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The Temple of Epicurean Apollo

At the north borders of Messinia, on a rough and fascinating mountainous landscape stands the imposing temple of Epicurean Apollo, one of the biggest ancient temples. The temple is situated 14 kilometers south of Andritsaina, at an altitude of 1.130 m., on mountain Kotilio. 

 

In the 7th century B.C., the area was known as Vasses (it means small flat areas on rocks), the inhabitants of neighboring Figaleia erected a temple in honour of Apollo Vassita and worshipped him with the name Epicure (= an assistant in war or illness). He was given the name Epicurean during the wars against the Spartans around 650 b.C.

 

It was built in 420-400 B.C. on the ruins of an older archaic temple.  Apollo’s temple in the sanctuary of Vasses is one of the best-saved monuments of classical antiquity. Moreover, it is the best-preserved temple, after that of Hephaestus in Athens. Among all the temples in Peloponnesus and after the temple in Tegea, this one could be considered the most beautiful one, thanks to its fine marble and the harmony of the whole.

 

The traveler Pausanias, who visited and admired the monument in the middle of the 2nd century A.D. mentions Iktinos as its architect. The temple has a special place in the history of Greek architecture, because it combines in an ingenious way the archaistic elements dictated by local religious tradition with its creator’s bold innovative ideas. It is a Doric peripheral temple, with orientation N.-S and dimensions 14,48 x 38,24m on the level of the keystone.

 

The long row of narrow columns, the number of the columns (6x15 instead of the common at the time 6x13) and their arrangement (larger inter-column spaces on the narrow sides) are archaic features and follow a particular pattern: that of Apollo’s great temple in Delphi. However, these features are harmonically combined with innovative characteristics of the mature classic Athenian architecture, such as the thin columns, the low sill and upper parts and the spacious front and back sides. The monument’s greatest originality lies in the formation of its interior.

 

The temple is made of local limestone. The capitals of the cella, some parts of the roof and the ceiling and the carved decoration are made of marble. Ruination started during the roman years, first from people and then earthquakes. Sculptures of the temple’s decoration, the Amazons battle among them, are now in the Archeological British Museum.

 

The temple’s frieze is a real masterpiece that consists of twenty-three marble plates, of which the eleven to the west depicted a Centaurs’ battle (Lapithes-Centaurs) and the eleven to the east an Amazons’ battles (Athenians-Amazons). The central one in the background showed Apollo who, aided by Diana, restored justice, disrupted
by those who had started the terrible battles (Centaurs – Amazons). It is a real masterpiece, classified among the best carved decorations of antiquity thanks to the figures’ liveliness and expression, as well as the scenes’ harmonized sequence.   

Unfortunately these unique sculptures of Epicure Apollo’s frieze were discovered and looted. Nowadays most of them decorate the displays of the British Museum, as well as the Louvre and Munich Museums. Inside the temple there was the big (12 feet) bronze statue of Apollo, which, according to Pausanias, was carried and placed there, in front of the Lyceos’s Zeus’s temple, when the Great City was founded. 

 

Nowadays the temple is preserved in the form obtained after the works for its restoration by the Archeological Company, in the beginning of the century. Ever since 1965 and in a more systematic way since 1982, the Ministry of Culture has taken on the difficult work of preserving and protecting the monument. The shelter that protects the sensitive building material from the extreme weather conditions of the area, the scaffold for protection from earthquakes and the other plants are temporary, for as long as the saving works call for it.

 

 

 

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