Aegina Athena Aphaia Temple

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Location: Agia Marina

The Temple of Aphaia has been dedicated to the goddess Athena and is located atop a pine-clad hill. This is one of the greatest architectural wonders of ancient Greece. It was built in 480 BC and 25 of the original 32 Doric columns still stand due to the skill of the restorers. It is situated in a Sanctuary complex in Aegina about 13 km east of the main port.

The temple was built over the ruins of an earlier one, built around 570 BC which was destroyed in a fire in 510 BC. The remains of this old temple were infilled to create a larger flat terrace on which to build a new temple. This led to the ruins of the old temple being well preserved. Many painted remnants can still be observed.

The possibility of another temple built in the 7th century being located at this site is conceded but all agree that this temple was very small and simple in terms of both structure and size. Many figurines belonging to the late Bronze Age have been excavated from this site, especially female figurines showing that cult activity connected to the Minoan civilization had been performed at this site since the 14th century BC connected to Mycenaean civilization.

The most recent temple has an unusual design and is noted for its beautiful sculptures that show the transition from Archaic to Early Classical techniques. The sculptures are on display in the Glyptothek of Munich and a large collection of fragments is located in the museums of Aegina.

Historical evidence points to the fact that, by the second millennium, the people of Aegina were already worshipping a female fertility deity at this site. Then, the Dorians colonized Aegina and they continued the worship of the goddess until it was replaced by that of Aphaia. Legend has it that Aphaia, who is identified with the Cretan goddess Vritomartis, is said to have been forced to seek refuge in the sea after being chased by King Minos. However, she was then captured by fishermen. She escaped the clutches of sailors near the coast of Aegina and was seen going up to the hill of Artemis. There, the goddess helped her and made her vanish, hence the name Aphaia, which means vanished. Aphaia is revered as a mountain and a hunting goddess who protects shipping, as Aegina was an important shipping area of the region.

The maritime prosperity of Aegina during the sixth and fifth centuries is the reason for the beautifully built Temple of Aphaia in Aegina. There were many theories regarding it. When initially discovered in the 18th century, after years of oblivion and disuse, it was thought to be the temple of Zeus Panhellenius; then, it was attributed to Athena. Only later, when a stele containing a relevant inscription was found, was the temple was attributed to Aphaia.

The sanctuary here consists of many buildings, not just the temple. The temple lay at the center of the enclosing walls. A large altar with a paved pathway and a ramp leading to the temple were found to the east of the temple. Four bases, two on either side of the ramp are seen. These were probably meant for statues. The altar was used to burn offerings. On either side of the altar, we can find the foundations of two buildings that may have housed more statues.

On the northern side is a cistern to collect rainwater from the roof of the temple. Near the cistern, there is a large column with a sphinx on top. It was believed to have been built around 600 BC and it is about 14 meters high. It is the only remnant of the older sanctuary that was situated on a flat terrace. At the south entrance, there was a columned gateway. The southeast building seems to have been used for administrative purposes.

The temple had 32 columns: twelve on each side and six at the front and back. The columns on the sides slightly incline inwards (about 3/4 inches) to lend greater strength to the building and the ones at the angles are about 0,75 inches thicker than the others. Limestones found in Aegina were used to build the present temple and they were covered with a thin layer of stucco that was richly painted.

The upper parts of the temple are more colorful than the lower part. These are painted in bright shades, with horizontal elements in red and vertical in black. Carved wooden plaques that were painted or embellished with bronze reliefs may have filled the metopes on the frieze. The upper surfaces of the horizontal cornice were usually painted in red, representing the earth, and the background in cobalt blue to represent the sky. The temple constructed during the archaic period bears traces of both archaic and classical styles.

The architecture of the temple is in the Doric style but the influence of Ionic architecture is prominently seen. It is said that the slender line of the columns lends a sense of soaring lightness which is a hallmark of Ionic architecture. Among the most remarkable and interesting features of the Temple of Aphaia are the three pediment groups of the temple. They consist of two east groups and one west group. One of the east groups and the west group belong to the same period and were created around 500 to 510 BC. The second east group seems to have been made about 20 years later.

The pediments depict scenes of battles fought by Aeginetan heroes during the first and second wars against Troy. The goddess Athena can be seen in the center, gazing towards both the east and the west groups. Not much information is found on the various sculptures that stood in the buildings flanking the sacrificial altar. On the east side of the temple are two groups of sculptures, a few statues simply called the warrior groups and sculpted most probably crafted by the west pediment.

The statue of the deity Aphaia is believed to have been erected at a position less than central; a stone base found at the northwest corner of the cella may have held a wooden statue of Aphaia. At the center of the same cella presumably stood another statue of the goddess which was set on a base and surrounded by a wooden railing.

Today, there is also the small Aphaia Museum on-site, where you can see many of the sculptures revealed by archaeological research.



1 Reviews
  • Jennifer Havord 22 Jul 2022
    Absolutely breathtaking
    This absolutely breath taking, amazing building, reduced me to tears with it's sheer beauty and architectural statement. The precision and majesty of the columns, the whole design is truly incredible. What an amazing and fascinating building. I am humbled.