Journey through Ancient Greece


Temple of Apollo Epikourios

Note: the picture shows how the temple looked before it was encased in a huge and impressive tent for restoration work. The tent was erected around the temple in 1987 to protect the temple from the extreme winters in this region. The temple was in serious danger of collapse despite restoration work in the early 20th century, which had in fact, as with the Parthenon, later caused problems.

This is the most remote of the sanctuaries, 1100 metres high on Mount Kotilion, and now 9 miles from the nearest habitation. (The ravines on the mountain, basses or vasses,give the region its name.) The temple was extensively restored at the beginning of the last century and is now the best preserved temple on the mainland after the Hephaeston in Athens. Pausanius made the journey here in the 2nd century AD and said of the temple:

'Of all the temples in Peloponnese, next to the one at Tegea, this may be placed first for beauty of the stone and the symmetry of its proportions.'

According to Pausanias, but now doubted by some, the temple was was dedicated by the people of nearby Phigália to Apollo Epikourios (the helper) in thanks for delivering them from the plague of 429 BC (the same one which killed Perikles). It was thought by Pausanias to have been designed by Iktinos, one of the architects of the Parthenon, but this is the subject of much scholarly debate: some doubting that the great Iktinos would have bothered himself with such a 'provincial' site, others arguing that Iktinos used this opportunity to experiment with several innovations.

The temple was built around 420 BC of local limestone; the pitched roof was covered in tiles of Parian marble, some of which can be seen round the site. (Marble is not found locally so it would have been transported here.) The method of construction was unusual and cleverly designed to withstand the strong winds on this exposed mountain site but limestone is a material which is susceptible to the hard frosts which occur here and has suffered badly over the centuries.

It is unusual in that it faces north - south (rather than east-west) and has the Archaic form of 6 x 15 columns instead of the classical 6 x 13. It is 125ft x 48ft. The external columns are Doric while the naos has two rows of Ionic columns, set close to the walls, with unusual 'bell' bases. You get a good view of these from the right hand side, note the column set at an angle to the wall. It is possible that the present temple was an adaptation of an earlier Archaic one, thus explaining the mixture of Doric and Ionic styles. The earliest known example of a Corinthian column was placed at the far end of the naos. (Only the base remains here, there are some fragments in the NAM in Athens. A drawing in 1812 shows that it was a fine example with acanthus leaves and volutes.)

The cult statue of Apollo may have stood to the side of the Corinthian column; the original bronze statue was said by Pausanius to have been larger than life and taken to the agora at Megalopoli in 369 BC being replaced by a wooden statue with marble hands and feet, also larger than life. Marble fragments of such a statue were found here and are now in the British Museum. (There is also a view that the Corinthian column was itself the cult figure)

The continuous frieze, also in Parian marble, which, unusually, ran round the inside walls of the naos above the columns, was removed in 1811-12 by Haller von Hallerstein, a German, and Cockerell, an Englishman, who together had already stripped the Temple of Aphaia on Égina. (It was found accidentally by Cockerell when he investigated a fox's lair.) The 31 metres in 23 sections eventually ended up in the British Museum (where they are displayed in a separate room which is not always open). They show two battles, that of the Lapiths and Centaurs at the wedding feast, (you'll see this again at Olympia), and Herakles and the Greeks against the Amazons. When they were found they were lying in confusion on the floor and as each slab was carved separately their exact sequence is not obvious and is still the subject of much academic debate.

Outside are many remains including the trygliphs stacked in piles.

The tent built round the temple to protect it from the elements

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Mainly Peloponnese Itinerary


restoration work being carried out on the columns.