Temple of Aphaia

The Temple of Aphaia is one of the reasons why tourists travel to the island. On the north eastern side of the island is a wooded hill. It overlooks the bay of Agia Marina with the town of the same name.

The Myth of Aphaea (Britomartis)

Although the hill is only about 200m high, it commands wonderful views to the east over the bay and the coastline. To the north and east lie Athens, the island of Salamis and the Peloponnese.

When you reach the summit you'll see why the ancient Greeks built their temple here. It is a truely magnificent setting. Not only that, but the Temple of Aphaia is one of the better preserved buildings from the ancient world.

On the site of the 5th century BC Doric temple of Afea in northeastern Aegina, an earlier temple existed from 570-510 BC which was destroyed by fire, though the cause is uncertain. One of the oldest of Greek Doric temples, its partial reconstruction is found in the inner portion of the Aphaia museum. This remarkable work was carried out by a man known locally by the Greek name Ludovikos, an "architectural archaeologist" who performed the most recent excavations on the site from 1967-84, in collaboration with German, English and Italian researchers. The workers were local Greeks, mostly from the nearby village of Mesagros, though also from Portes and Kylindros villages. 

Doric peripteral temple, 6 x 12 columns. A 3 stepped sloping ramp provided access at the east end. The temple had a pronaos and an opisthodomos, both distyle in antis and a cella with 2-story colonnade and gallery. A ladder led to the upper gallery, which was perhaps used to store votives. All but 3 column shafts were monolithic; the three drum-built columns were perhaps left open during construction to allow access to the interior of the temple.

The temple of Aphaia stands on a pine-clad hill in northeast Aegina. It is the most important monument in the sanctuary of Aphaia, which appears to have been founded on a site used for worship since the Mycenaean period. Pausanias (2, 30, 3-5) mentions the myth of Aphaia and identifies her with the Cretan divinity Britomartis-Diktynna, an opinion shared by modern scholars. The temple, erected at approximately 500-490 BC, replaced an earlier one, also of tufa, which stood on the same site and with the same orientation. 
Sculpture of a warrior from the east pediment of the Temple of Aphaia II.

This earlier Doric temple was built c. 570-560 BC and destroyed by fire in 510 BC. At the time of the construction of the new temple, the entire sanctuary was refurbished with new terraces, a stone enclosure wall and an imposing propylon on the south side, all of which contributed to its monumental appearance. 
Sculpture of a warrior from the west pediment of the Temple of Aphaia II.

Outside the propylon was a series of buildings, which served the needs of the sanctuary. Prosperity was not meant to last, however. The importance and infrastructures of the Aphaia sanctuary declined rapidly following the Athenian domination of Aegina from the middle of the fifth century BC. Some repairs were made in the fourth century, but the third century was a period of decadence and by the end of the second century BC the area was abandoned. 

The temple is a Doric, peripteral hexastyle with twelve columns on the flanks. All the shafts are monolithic and fluted, except for three columns on the north side, which are built up of drums. The temple, which stands on a three-stepped crepis, presents the usual arrangement of pronaos, cella and opisthodomos. Both the pronaos and the opisthodomos are distyle in antis, while the cella is divided longitudinally by two rows of five columns each. A ramp of carefully cut stone rises to the crepis on the east side of the temple. The columns, cella walls and entablature were of local porous limestone, which was plastered and painted over. Traces of paint are still visible on the entablature.
Reconstructed entablature and pediment of the Temple of Aphaia I in the on-site museum.

The two-sloped roof had terracotta roof tiles of the Corinthian type and a single row of marble tiles with palmette-shaped antefixes along the edges. The central, palmette-shaped acroterion, which was framed by two korai, and the four sphinxes on the corners of the roof were also of marble. The pedimental sculptures and the roof acroteria were of Parian marble and painted. The pediments depicted two mythical combats before Troy in the presence of Athena; heroes from Aegina participated in both. The east pediment showed the early expedition of Herakles against the Trojan king, Laomedon, in which Telamon, son of Aiakos, took part. The west pediment showed the later expedition by Agamemnon against Priam, in which three descendants of Aiakos, Ajax, Teukros and Achilles, participated. The west pediment reflects the aesthetics of the sixth century BC, while the east pediment, which is more animated and less stylized, dates to the early fifth century BC. 

The temple remained visible and imposing for many centuries after its abandonment. The architect C. R. Cocherell and his friend baron von Hallerstein explored the site in 1811 and removed the pedimental sculptures to Italy. In 1928 the sculptures were taken to Munich, where they remain. The German Archaeological Institute systematically excavated the site under A. Furtw?ngler and H. Thiersch (1901) and more recently D. Ohly (1964-1981). Restoration was carried out by A. Orlandos and E. Stikas in 1956-57.

Concerning the recent demand by some for the return of the sculptures housed in the Glyptothek to Aegina, Ludwig explained to me that Greek national treasures that are returned to Greece are officially turned over to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. In addition, the construction of facilities to house them on the site would be financially prohibitive in any case - the building, the personnel, (including full 24-hour security), etc. The situation with the "Aeginitans" as the sculptures are known, is not at all the same as that of the Elgin marbles, he explained, because the Aegina sculptures were excavated (in 1811) under the authority of the officials of Palaiachora (the old island capital on the hill next to the Agios Nektarios monastery), officials including Greeks, along with one Turk, who were paid for export of the marbles - quite a different situation from the slicing away of temple sculptures as in the case with Elgin marbles and their purchase from the Turkish Porte by the English. 

Why do those pressing for return of the sculptures from Munich not press the Greek Archaeological Museum for return of heads found on the site in 1902? asks Loudovikos, who believes that political, tourististic and patriotic motives are behind the outcry. 
Reconstruction of the Temple of Aphaea of Aigina.

Concerning the proposed night lighting for the Afea temple now under discussion by the Aegina municipality, Ludovikos finds the scheme repellent—a scheme which would create an ugly presence around the temple, with tall, heavy lamps, and cables requiring trenches. Some of the temple columns, he told me, are in need of restoration to prevent them from falling (hence making them totally unsuitable for supporting heavy lamps and such). From the late 1960s to the late '70s the temple was entered by some 5000 daily summer visitors, after which it was closed, due to its sensitive floors, some of which have traces of red stucco. 

Many believe that the temple forms an isosceles triangle with the Parthenon and the temple at Sounio, but Ludovikos maintains that the distances are not equal, that the means for measuring those distances were not available at the time, and that Athens and Aegina were in any case enemies. 
Colourful Reconstruction of the Western pediment
The second Trojan war – the one described by Homer – is the theme, with Ajax (son of Telamon) figuring prominently. The style of these sculptures is that of the Archaic period. The composition deals with the decreasing angles of the pediment by filling the space using a shield and a helmet.

As to the belief that Afea was really the goddess Athena, he states that this is an error based upon a false 19th century inscription, and that Pausanias confused Oros (the highest peak in Aegina, located in the south central part of the island) with Aphaia and also refers to a temple of Athena. The two tympana sculptures over the columns in the Aphaia temple have sculptures depicting scenes from the Trojan wars, with Athena in the center in the role of supportive goddess. Since the Aeginitans were important heroes in both Trojan wars, the sculptures commissioned by wealthy island families for the temple reflected local patriotism in this regard, thus giving rise to this myth, according to Ludovikos. 

I had read in a major travel guide to Greece that the Aphaia site had been a sanctuary 2000 years before the building of the Afea temple (495 BC). My informant told me that although shards had been found on the site as early as the 3rd millennium BC, there is no proof that they were connected with a sanctuary. It is certain, however, that from Mycenean times (1500-1200 BC) there was a sanctuary for the mother goddess on the site, with many finds of votive figures of mothers with children. 

What you can see

Worshippers would have approached the temple area through the propylaia. Today the modern path takes you to the left of this. There are bath-buildings and other rooms on the site, some of which are presumed to have been for the priests.
The Temple of Aphaia is not large by the standards of other temples, but it's very well proportioned. A ramp leads up to the altar, but today the interior is roped off. Fortunately it's possible to see all the main details.


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