Heraklion Temple of Apollo

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Location: Agioi Deka

Located in the sprawling archaeological site of Gortyn, the Temple of Apollo was the religious center of this once mighty city for about 12 centuries.

The site of ancient Gortyn, excavated between 1887 and 1940, is one of the richest in Greece, preserving large swathes of the old city, in part thanks to the area’s rural nature. Among the Doric law inscriptions, early Roman churches, temples to Egyptian gods, and many other notable buildings discovered here, the Temple of Pythian Apollo stands out with its largely preserved floor plan, its fallen columns and the preserved alliance treaty the city made with the wealthy Kingdom of Pergamon in modern-day Turkey.

The temple dates back to the 7th century BCE, with alterations made during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, until it was turned into a church in the first centuries CE. It remained the religious center of the city, despite this change of creed, until a new church was created and dedicated to Saint Titus, the patron saint of Crete.

The paved floor that leads into the temple and through its middle aisle is still mostly preserved, as is the crepis (the step-like base of the walls) around the whole perimeter. The bases of most columns are still in the ground, as well as other sections of the columns that collapsed as Gortyn faced a series of severe earthquakes in the 5th and 6th centuries. Most of these columns are of Doric order, though some of the Corinthian order can also be found, believed to have been part of the Christian modifications to the temple.

During the excavations, a statue of Apollo, dating to the 1st century BCE, was unearthed. Mostly intact, it was placed at the back of the temple, in a curved section of a stone wall built during the Roman period. The head dates to the 3rd century BCE, but the rest of the body is a couple of centuries younger. The statue went missing in 1991, but was returned in 2017 and currently resides in the Messara Archaeological Museum.
The altar was unusually placed outside the temple, though this also seems to be a Roman addition, as the walls surrounding the temple extend past the altar and may have enclosed it as well.

The walls were once made up of massive stone inscriptions placed between the columns, and some believe the famous law code that formed part of the Odeon’s walls was originally placed here. A large inscription describing a peace treaty with Eumenes II of Pergamos, established in the 2nd century BCE, still holds its position next to the entrance.

The surrounding area of the temple has presented evidence of a small theatre, a cistern, and a number of houses.

Since excavations restarted in 2001, the area of the Temple has been surrounded by fencing, restricting access. The site is visible from behind the fencing, but visitors will probably not be allowed to walk around the ancient ruins at this time.



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