Modern Greek History

The History of The Temple of Aphaia

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Just outside the capital city of Athens is the island of Aegina [Grk: Αίγινα], one of the Saronic Islands that are closest to the city in the Saronic Gulf. The quaint and quiet island is very easy to reach from Athens and is filled with history and many iconic historical sites.

Perhaps its most famous site is the marvelous ancient temple known as the Temple of Aphaia [Grk: Ναός Αφαίας] that still stands, albeit in a ruined form. The magnificent temple stands on a pine covered hill over 500 feet high. The Temple is aptly dedicated to the Greek goddess Aphaia, who was almost exclusively worshiped at this very temple on Aegina. However, from the middle of the fifth-century BC, the Athenians dominated the rival island of Aegina, and the Temple of Aphaia was linked with the goddess Athena.

The Temple was built in 500 BC and is made of porous limestone that was later coated with an outer layer of stucco and richly painted. Like the Parthenon and the Temple of Poseidon, the temple is built in the Doric order. Six columns form the front and back of the temple, while each side has twelve columns. 25 of the original 32 Doric Columns still stand to this day, a testament to its construction and subsequent restoration. Most fascinating is that all but three of the columns are monolithic, meaning that they consist of a single piece of limestone, as opposed to being built of stacked column drums, as is the case in several other famous Greek temples.

The current temple was built on top of a previous temple dating from 570 BC that was destroyed by a fire. The remains of the destroyed temple were used to fill in and create a large raised terrace that holds up the temple that still stands today. The buried remains of the destroyed temple contain many traces of the ancient paint that coated them.

The sculptures from the pediments (triangular shaped roofs at the ends of the temple) of the Temple of Aphaia are considered very important as they are thought to bridge the Archaic and Early Classical periods of ancient Greek history through sculptural technique. Unfortunately several of these priceless sculptures were removed and taken to Germany where they remain to this day. Some fragments do remain and are housed in the museums in Aegina, as well as at the site of the temple itself.

The temple is one point of the so-called Holy Triangle, where it is said that if lines were drawn connecting the sites, the Temple of Aphaia forms an equilateral triangle with the Acropolis in Athens, and the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion.

Although the sanctuary was eventually abandoned the temple and its surrounding buildings remained imposing monumentally for centuries to come. To this day the remains, which include two story interior Doric colonnades, are monumentally impressive even in their ruined state. The extraordinary remnants of the Temple of Aphaia make any trip to Aegina well worth the visit.

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This post was written by Greek Boston