Reconstructed Atlas statue

Colossal Atlas Statue Rises Again After 20-Year Restoration

Culture News

A remarkable feat of archaeological reconstruction has brought a colossal Atlas statue back to life in the Valley of the Temples, Sicily.

After being buried for centuries and painstakingly restored piece-by-piece over 20 years, the imposing figure now stands proudly overlooking the ancient Greek temples.

“The Atlas will become one of the highlights of the Valley of the Temples,” declared cultural heritage assessor Francesco Paolo Scarpinato in a joint statement with Sicilian governor, Renato Schifani. “We can finally introduce this imposing work to the international community.”

The story of the Atlas statues begins in 1812 with the visit of young British architect, Charles R. Cockerell. While studying the ruins of the ancient city of Akragas, he made a critical discovery: a massive piece of sandstone near the Temple of Zeus wasn’t part of the building, but the head of a colossal Atlas. This led to the unearthing of nearly 38 such statues, believed to have adorned the exterior of the unfinished temple, symbolising their support for the structure and the Olympian gods it represented.

“In Greek mythology, Atlas was a Titan, forced to bear the sky on his shoulders as punishment by Zeus,” explains the statement.

Model reconstruction of the Temple of Zeus showing how the Atlas statues were originally positioned.
Poudou99 via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0
Model reconstruction of the Temple of Zeus showing how original position of the Atlas statues. Poudou99 via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0

Recovery of the Atlas statues

Throughout history, earthquakes and human intervention took their toll on the temple and the Atlas statues. Many pieces were lost, while others were used as building materials centuries later. However, hope flickered in 1920 when archaeologist Pirro Marconi unearthed fragments that led to the reconstruction of the first Atlas, now displayed in Agrigento’s Archaeological Museum.

In 2004, a new chapter began with an extensive research campaign led by the German Archaeological Institute of Rome. This meticulous effort not only offered new insights into the monument but also revealed 90 more fragments belonging to at least eight different Atlases. This ignited the ambitious project to reassemble a statue, piece by painstaking piece, and return it to its rightful place.

“The idea was to reposition one of these Atlases in front of the temple so that it may serve as a guardian of the structure dedicated to the father of the gods,” explained Roberto Sciarratta, director of the Valley of the Temples park.

The restored Atlas now stands tall amidst the Valley of the Temples, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This sprawling archaeological park encompasses 1,600 hectares, featuring the ruins of seven temples, city walls, and various other structures, offering a glimpse into the grandeur of ancient Akragas.

“The work we have carried out on the Atlas and the Olympian area is part of our mission to protect and enhance the Valley of the Temples,” said Sciarratta. “Bringing these stone colossi back to light has always been one of our primary objectives.”

The return of the Atlas statue marks a significant milestone in the ongoing efforts to preserve and showcase the rich heritage of the Valley of the Temples. It serves as a testament to the enduring power of history and the human dedication to its rediscovery.

Leave a Reply