Girgenti. I. A province of Sicily, on the S. W. coast; area, 1,491 sq. m.; pop. in 1872, 289,018. Its surface is mountainous, with numerous valleys, which are exuberantly fertile, and yield corn, wine, and oil in great abundance. There is good pasturage, and the cheese made here is excellent. The chief natural productions are gypsum, bitumen, naphtha, salt, and especially sulphur.
II. A city (anc. Agri-gentum), capital of the province, 3 m. off the coast, and 58 m. S. E. of Palermo; pop. about 18,000. It is situated on the Girgenti river, formed here by the junction of the Drago (anc. Hypsas) and San Biago (anc. Acragas), and on Mount Camicus, over 1,000 ft. high, which was the acropolis of ancient Agrigentum. It has four walls and gates, is called magnifica on account of its picturesque situation, and contains a fine English garden. But, excepting one long street, there are only steep and dirty lanes; yet the houses, wretched as they are, have fine balconies, and the inhabitants, including many beggars (though fewer than formerly), are dressed in a blue velveteen costume, and the women wear black shawls over their heads. The cathedral is an incongruous specimen of architecture, owing to various changes since its foundation in the 13th century. It contains many chapels, monuments, works of art, relics, an ancient sarcophagus with sculptures supposed to represent the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus, and a celebrated porta voce, from whence a conversation, though carried on in the lowest voice, may be overheard at a distance of about 300 feet.
There are many other churches, and formerly, when the population included a large number of priests, there were many convents and nunneries. The college of Girgenti is among the most important in Sicily, and the Lucchesiana library contains about 100,000 volumes. The palazzo Buonadonna is the principal of the palaces, and the most remarkable classical vestige is the temple of Zeus Polieus, now the church of Santa Maria de' Greci. Subterranean chambers filled with stalactites are supposed to have been quarries whence the stone was supplied for the buildings of the ancient city. There are immense granaries hewn in the rock near the port, which is protected by a mole, built of fragments from the temple of Zeus Olympius. Sulphur is the principal article of trade, and the other chief exports are grain and olive oil. "While the piscina or water reservoir was one of the most remarkable public works of the ancient city (see Agrigentum), Girgenti suffers from the utter want of a supply of water. The excavations of the ancient sepulchres have discovered painted vases more varied and larger than any others found in Sicily, and almost equalling those of Apulia and Campania. The spring or fountain near the city, to which Pliny refers as yielding petroleum or mineral oil, still exists; and the mud volcano described by Soli-nus, and to which the Saracens gave its present name of Maccalubba, continues to be one of the many curious sights in the vicinity of Girgenti.