The landscape of Agrigento province, with the blossom of almond trees announcing the arrival of another luscious green spring time, which in turn will change to yellow with the heat of the summer sun, is characterised by the mountain plateau which descends gracefully toward the sea in the direction of Africa; the soft rolling hills and mountains are occasionally accented by large rocks and rarely exceed 1000 metres in height.
The economy of the area changed drastically after the 2nd world war as the days of great landed estates and extensive mining came to an end. Luckily however, there is still evidence of both of these things for the visitor, enabling them to experience a past which generated a rich material culture.
It's not easy to summarise the main characteristics of these places full of history and defined by a magnificent and uneven nature, that the foolishness of man hasn't completely destroyed. History has shaped the landscape of these places, starting with the Valley of the Temples, not to forget the roman villa in Porto Empedocle, which is not far from the miracle of nature called La Scala dei Turchi (the Stair of the Turks), then there is also the system of watch towers that defended the land from dangers coming from the sea.
Today, if you look carefully at the organisation of these places, it is still possible to observe some aspects of how these rural mountain top cities are shaped by their once being baronial colonies, typical from between the 16th and 18th centuries. Lots of the centres of Agrigento province, despite huge suburban expansion, keep some of their farming and peasant heritage, giving the visitor the chance to feel how life was in Sicily some decades ago.
Even if the landscape is now much less uniform than when the huge landed estates were dominant, the clayish and sandy nature of the territory makes pasture and dry sowing very popular. In any case, now more than ever, there are lots of areas allocated to be vineyards, olive and almond groves, especially around Canicattì.
The historical centres have generally developed according to the particular geology of the territory: cliffs, gaps, slopes and ridges etc. In many cases villages have developed from the aggregation of individual farm houses, that in turn over centuries have given rise to the main centres of the province.
These are rugged and fascinating lands, where many battles were settled between sea and land, as one can see looking back over the ever changing of population of the coast. The towns of Sciacca and Porto Empedocle are the only of this coast to directly face the sea, which tells us of the difficult historical relationship with the North African coasts. So here is the genealogy of a difficult relationship between those inland and the sea, which brought many dangers and periodic invasions by Saracen pirates.
To put it simply, we can say that historically, the people of this area didn’t develop a close relationship with the sea, and it remained this way until such times as the urbanization of the coast began, which was unfortunately fairly chaotic and disorganized.
Despite this there still remain huge parts of the coast of exceptional beauty (Capo Bianco, Scala dei Turchi, Torre Salsa…) and which are relatively unchanged by the human impact -although it is always a threat- and where you can see the winding paths of mountain streams as they head for the sea, each year creating unique landscapes of cultivated, uninhabited valleys and large sterile beds in the dry season.
Corresponding to the dramatic beauty of the Agrigento province, is an agriculture rich with local varieties (such as Menfi artichokes) and a luxurious gastronomy, full of echoes from the past, such as Vastedda cheese or the preparation of Ainuzzi and of Mastazzola.