The Doric temple was built in the fifth century BC. by the tyrant Gelone following the victory against the Carthaginians in the battle of Imera. The Athenaion was hexastyle (six columns in front), periptero (columns surrounded the cell on all four sides), with 14 columns on the long sides. According to the Athenaeum the pediment bearing the large shield of the goddess in golden bronze.
By Cicerone, which lists the ornaments looted by Verre, we know that it had decorations in ivory, gold studs on the door, a series of painted panels depicting a cavalry battle between Agathocles and the Carthaginians and 27 portraits of the tyrants of the city.
Currently on the left side of the cathedral we can see some columns and the local limestone stylobate on which they were based; other remains (marble tiles and lion’s head shaped gutters) are shown in the Museo Archeologico Regionale Paolo Orsi.
In the cathedral are also clearly visible 9 columns on the right side of the peripteral and the two in front of the cell. The temple had been preceded by a place of worship dating to the eighth century BC, with an altar unearthed in the excavations of the early twentieth century, and a first temple of the half of the sixth century BC.
The right aisle of the cathedral with the Doric columns of the temple of Athena. In the seventh century it was converted into a church by the Bishop Zosimus. The Byzantine style church was dedicated to the Nativity of Mary and included in the outer walls the colonnade of the temple and in the inner walls of the old cell were opened 8 arches on each side to create a building with three naves each ending with apse at the bottom. The walls dividing the rear compartment (“opisthodomos“) from the cell and that from the pronaos were eliminated too. The building orientation was also reversed and the current facade of the Duomo is the back of the temple. In Norman times the walls of the nave were raised to open up the windows and the apse was decorated with mosaics. The polychrome floor dates to the XV century and in 1518 the nave was covered with wooden ceiling still preserved. In the sixteenth century it was also erected the bell tower. Damaged by the earthquake of 1693, the apses were eliminated and the presbytery was occupied by a large Baroque altar, the work of John Vermexio that reuses such as altar table a block of architrave of the ancient temple. In 1728 it was started the reconstruction of the damaged façade, in Baroque style by Andrea Palma, completed in 1753.
In 1757 there were added the statues of the “Virgin of Piliere”, of “Saint Lucia” and “San Marziano”, work of Ignazio Marabitti, to whom we owe the statues of “Saint Peter” and “St. Paul” to the sides of the entrance steps.