Girgenti, Diocese of (AGRIGENTINA).—Girgenti is the capital of a province in Sicily and is situated about three miles from the sea, on a steep rock overlooking a rich plain watered by the Drago. Besides a trade in vegetables, fruits, and cereals, it is a mining center for sulphur, soda, chalk, copper, and iron. Its marble quarries are also rich. The Greeks called it Acragas; the Romans Agrigentum. It was founded by a Greek colony from Gela about 582 B.C. The upper portion of the town was already in existence. It was called Camicum from its position on a platform of Mt. Camicus, and was surrounded by cyclopean walls. The Greeks settled at the foot of this acropolis, which they made the acropolis of their city; soon the town was doing a rich trade with the Carthaginians, and was reckoned, after Syracuse, the first town in Sicily. Like other Doric towns, it became a republic, but was often under the control of tyrants, e.g. Phalaris the Cruel (570-555), Theron (488-472), who with Gelon of Syracuse defeated the Carthaginians under Hamilcar near Himera (480 B.C.). The war of Thrasydeus, son and successor of Theron, on Hieron of Syracuse, brought Agrigentum under the tyrants of Syracuse (471 B.C.), but it soon regained its freedom. In 406 the Carthaginians under Hannibal and later under Himilco besieged the city, captured it, slew the inhabitants, and despoiled the temples of their artistic treasures, which were carried off to Carthage. Once more it regained autonomy, only to fall under the tyranny of Phintias (288 B.C.). After this it became the center of Carthaginian resistance to Rome. In 262 the Romans captured it for the first time, and in 210 they gained complete control. The wealth and splendor of the ancient city are attested by all writers, and by ruins that remain till this day. The principal antiquities are: the temple of Jupiter on the acropolis, of which seven columns of the peristyle remain; that of Minerva, to which many of the townsfolk fled in 406 B.C., seeking death under its ruins rather than fall into the hands of the Carthaginians; in the district known as Neapolis the temple of Hercules mentioned by Cicero in his “Oratio in Verrem” the Temple of Concord, in old Ionic style, the best preserved of them all, because used as a church in later times; over one of the cornices was carved a treaty of alliance between Agrigentum and Lilybaeum. There are, moreover: the temple of Juno Lacinia; the temple of Aesculapius, which contained a bronze statue of the god (this work of Myron was carried away to Carthage but restored by Scipio Africanus); the temple of Olympian Jove, according to Polybius the largest and most beautiful in Sicily. In 1401 three colossal caryatides supporting an architrave were discovered; the fact was commemorated in the coat of arms of Girgenti. Other edifices of the city were: the temple of Castor and Pollux, of which there remains an architrave supported on four pillars; the temple of Vulcan; that of Ceres and Proserpine; and the remains of a stadium. In 827 the Arabs, called in by the Byzantine tribune Euphemios, captured the city, and spread over the whole island. In the eleventh century Girgenti was the center of Saracen resistance to the Normans, who finally captured it in 1087; thenceforth it shared the fortune of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.
In the roll of its illustrious citizens are found the names of the philosophers Empedocles and Acron; the historian Philinos; the musician Metellos, Plato’s master; the dramatists Archion and Carenos; the orator Sophocles; the humanist Nicolo la Valle; and the dramatist Francesco del Carretto. Among the natural curiosities of note in the neighborhood is the hill of Maccalubba, studded with small craters, about thirty inches deep, spouting cold water, carbonic acid, and hydrogen mixed with asphaltum, chalk, sulphate of lime, etc. The cathe-dral is built of ancient materials, and has a beautiful Madonna by Guido Reni, and paintings by Nunzio Magro. The church of S. Nicolo exhibits a very fine Norman doorway. Girgenti venerates St. Libertinus as its earliest apostle; he is said to have been sent thither by St. Peter. The earliest bishop of whose date we are certain is St. Potamius, a contemporary of Pope Agapetus 1 (535-36). St. Gregory I, Bishop of Agrigentum, said to have been martyred in 262, is probably only a double of the homonymous bishop who was a contemporary of St. Gregory the Great. The list of bishops, interrupted by the Saracen invasion, began again in 1093 with St. Gerlando. Other bishops of note are: Rinaldo di Acquaviva (1244), who restored the cathedral and crowned King Manfred, for which latter action he was excommunicated by Alexander IV; and Fra Matteo Gimmara, called the Blessed. Girgentiis a suffragan of Monreale, has 66 parishes and 381,000 souls, 10 religious houses for men, and 42 for women. It is also a center for the Azione Cattolica Sociale in Sicily.