew from a small settlement to a large city state with a population of over 200,000 inhabitants.
Destroyed in 406 BC by the Carthaginians, prosperity did not return to the city until the rise of Timoleon in the late third century BC. During the Punic Wars, the Carthaginians defended the settlement against the Romans, who seized control of the city in 210 BC.
During the Roman era, the city - renamed Agrigentum - underwent a period of monumental urban redevelopment as new public buildings - including at least two temples, the theatre and the bouleuterion - were built, with the new constructions centred around the hill of Saint Nicolas, where the town's Museum of Archaeology now stands. The most opulent villas in the nearby Hellenistic-Roman quarter also date to this period. The wealth of Agrigentum's residents most likely relied on the mining, refining and trade of sulphur, as documented by various inscriptions.
In late antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, the Valley of the Temples was occupied by a sprawling Christian burial ground that extended both underground and in the open air.
During the Muslim conquests of the Arabs, Berbers, Spanish, Egyptians, Syrians and Persians between 829 and 840 AD, it is believed that the settlers withdrew to Colle di Girgenti (derived from Arabic word Gergent or Kerkent), where the medieval and modern city was later developed.
During this period, the Valley of the Temples was inhabited in a sporadic manner and became the site of agricultural production and craftsmanship, with various ceramic workshops documented by the presence of several kilns. Over the centuries, the old monuments of the ancient city were steadily deprived of their brickwork for use in the construction of the buildings around Girgenti and the ancient harbour of Porto Empedocle.