Temple of Apollo at Bassae (World Heritage)

By | August 7, 2021

Near the ancient city of Phigaleia around 430 BC. The Temple of Apollo, built in BC, is one of the most beautiful and important temples of classical antiquity. A mixture of three types of columns in Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles is striking. The Corinthian column style was used here for the first time.

Temple of Apollo at Bassae: facts

Official title: Temple of Apollo at Bassae
Cultural monument: classical temple of Apollo Epicurus, a foundation of the residents of Phigalia, north-facing complex
Continent: Europe
Country: Greece, Peloponnese
Location: Bassae, south of Andritsena
Appointment: 1986
Meaning: famous classical temple for the god of the sun and healing arts

Temple of Apollo at Bassae: history

between 438/37 and 420 BC Chr. probably construction of the temple
1765 Rediscovery
1811 Frieze and metopes are brought to the British Museum in London
since 1990 For reasons of conservation, it was “covered” by a tent construction

Apollo Epicurus in the mountains of Arcadia

In the wild mountains of Arcadia, at an altitude of 1130 meters, the temple of Apollo Epicurus has been preserved. According to zipcodesexplorer, compared to most other temples in Greece, it probably survived the turmoil of time best because of its secluded location on the edge of a deep valley cut. It is thanks to the writings of the ancient author Pausanias from Asia Minor that details of the complete appearance of this building have been preserved for posterity.

According to legend, its construction can be traced back to a plague epidemic that raged in this area in the 5th century BC. At that time the residents had made the vow to want to donate a temple to Apollo if he would spare them from the disease. Obviously the requests were successful; and on the site of an older previous building, this architecturally unusual building was built in honor of Apollon Epicurus – the “healer” – partly with old stone blocks, which to this day arouses both admiration and questions. It is generally believed that Iktinos, builder of the famous Parthenon in Athens, also planned this temple.

The first architectural peculiarity lies – in contrast to the usual east-west orientation – in its orientation in north-south direction; a phenomenon that can probably be traced back to the orientation of the older predecessor buildings on which the “new building” was based. Marble was used for parts of the building such as the sculptures, roof and capitals of the interior, the rest of the building was built from locally found gray stone. Even if the unusually long building for a classical temple with six columns on the narrow side and 15 columns on the long side is reminiscent of older temple buildings from the 6th century BC, the proportions of the columns show characteristics of the Classical era.

The design of the interior, the cella, arouses particular interest and admiration – then as now. While one can speak of a more conventional exterior construction, the design of the inner hall can be described as unusual and ostentatious. The pillars of the cella do not stand freely in the room, but are connected to the side walls by protruding walls. Unlike the outer columns, they are not built in the Doric but in the Ionic style. They are based on broad bases, and the slender, tall column drums merge into mighty Ionic capitals. The Ionic order, which was originally intended for the exterior, thus becomes the determining factor in the interior. A special feature of art history is a column on the narrow side that ended in a Corinthian capital. This capital, which is no longer available today, whose drawings that have been preserved give a precise picture of its appearance, was probably the oldest known Corinthian capital in the history of building to this day. Like an open book of Greek art history, this temple – which has been hidden under a tent for several decades as if the packaging artist Christo had laid his hand here – thus combines Doric, Ionic and Corinthian style elements.

A frieze with 23 relief panels, which has been in the British Museum in London since the beginning of the 19th century, once extended over the Ionic columns of the cella. Alongside the Parthenon frieze, the frieze is one of the best-preserved works of art of the Classical period and shows, among other things, exceptionally lively representations of the battles of the Amazons and Centaurs.

Unfortunately, nothing is known about the details of the cult that was performed in the temple. Likewise, gable sculptures and cult statues have not been preserved, even if they are reported in Greek sources.

Temple of Apollo at Bassae