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Agrigento has a history that stretches back to several centuries BC. The city was founded around 580 BC by Greek colonists and named Akragas. Doric temples were built along the southern ridge that faced the ocean so that they could be admired by seafarers and gave city dwellers the impression that the gods would protect them from invaders. Akragas quickly became one of the richest and most prosperous cities in Greater Greece, but the city’s glory sadly came to an end when Carthaginians invaded in 406 BC and overthrew the city’s democratic government. Further struggles between Romans and Carthaginians over the next two centuries finally ended when Rome captured the island in the Second Punic War. Agrigentum, as the city was now called, became prosperous again and its largely Greek-speaking population was granted full Roman citizenship.
When the Roman Empire fell, the Byzantine Empire took control of Sicily and moved the city further uphill, probably to avoid coastal attacks from Saracens and Berbers. The tactic failed in 828, when the Saracens captured Agrigentum and renamed it Kerkent, or Girgenti in Sicilian.
In 1087, the Normans drove out the Muslim rulers and forced the city’s Arab population to a diminished existence on the outskirts of town.
Between the Middle Ages and the 1700s, Sicily passed through the hands of several European royal houses, including the Aragon family of Spain, the Habsburgs of Austria-Hungary, and the Bourbons. The city was finally captured by Garibaldi in 1860 and united with the rest of Italy. The name of Girgenti persisted until 1927, when Mussolini Italianized the city’s former Latin name to Agrigento.