Ancient Greek Temples, Sanctuaries and Sacred Places

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Pergamon Altar
Greek temples were constructed to be admired from the outside. Ordinary people were often not allowed to go inside and if they were there usually wasn't much for them to see except for a large statue of the god the temple honored. On the outside statues were placed in niches. In a couple of instances the columns themselves were made into statues of women.

According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The Greeks worshipped in sanctuaries located, according to the nature of the particular deity, either within the city or in the countryside. A sanctuary was a well-defined sacred space set apart usually by an enclosure wall. This sacred precinct, also known as a temenos, contained the temple with a monumental cult image of the deity, an outdoor altar, statues and votive offerings to the gods, and often features of landscape such as sacred trees or springs. Many temples benefited from their natural surroundings, which helped to express the character of the divinities. For instance, the temple at Sounion dedicated to Poseidon, god of the sea, commands a spectacular view of the water on three sides, and the Parthenon on the rocky Athenian Akropolis celebrates the indomitable might of the goddess Athena. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Seán Hemingway, Department of Greek and Roman Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

The Selinus Temple in Sicily was one of the largest Greek temples ever built. It is 362 feet long, 164 feet wide and has 48 columns made of 50 ton blocks that were hoisted 60 feet into the air. Because people often gathered outside a Greek temple rather than in interior could be relatively small. Temples usually features freestanding statues on pediments and relief panels carved into the stone that formed friezes around the building.

see Architecture

Websites on Ancient Greece and Rome: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks; Canadian Museum of History; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; ;; British Museum; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive ;; Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Ancient City of Athens; The Internet Classics Archive ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Rome ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Late Antiquity ; Forum Romanum ; “Outlines of Roman History”; “The Private Life of the Romans”|; BBC Ancient Rome;
The Roman Empire in the 1st Century; The Internet Classics Archive ; Bryn Mawr Classical Review; De Imperatoribus Romanis: An Online Encyclopedia of Roman Emperors; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources; Ancient Rome resources for students from the Courtenay Middle School Library ; History of ancient Rome OpenCourseWare from the University of Notre Dame / ; United Nations of Roma Victrix (UNRV) History

Purpose of Ancient Greek Temples

sanctuary of the Asclepios Temple in Butrint, Albania

Ancient Greek temples, unlike churches, were places the gods lived, not houses of worship. They were regarded as the home of cult statues and places where people could pay homage to gods and leave gifts for them. Some were only entered once or twice a year, and then only by the priest of the temple. Temples were built on hills, known as acropolises, apparently to impress outsiders coming to the city.

On the purpose of Greek temples, Mary Beard wrote in The Times of London, “Forget any idea that temples were the centre of astronomically inspired rituals. Forget any idea that priests spent their time checking out the alignments of the stars. We need to think a bit more broadly about what Greek temples were for — and what they were not...They were not centres of ritual. Any ritual in the Greek world took place in the open air. They were not, like modern churches, mosques or synagogues, a place where a congregation gathered for worship...Greek priests were not specially trained religious, or scientific, experts. Many of them, in fact, were ordinary members of the upper class, who took on religious duties as a part-time extra.” [Source: Mary Beard, The Times, November 19, 2009]

Temples had one main purpose only: to house an image of a god or goddess. The Parthenon in Athens, for example, was home for the huge gold and ivory statue of Athena Parthenos (Athena the Virgin), though it also had a back strong-room, where treasure and precious dedications to the goddess were stored.

Ancient Greek Temple Orientation

A study of Greek temples in Sicily by Alun Salt of the University of Leicester found the temples there were oriented towards the rising sun in the east. The issue of the ordination has long been an issue in the study of Ancient Greek. Most Greek temples were oriented toward the east but enough were oriented towards the west, south and north to leave the impression that orientation was not important. In Salt’s study, 40 of the 41 temples he studied were oriented towards the east, the sole exception was a temple thought to be built in honor of the moon goddess.

On the matter of temple orientation Beard wroe, “Archaeologists have puzzled for more than a hundred years about the orientation of Greek temples. Even without any intricate calculations, it is fairly clear that most of them, though not all, were aligned East-West.Interestingly, the new research appears to show that the temples in the Greek colonies of Sicily are more closely aligned in this direction than their counterparts in Greece itself. It’s a nice idea that the colonists were trying to be even more Greek than those Greeks they had left behind. After all, ex-pats throughout the world have almost always been particularly keen on their old native traditions.

So why did the Greeks generally choose to align the statue’s house East-West? My guess is that they liked to place the god at the centre of the natural world, in line with the rhythms of night and day and the rising and setting of the sun. If an inconvenient marsh, or an awkward slope got in the way, they were happy enough to orientate the building in any direction. The famous temple of Bassae, for example, in the wilds of the Peloponnese stands north-south.

\ In a study that aimed to figure out why temples were located where the were by taking into account geology, topography, soil type, vegetation and works by writers like Homer, Plato and Herodotus, University of Oregon professor Gregory Retallack could not find any kind or correlation except that between the god worshipped and the predominate soil type at the temple site. Retallack found fertile, well-structured soils call Xerolis were the dominant soil type at temples for Demeter, the goddess of fertility, and Dionysus, the god of wine. Rocky Orthent and Xerept soil were found at temples for Artemis, the virgin huntress and Apollo while Calcid soils, found in coastal areas too dry for agriculture, were found at temples for the maritime deities Poseidon and Aphrodite, the goddess of love.

Greek temple plans

History of Ancient Greek Temple Architecture

According to the Canadian Museum of History: From early times, the open air altar played an important role in worship. The outdoor aspect was a practical consideration. Sacrificing 100 head of oxen, as happened on festive occasions such as at the Olympic Games, with its inevitable blood and smoke, was an activity best carried out in the open air. But, influenced by the East- particularly, Egypt- temples began to be seen as appropriate structures to house the image of a deity. That usage dictated a level of quality befitting a divine being. Accordingly, the Greeks looked to their predecessors and to their neighbours for ideas on suitable designs for a temple. From their Mycenaean ancestors they took the idea of an architectural footprint based on the rectangular megaron or “great hall”- a room with a frontal porch supported by columns. From the Egyptians they borrowed the concept of monumentality and a range of design elements and ornaments such as fluted columns, palmettes, spirals, rosettes, lotus plant imagery, etc. [Source: Canadian Museum of History |]

“The first Greek temples were a far cry from a classical masterpiece such as the Parthenon. During the Bronze Age it seems that no temples were built and there is uncertainty as to when they began to be built. It happened during the Dark Age but surviving examples, according to A.W. Lawrence are “few in number and of deplorable quality.” The construction materials were mud brick for the walls with high-pitched roofs made of timber. Greek builders were not satisfied for long with this model and they gradually made their way to stone construction. |

“During the 7th century the Greek “Orders of Architecture” began its evolution. Few people today are not familiar with the notion that there are Doric, Ionic and Corinthian styles. Many can even pick out the different styles in modern examples in their cities for these became widely admired and copied throughout the world...The Parthenon is considered to be the greatest of the Doric temples, the ultimate achievement of architectural perfection in this style. |

“All three styles are built upon a single construction system — the post and lintel- where a horizontal block of stone (the lintel) is laid across two supports (posts or columns). It was a simple system which imposed some limitations on the architects but it assured an appropriate result. An inspired architect might produce a Parthenon but a less gifted individual would at least produce a temple adequate for religious worship. Instead of seeking innovation in other systems and styles, Greek architects sought refinement and perfection in the system that they had chosen. They laid down a framework of rules which spelled out how to address composition and proportion. All of the elements and components had a specified form and function. Tey working within that formula Greek architects were able to produce a range of distinctive temples including some that made the List of Wonders of the ancient world. |

Temple features

Ancient Greek Temple Construction

Ancient Greek temples were designed and constructed by craftsmen and decisions about column size and their location, it appears, were made when the building was being erected. According to Boorstin "scholars have not found a single architectural drawing." Most temples had a similar design and really the only creative work done by the architects was the artwork on the friezes and lintels. [Source: "The Creators" by Daniel Boorstin,"]

To construct a temple, Greek builders used ropes, pulleys and wooden cranes, as high as 80 feet tall, and sometimes used 25-foot-tall teamons, statues of a giant used as a support. Rough limestone columns were lifted and placed and then fluted by a stone cutter.

“According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Although the ancient Greeks erected buildings of many types, the Greek temple best exemplifies the aims and methods of Greek architecture. The temple typically incorporated an oblong plan, and one or more rows of columns surrounding all four sides. The vertical structure of the temple conformed to an order, a fixed arrangement of forms unified by principles of symmetry and harmony. There was usually a pronaos (front porch) and an opisthodomos (back porch). The upper elements of the temple were usually made of mudbrick and timber, and the platform of the building was of cut masonry. Columns were carved of local stone, usually limestone or tufa; in much earlier temples, columns would have been made of wood. Marble was used in many temples, such as the Parthenon in Athens, which is decorated with Pentelic marble and marble from the Cycladic island of Paros. The interior of the Greek temple characteristically consisted of a cella, the inner shrine in which stood the cult statue, and sometimes one or two antechambers, in which were stored the treasury with votive offerings. [Source: Collete Hemingway, Independent Scholar, Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 2003, \^/]

“The quarrying and transport of marble and limestone were costly and labor-intensive, and often constituted the primary cost of erecting a temple. For example, the wealth Athens accumulated after the Persian Wars enabled Perikles to embark on his extensive building program, which included the Parthenon (447–432 B.C.) and other monuments on the Athenian Akropolis. Typically, a Greek civic or religious body engaged the architect, who participated in every aspect of construction. He usually chose the stone, oversaw its extraction, and supervised the craftsmen who roughly shaped each piece in the quarry. At the building site, expert carvers gave the blocks their final form, and workmen hoisted each one into place. The tight fit of the stones was enough to hold them in place without the use of mortar; metal clamps embedded in the stone reinforced the structure against earthquakes. A variety of skilled labor collaborated in the raising of a temple. Workmen were hired to construct the wooden scaffolding needed for hoisting stone blocks and sculpture, and to make the ceramic tiles for the roofs. Metalworkers were employed to make the metal fittings used for reinforcing the stone blocks and to fashion the necessary bronze accoutrements for sculpted scenes on the frieze, metopes and pediments. Sculptors from the Greek mainland and abroad carved freestanding and relief sculpture for the eaves of the temple building. Painters were engaged to decorate sculptural and architectural elements with painted details.” \^/

five orders of architecture

Activities at Ancient Greek Temples

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Hellas” ( c. A.D. 175): “They say that someone uninvited entered the shrine of Isis at Tithorea and died soon after...I heard the same thing from a Phoenician in regard to a temple of Isis at Coptos. [Source: Pausanias, Pausanias' Description of Greece, translated by A. R. Shilleto, (London: G. Bell, 1900)

Strabo wrote in “Geographia,” (c. 20 A.D.) about Greece around 550 B.C: “And the temple of Aphrodite in Corinth was so rich that it owned more than a thousand temple slaves — prostitutes — whom both free men and women had dedicated to the goddess. And therefore it was also on account of these temple-prostitutes that the city was crowded with people and grew rich; for instance, the ship captains freely squandered their money, and hence the proverb, "Not for every man is the voyage to Corinth."” [Ibid]

Philo Judaeus wrote in “De Providentia” (c. A.D. 20): “At Ascalon, I observed an enormous population of doves in the city-squares and in every house. When I asked the explanation, I was told they belonged to the great temple of Ascalon — where one can also see wild animals of every description, and it was forbidden by the gods to catch them.” [Source: William Stearns Davis, ed. “Readings in Ancient History: Illustrative Extracts from the Sources,” 2 Vols. (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1912-1913), Vol. II: Rome and the West, pp. 268, 289]

Plutarch wrote in “Moralia” (c. A.D. 110): “It's not the abundance of wine or the roasting of meat that makes the joy of sharing a table in a temple, but the good hope and belief that the god is present in his kindness and graciously accepts what is offered. [Source: Plutarch, Moralia, translated by Philemon Holland, (London: J.M. Dent, 1912).

1 Corinthians 8 (c. A.D. 56) from the New Testament reads: “So about the eating of meat sacrificed to idols, we know that "there is no idol in the world," and that "there is no God but one." ...But not all have this knowledge. There are some who have been so used to idolatry up until now that, when they eat meat sacrificed to idols, their conscience, which is weak, is defiled.....If someone sees you, with your knowledge, reclining at table in the temple of an idol, may not his conscience, too, weak as it is, be "built up" to eat the meat sacrificed to idols?

recreation of an Artemis Temple ritual

Temples were also places that people made wishes and requests to the Gods, and in turn offered thanks if their requests were granted: Some temple inscriptions read:
1) Thanks to Minerva, that she restored my hair.
2) Thanks to Jupiter Leto, that my wife bore a child.
3) Thanks to Zeus Helios the Great Sarapis, Savior and Giver of wealth.
4) Thanks to Silvanus, from a vision, for freedom from slavery.
5) Thanks to Jupiter, that my taxes were lessened.
6) I pray for the safety of my colony and its senate and people, because Jupiter Best and Greatest by his numen tore out and rescued the names of the decurions that had been fixed to monuments by the unspeakable crime of that most wicked city-slave who refused to work. [Source: Oliver J. Thatcher, ed.,”The Library of Original Sources”, (Milwaukee: University Research Extension Co., 1907), Vols. II: The Greek World & III: The Roman World; The Bible (Douai-Rheims Version), (Baltimore: John Murphy Co., 1914)

Priests and Priestesses at Ancient Greek Temples

Herodotos wrote in “Histories” (c. 430 B.C.): “And so the word which came to Cleomenes [King of Sparta] received its fulfillment. For when he first went up into the citadel, meaning to seize it, just as he was entering the sanctuary of the goddess, in order to question her, the priestess arose from her throne, before he had passed the doors, and said, "Stranger from Sparta, depart hence, and presume not to enter the holy place---it is not lawful for a Dorian to set foot there." But he answered, "Woman, I am not a Dorian, but an Achaian." Slighting this warning, Cleomenes made his attempt, and so he was forced to retire, together with his Spartans. [Source: Herodotus, “Histories”, translated by George Rawlinson, (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862)

An Inscription from Miletus dated to 275 B.C. reads: “Whenever the priestess performs the holy rites on behalf of the city, it is not permitted for anyone to throw pieces of raw meat anywhere, before the priestess has thrown them on behalf of the city, nor is it permitted for anyone to assemble a band of maenads before the public thiasos has been assembled. And whenever a woman wishes to perform an initiation for Dionysos Bacchios in the city, in the countryside, or on the islands, she must pay a piece of gold to the priestess at each biennial celebration.

Sacred Groves

statuette of a priestess, AD 250

Psudeo -Lucian wrote in “Am” (c. A.D. 85): “Around the sanctuary of Aphrodite at Knidos was an orchard, and under the most deeply-shadowy trees were cheerful picnic places for those who wanted to provide a banquet there; and some of the more well-bred used these, sparingly, but the whole city crowd held festival there, in truly Aphrodisiac fashion. And at Formiae, a benefactor staged each year a ceremony for Jupiter, at which he would distribute 20 sesterces to each of the city senators dining publicly in the grove.

In the sacred grove and temples of Asclepius at Epidaurus in the northeastern Peloponnese, Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book II: Cornith: “The sacred grove of Asclepius is surrounded on all sides by boundary marks. No death or birth takes place within the enclosure the same custom prevails also in the island of Delos. All the offerings, whether the offerer be one of the Epidaurians themselves or a stranger, are entirely consumed within the bounds. At Titane too, I know, there is the same rule. The image of Asclepius is, in size, half as big as the Olympian Zeus at Athens, and is made of ivory and gold. An inscription tells us that the artist was Thrasymedes, a Parian, son of Arignotus. The god is sitting on a seat grasping a staff; the other hand he is holding above the head of the serpent; there is also a figure of a dog lying by his side. On the seat are wrought in relief the exploits of Argive heroes, that of Bellerophontes against the Chimaera, and Perseus, who has cut off the head of Medusa. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“Over against the temple is the place where the suppliants of the god sleep. Near has been built a circular building of white marble, called Tholos (Round House), which is worth seeing. In it is a picture by Pausias1 representing Love, who has cast aside his bow and arrows, and is carrying instead of them a lyre that he has taken up. Here there is also another work of Pausias, Drunkenness drinking out of a crystal cup. You can see even in the painting a crystal cup and a woman's face through it. Within the enclosure stood slabs; in my time six remained, but of old there were more. On them are inscribed the names of both the men and the women who have been healed by Asclepius, the disease also from which each suffered, and the means of cure. The dialect is Doric. Apart from the others is an old slab, which declares that Hippolytus dedicated twenty horses to the god. The Aricians tell a tale that agrees with the inscription on this slab, that when Hippolytus was killed, owing to the curses of Theseus, Asclepius raised him from the dead. On coming to life again he refused to forgive his father rejecting his prayers, he went to the Aricians in Italy. There he became king and devoted a precinct to Artemis, where down to my time the prize for the victor in single combat was the priesthood of the goddess. The contest was open to no freeman, but only to slaves who had run away from their masters.

“The Epidaurians have a theater within the sanctuary, in my opinion very well worth seeing. For while the Roman theaters are far superior to those anywhere else in their splendor, and the Arcadian theater at Megalopolis is unequalled for size, what architect could seriously rival Polycleitus in symmetry and beauty? For it was Polycleitus1 who built both this theater and the circular building. Within the grove are a temple of Artemis, an image of Epione, a sanctuary of Aphrodite and Themis, a race-course consisting, like most Greek race-courses, of a bank of earth, and a fountain worth seeing for its roof and general splendour.

sacred springs of Dion, near Mt Olympus

A Roman senator, Antoninus, made in our own day a bath of Asclepius and a sanctuary of the gods they call Bountiful.1 He made also a temple to Health, Asclepius, and Apollo, the last two surnamed Egyptian. He moreover restored the portico that was named the Portico of Cotys, which, as the brick of which it was made had been unburnt, had fallen into utter ruin after it had lost its roof. As the Epidaurians about the sanctuary were in great distress, because their women had no shelter in which to be delivered and the sick breathed their last in the open, he provided a dwelling, so that these grievances also were redressed. Here at last was a place in which without sin a human being could die and a woman be delivered. Above the grove are the Nipple and another mountain called Cynortium; on the latter is a sanctuary of Maleatian Apollo. The sanctuary itself is an ancient one, but among the things Antoninus made for the Epidaurians are various appurtenances for the sanctuary of the Maleatian, including a reservoir into which the rain-water collects for their use.

“The serpents, including a peculiar kind of a yellowish color, are considered sacred to Asclepius, and are tame with men. These are peculiar to Epidauria, and I have noticed that other lands have their peculiar animals. For in Libya only are to be found land crocodiles at least two cubits long; from India alone are brought, among other creatures, parrots. But the big snakes that grow to more than thirty cubits, such as are found in India and in Libya, are said by the Epidaurians not to be serpents, but some other kind of creature. As you go up to Mount Coryphum you see by the road an olive tree called Twisted. It was Heracles who gave it this shape by bending it round with his hand, but I cannot say whether he set it to be a boundary mark against the Asinaeans in Argolis, since in no land, which has been depopulated, is it easy to discover the truth about the boundaries. On the Top of the mountain there is a sanctuary of Artemis Coryphaea (of the Peak), of which Telesilla made mention in an ode.”


According to UNESCO: “The pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Delphi, where the oracle of Apollo spoke, was the site of the omphalos, the 'navel of the world'. Blending harmoniously with the superb landscape and charged with sacred meaning, Delphi in the 6th century B.C. was indeed the religious centre and symbol of unity of the ancient Greek world. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

“Delphi lies between two towering rocks of Mt. Parnassus, known as the Phaidriades (Shining) Rocks, in the Regional unit of Phocis in Central Greece. Here lies the Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of Apollo, the Olympian god of light, knowledge and harmony. The area was inhabited in the 2nd millennium B.C. as is evident from Mycenaean remains (1500-1100 B.C.). The development of the sanctuary and oracle began in the 8th century B.C. and their religious and political influence over the whole of Greece increased in the 6th century B.C. . At the same time, their fame and prestige spread throughout the whole of the then known world, from which pilgrims came to the site to receive an oracle from the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. =

Delphi Omphalos, the Naval of the World

“A place with a rich intangible heritage, Delphi was the centre of the world (omphalos) in the eyes of the ancient Greeks: according to myth, it was the meeting point of two eagles released by Zeus, one to the East and one in the West. The magnificent monumental complex is a human-made environment in perfect harmony with the rare natural environment, the principal features of which gave rise to the organisation of the cults. This harmonious relationship, which has remained undisturbed from ancient times to the present day, makes Delphi a unique monument and a priceless legacy bequeathed by the ancient Greek world to following generations. =

“The layout of Delphi is a unique artistic achievement. Mt. Parnassus is a veritable masterpiece and is where a series of monuments were built whose modular elements – terraces, temples, treasuries, etc. – combine to form a strong expression of the physical and moral values of a site which may be described as magical. Delphi had an immense impact throughout the ancient world, as can be ascertained by the various offerings of kings, dynasts, city-states and historical figures, who deemed that sending a valuable gift to the sanctuary, would ensure the favour of the god. The Sanctuary at Delphi, the object of great generosity and the crossroads of a wide variety of influences, was in turn imitated throughout the ancient world. Its influence extended as far as Bactria, following the conquest of Asia by Alexander the Great. Even pillaging of the Sanctuary by the emperor Nero and by Constantine the Great, who transported spoils from it to Rome and Constantinople, added to the artistic influence of Delphi. =

“Delphi bears a unique testimony to the religion and civilization of ancient Greece. At the legendary site where Apollo slew the serpent Python, celestial cults replaced chthonian cults and introduced the old heritage of myths originating from primitive times. The Delphic oracle, over which four sacred wars were fought, is one of the focal points of Greek political history, while the Theatre and the Stadium, where the Pythian Games took place every four years, were places of community celebrations reflecting triumphant Hellenism. According to the ancients, the Temple of Apollo was where the Omphalos was located, that is, the navel of the universe, the centre of the earth. Delphi is consequently directly and tangibly associated with a belief of manifest universal significance. =


20120219-Olympia ZeusTemple Zeustempel_Olympia.jpg
Temple of Zeus in Olympia
According to UNESCO: “The site of Olympia, in a valley in the Peloponnesus, has been inhabited since prehistoric times. In the 10th century B.C., Olympia became a centre for the worship of Zeus. The Altis – the sanctuary to the gods – has one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces from the ancient Greek world. In addition to temples, there are the remains of all the sports structures erected for the Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia every four years beginning in 776 B.C. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

“The sanctuary of Olympia, in the North West of the Peloponnese, in the Regional Unit of Eleia (Elis), has been established in the valley created by the confluence of the Alpheios and Kladeos rivers in a natural setting of beauty and serenity. The Pan-Hellenic sanctuary has been established in the history of culture, as the most important religious, political and sports centre, with a history that dates back to the end of the Neolithic times (4th millennium B.C.). The famous sanctuary became the centre of worship of Zeus, the father of the twelve Olympian gods. For the Altis, the sacred grove and the centre of the sanctuary, some of the most remarkable works of art and technique have been created, constituting a milestone in the history of art. Great artists, such as Pheidias, have put their personal stamp of inspiration and creativity, offering unique artistic creations to the world. In this universal place, the Olympic Idea was born, making Olympia a unique universal symbol of peace and competition at the service of virtue. Here, too, prominence was given to the ideals of physical and mental harmony, of noble contest, of how to compete well, of the Sacred Truce; values, which remain unchanged in perpetuity. =

The sanctuary of the Altis contained one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces of the ancient Mediterranean world. Many have been lost, such as the Olympia Zeus, a gold-and-ivory cult statue which was probably destroyed by Pheidias between 438 and 430 B.C. and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Other masterpieces have survived: large votive archaic bronzes, pedimental sculptures and metopes from the temple of Zeus, and the famous complex of Hermes by Praxiteles. These are all major works of sculpture and key references in the history of art. =

Olympia’s Importance

According to UNESCO:“The influence of the monuments of Olympia has been considerable: the temple of Zeus, built in 470-457 B.C. is a model of the great Doric temples constructed in the Peloponnese, as well as in southern Italy and in Sicily during the 5th century B.C. ; the Nike by Paionios, sculptured circa 420 B.C. so lastingly influenced iconographic allegories of victory that neoclassic art of the 19th century is still much indebted to it; the Olympian Palaestra with reference to the Roman period, a square and an open space for athletes’ training as well as a place for their mental and physical preparation before the Games, is undoubtedly the typological reference made by Vitruvius in “De Architectura”. Its value as a standard in architecture is in any case indisputable. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

Olympia bears exceptional testimony to the ancient civilizations of Peloponnese, both in terms of duration and quality. The first human settlements date back to prehistoric times when the valley was occupied from 4000 to 1100 B.C. . Settlements and necropolises from the Bronze Age have been unearthed along the banks of the Alpheios river. The Middle Helladic and Mycenaean periods are represented at the site. Consecrated to Zeus, the Altis is a major sanctuary from the 10th century B.C. to the 4th century AD, corresponding to the zenith of Olympia, marked more specifically by celebration of the Olympic Games from 776 B.C. to 393 AD. A Christian settlement survived for a time at the site of the ruins of the great Pan-Hellenic sanctuary: discovery of the workshop of Pheidias under the remains of a Byzantine church is an outstanding indication of continuous human settlement, which was interrupted only in the 7th century AD, as a result of natural disasters. =

“Criterion (iv): Olympia is an outstanding example of a great Pan-Hellenic sanctuary of antiquity, with its multiple functions: religious, political and social. Ancient sanctuaries, such as the Pelopion and a row of Treasuries to the north at the foot of Kronion Hill, are present within the peribolus of the Altis, consecrated to the gods, alongside the principal temples of Zeus and Hera. All around the divine precinct are the structures used by the priests (Theokoleon) and the administration (Bouleuterion), as well as common buildings (Prytaneion), accommodation (Leonidaion and Roman hostel), residences for distinguished guests (Nero’s House), and all the sports structures used for the preparation and celebration of the Olympic Games: the stadium and the hippodrome to the east, and the thermal baths, the Palaestra and the Gymnasium to the south and west. =

an imagining of the statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia

“Olympia is directly and tangibly associated with an event of universal significance. The Olympic Games were celebrated regularly beginning in 776 B.C. . The Olympiad –the four-year period between two successive celebrations falling every fifth year- became a chronological measurement and system of dating used in the Greek world. However, the significance of the Olympic Games, where athletes benefitting from a three-month Sacred Truce came together from all the Greek cities of the Mediterranean world to compete, demonstrates above all the lofty ideals of Hellenic humanism: peaceful and loyal competition between free and equal men, who are prepared to surpass their physical strength in a supreme effort, with their only ambition being the symbolic reward of an olive wreath. The revival of the Olympic Games in 1896 through the efforts of Pierre de Coubertin illustrates the lasting nature of the ideal of peace, justice and progress, which is no doubt the most precious but also the most fragile feature of the world’s heritage. =

Statue of Zeus, One of the Seven Wonders of the World

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Reputed to be 40 feet high and placed in the great temple of Zeus in 457 B.C. the statue depicted Zeus seated on a throne. His body was carved from ivory and his robe and ornaments were made of gold. It was sculpted by Phidias (who created a similar statue of Athena in the Parthenon in Athens) sometime after 432 B.C.

The statue of Zeus was made of gold and ivory plates placed over a wood structure (making it from bronze and gold would have been too heavy for a statue of this size). A system of pipes was devised to bring oil to the wood to prevent it from rotting, The oil also helped preserve the ivory. Zeus sat on the golden throne with jewels for eyes, with his feet resting on a foot stool of gold. Worshippers used to pray at the statue's feet. Chroniclers said the statue was still there in the 2nd century B.C. After that it disappeared, most likely it was stripped and looted.

The original Temple of Zeus was destroyed in A.D. 426. The new temple one that housed the statue was 32 meters wide, 75 meters long and and 12 meters high, It was made of the finest marble and topped by a gilded statue of Nike. Sculpted lion heads with their mouths open served as drain spouts for the Temple of Zeus roof.


Delo is a small (350.64 hectares), rocky island in the centre of the Aegean Sea in the Cyclades archipelago. Considered “the most sacred of all islands” (Callimachus, 3rd century B.C.) in ancient Greek culture, it was where, the Greek legend goes, Apollo-Sun, god of daylight, and his twin sister Artemis-Moon, goddess of night light, were born. According to UNESCO: “Apollo's sanctuary attracted pilgrims from all over Greece and Delos was a prosperous trading port. The island bears traces of the succeeding civilizations in the Aegean world, from the 3rd millennium B.C. to the palaeochristian era. The archaeological site is exceptionally extensive and rich and conveys the image of a great cosmopolitan Mediterranean port. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

Terrace of the Lions at Delos

“The island was first settled in the third millennium B.C. . The Apollonian sanctuary, established at least since the 9th century B.C. reached the peak of its glory during the Archaic and Classical period, when it acquired its Pan-Hellenic character. After 167 B.C. as a result of the declaration of Delos as a free port, all the commercial activity of the eastern Mediterranean was concentrated on the isle. Rich merchants, bankers and ship-owners from all over the world settled there, attracting many builders, artists and craftsmen, who built for them luxurious houses, richly decorated with frescoes and mosaic floors.

“The small island became soon the maximum emporium totius orbis terrarium (S. P. Festus, 2nd century AD) – the greatest commercial centre of the whole world. The prosperity of the island and the friendly relations with the Romans were the main cause of its destruction. Delos was attacked and looted twice: in 88 B.C. by Mithridates, the King of Pontus, an enemy of the Romans, and later, in 69 B.C. by the pirates of Athenodorus, an ally of Mithridates. Since then, the island fell rapidly into decline and was gradually abandoned. Captured after its abandonment successively by the Byzantines, Slavs, Saracens, the Venetians, the Knights of St. John and the Ottomans, Delos was turned into a quarry site with its temple columns burnt for lime, and its houses left in ruins.” =

The island of Delos bears unique witness to the civilizations of the Aegean world since the 3rd millennium B.C.. During the Palaeo-Christian era, it was the seat of the bishopric of the Cyclades. From the 7th century B.C. to the pillage by Athenodoros in 69 B.C. the island of Delos was one of the principal Pan-Hellenic sanctuaries. The feast of the Delians, which was celebrated every four years in the month of May until 316 B.C. included gymnastic, equestrian and musical competitions, Archaic Age dances, theatrical productions and banquets. Like the Olympic and the Pythic Games, it was one of the major events in the Greek world. =

Delian League tributes

“Delos had considerable influence on the development of architecture and monumental arts during the Greco-Roman period, as seen in the immense Hellenistic sanctuary. A great part of its treasure of masterpieces was found during the excavations and is exhibited today in Delos’ Museum. This influence was matched later by the important role it has played since the 15th century in furthering our knowledge of ancient Greek art from a widely renowned site, which is among the first sites in Greece that captured the attention of archaeologists and travellers. =

The archaeological site of Delos provides an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble that restores the image of an extremely important cosmopolitan Mediterranean port that began to prosper since 314 B.C. reaching outstanding levels during the 2nd and 1st centuries B.C. . Warehouses and trading companies abounded, large residential areas were established, public buildings were founded by associations of bankers, traders and ship-owners. Moreover, there were an unprecedented number of sanctuaries dedicated to foreign religions: temples of Sarapis, Isis and Anubis, temples to the Syrian gods Haadad and Atargatis, and even a synagogue in the stadium district. =

“Delos is directly and tangibly associated with one of the principal myths of Hellenic civilisation. It was on this arid islet that Leto, made pregnant by Zeus and fleeing the vengeance of Hera, gave birth to Apollo and Artemis after a difficult labour. According to a Homeric hymn, the island, which until then had been floating, became anchored to the floor of the ocean. The newborn Phoebus- Apollo threw off his swaddling clothes bathed the universe in light and began walking with his cither and his bow. Kynthos, the mountain of Zeus, and the wheel-shaped lake, close to which the pregnant Leto suffered labor pains for nine days and nights, remain essential landmarks of the island's sacred geography, which was clearly defined by the additions made to the Delian sanctuary to Apollo between the 6th and the 1st centuries B.C.” =

Temples in Troezen in the Northeast Peloponnese

On Troezen, a town and region in the northeastern Peloponnese, Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book II: Cornith (A.D. 160): “To Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, is devoted a very famous precinct, in which is a temple with an old image. Diomedes, they say, made these, and, moreover, was the first to sacrifice to Hippolytus. The Troezenians have a priest of Hippolytus, who holds his sacred office for life, and annual sacrifices have been established. They also observe the following custom. Every maiden before marriage cuts off a lock for Hippolytus, and, having cut it, she brings it to the temple and dedicates it. They will not have it that he was dragged to death by his horses, and, though they know his grave, they do not show it. But they believe that what is called the Charioteer in the sky is the Hippolytus of the legend, such being the honor he enjoys from the gods. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“Within this enclosure is a temple of Apollo Seafaring, an offering of Diomedes for having weathered the storm that came upon the Greeks as they were returning from Troy. They say that Diomedes was also the first to hold the Pythian games in honor of Apollo. Of Damia and Auxesia (for the Troezenians, too, share in their worship) they do not give the same account as the Epidaurians and Aeginetans, but say that they were maidens who came from Crete. A general insurrection having arisen in the city, these too, they say, were stoned to death by the opposite party; and they hold a festival in their honor that they call Stoning.

“In the other part of the enclosure is a race-course called that of Hippolytus, and above it a temple of Aphrodite Spy. For from here, whenever Hippolytus practised his exercises, Phaedra, who was in love with him, used to gaze upon him. Here there still grew the myrtle, with its leaves, as I have described above, pierced with holes. When Phaedra was in despair and could find no relief for her passion, she used to vent her spleen upon the leaves of this myrtle.There is also the grave of Phaedra, not far from the tomb of Hippolytus, which is a barrow near the myrtle. The image of Asclepius was made by Timotheus, but the Troezenians say that it is not Asclepius, but a likeness of Hippolytus. I remember, too, seeing the house of Hippolytus; before it is what is called the Fountain of Heracles, for Heracles, say the Troezenians, discovered the water.On the citadel is a temple of Athena, called Sthenias. The wooden image itself of the goddess I was made by CalIon, of Aegina.1 Callon was a pupil of Tectaeus and Angelion, who made the image of Apollo for the Delians. Angelion and Tectaeus were trained in the school of Dipoenus and Scyllis. On going down from here you come to a sanctuary of Pan Lyterius (Releasing), so named because he showed to the Troezenian magistrates dreams which supplied a cure for the epidemic that had afflicted Troezenia, and the Athenians more than any other people. Having crossed the sanctuary, you can see a temple of Isis, and above it one of Aphrodite of the Height. The temple of Isis was made by the Halicarnassians in Troezen, because this is their mother-city, but the image of Isis was dedicated by the people of Troezen.

“On the road that leads through the mountains to Hermione is a spring of the river Hyllicus, originally called Taurius (Bull-like), and a rock called the Rock of Theseus; when Theseus took up the boots and sword of Aegeus under it, it, too, changed its name, for before it was called the altar of Zeus Sthenius (Strong). Near the rock is a sanctuary of Aphrodite Nymphia (Bridal), made by Theseus when he took Helen to wife. Outside the wall there is also a sanctuary of Poseidon Nurturer (Phytalmios). For they say that, being wroth with them, Poseidon smote the land with barrenness, brine (halme) reaching the seeds and the roots of the plants (phyta),1 until, appeased by sacrifices and prayers, he ceased to send up the brine upon the earth. Above the temple of Poseidon is Demeter Lawbringer (Thesmophoros), set up, they say, by Althepus. On going down to the harbor at what is called Celenderis, you come to a place called Birthplace (Genethlion), where Theseus is said to have been born. Before this place is a temple of Ares, for here also did Theseus conquer the Amazons in battle. These must have belonged to the army that strove in Attica against Theseus and the Athenians.”

ruins of Troezen in 1819

Temples in Corinth

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece” Book II: Corinth (A.D. 160): “On the market-place, where most of the sanctuaries are, stand Artemis surnamed Ephesian and wooden images of Dionysus, which are covered with gold with the exception of their faces; these are ornamented with red paint. They are called Lysius and Baccheus, and I too give the story told about them. They say that Pentheus treated Dionysus despitefully, his crowning outrage being that he went to Cithaeron, to spy upon the women, and climbing up a tree beheld what was done. When the women detected Pentheus, they immediately dragged him down, and joined in tearing him, living as he was, limb from limb. Afterwards, as the Corinthians say, the Pythian priestess commanded them by an oracle to discover that tree and to worship it equally with the god. For this reason they have made these images from the tree. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“There is also a temple of Fortune, with a standing image of Parian marble. Beside it is a sanctuary for all the gods. Hard by is built a fountain, on which is a bronze Poseidon; under the feet of Poseidon is a dolphin spouting water. There is also a bronze Apollo surnamed Clarius and a statue of Aphrodite made by Hermogenes of Cythera. There are two bronze, standing images of Hermes, for one of which a temple has been made. The images of Zeus also are in the open; one had not a surname, another they call Chthonius (of the Lower World) and the third Most High.

“On the summit of the Acrocorinthus is a temple of Aphrodite. The images are Aphrodite armed, Helius, and Eros with a bow. The spring, which is behind the temple, they say was the gift of Asopus to Sisyphus. The latter knew, so runs the legend, that Zeus had ravished Aegina, the daughter of Asopus, but refused to give information to the seeker before he had a spring given him on the Acrocorinthus. When Asopus granted this request Sisyphus turned informer, and on this account he receives — if anyone believes the story — punishment in Hades. I have heard people say that this spring and Peirene are the same, the water in the city flowing hence under-ground. This Asopus rises in the Phliasian territory, flows through the Sicyonian, and empties itself into the sea here. His daughters, say the Phliasians, were Corcyra, Aegina, and Thebe. Corcyra and Aegina gave new names to the islands called Scheria and Oenone, while from Thebe is named the city below the Cadmea. The Thebans do not agree, but say that Thebe was the daughter of the Boeotian, and not of the Phliasian, Asopus. The other stories about the river are current among both the Phliasians and the Sicyonians, for instance that its water is foreign and not native, in that the Maeander, descending from Celaenae through Phrygia and Caria, and emptying itself into the sea at Miletus, goes to the Peloponnesus and forms the Asopus. I remember hearing a similar story from the Delians, that the stream which they call Inopus comes to them from the Nile. Further, there is a story that the Nile itself is the Euphrates, which disappears into a marsh, rises again beyond Aethiopia and becomes the Nile. Such is the account I heard of the Asopus. When you have turned from the Acrocorinthus into the mountain road you see the Teneatic gate and a sanctuary of Eilethyia. The town called Tenea is just about sixty stades distant. The inhabitants say that they are Trojans who were taken prisoners in Tenedos by the Greeks, and were permitted by Agamemnon to dwell in their present home. For this reason they honor Apollo more than any other god.

“As you go from Corinth, not into the interior but along the road to Sicyon, there is on the left not far from the city a burnt temple. There have, of course, been many wars carried on in Corinthian territory, and naturally houses and sanctuaries outside the wall have been fired. But this temple, they say, was Apollo's, and Pyrrhus the son of Achilles burned it down. Subsequently I heard another account, that the Corinthians built the temple for Olympian Zeus, and that suddenly fire from some quarter fell on it and destroyed it. The Sicyonians, the neighbours of the Corinthians at this part of the border, say about their own land that Aegialeus was its first and aboriginal inhabitant, that the district of the Peloponnesus still called Aegialus was named after him because he reigned over it, and that he founded the city Aegialea on the plain. Their citadel, they say, was where is now their sanctuary of Athena; further, that Aegialeus begat Europs, Europs Telchis, and Telchis Apis. This Apis reached such a height of power before Pelops came to Olympia that all the territory south of the Isthmus was called after him Apia. Apis begat Thelxion, Thelxion Aegyrus, the Thurimachus, and Thurimachus Leucippus. Leucippus had no male issue, only a daughter Calchinia. There is a story that this Calchinia mated with Poseidon; her child was reared by Leucippus, who at his death handed over to him the kingdom. His name was Peratus.”

Temples of Hera and Poseidon in Paestum, Italy

Poseidon Temples in Corinth

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece” Book II: Corinth (A.D. 160): “A legend of the Corinthians about their land is not peculiar to them, for I believe that the Athenians were the first to relate a similar story to glorify Attica. The Corinthians say that Poseidon had a dispute with Helius (Sun) about the land, and that Briareos arbitrated between them, assigning to Poseidon the Isthmus and the parts adjoining, and giving to Helius the height above the city.Ever since, they say, the Isthmus has belonged to Poseidon. Worth seeing here are a theater and a white-marble race-course. Within the sanctuary of the god stand on the one side portrait statues of athletes who have won victories at the Isthmian games, on the other side pine trees growing in a row, the greater number of them rising up straight.[Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“On the temple, which is not very large, stand bronze Tritons. In the fore-temple are images, two of Poseidon, a third of Amphitrite, and a Sea, which also is of bronze. The offerings inside were dedicated in our time by Herodes the Athenian, four horses, gilded except for the hoofs, which are of ivory, and two gold Tritons beside the horses, with the parts below the waist of ivory. On the car stand Amphitrite and Poseidon, and there is the boy Palaemon upright upon a dolphin. These too are made of ivory and gold. On the middle of the base on which the car is has been wrought a Sea holding up the young Aphrodite, and on either side are the nymphs called Nereids. I know that there are altars to these in other parts of Greece, and that some Greeks have even dedicated to them precincts by shores, where honors are also paid to Achilles. In Gabala is a holy sanctuary of Doto, where there was still remaining the robe by which the Greeks say that Eriphyle was bribed to wrong her son Alcmaeon. Among the reliefs on the base of the statue of Poseidon are the sons of Tyndareus, because these too are saviours of ships and of sea-faring men. The other offerings are images of Calm and of Sea, a horse like a whale from the breast onward, Ino and Bellerophontes, and the horse Pegasus.

“Within the enclosure is on the left a temple of Palaemon, with images in it of Poseidon, Leucothea and Palaemon himself. There is also what is called his Holy of Holies, and an underground descent to it, where they say that Palaemon is concealed. Whosoever, whether Corinthian or stranger, swears falsely here, can by no means escape from his oath. There is also an ancient sanctuary called the altar of the Cyclopes, and they sacrifice to the Cyclopes upon it. The graves of Sisyphus and of Neleus--for they say that Neleus came to Corinth, died of disease, and was buried near the Isthmus--I do not think that anyone would look for after reading Eumelus. For he says that not even to Nestor did Sisyphus show the tomb of Neleus, because it must be kept unknown to everybody alike, and that Sisyphus is indeed buried on the Isthmus, but that few Corinthians, even those of his own day, knew where the grave was. The Isthmian games were not interrupted even when Corinth had been laid waste by Mummius, but so long as it lay deserted the celebration of the games was entrusted to the Sicyonians, and when it was rebuilt the honor was restored to the present inhabitants.

“The names of the Corinthian harbors were given them by Leches and Cenchrias, said to be the children of Poseidon and Peirene the daughter of Achelous, though in the poem called The Great Eoeae1 Peirene is said to be a daughter of Oebalus. In Lechaeum are a sanctuary and a bronze image of Poseidon, and on the road leading from the Isthmus to Cenchreae a temple and ancient wooden image of Artemis. In Cenchreae are a temple and a stone statue of Aphrodite, after it on the mole running into the sea a bronze image of Poseidon, and at the other end of the harbor sanctuaries of Asclepius and of Isis. Right opposite Cenchreae is Helen's Bath. It is a large stream of salt, tepid water, flowing from a rock into the sea. As one goes up to Corinth are tombs, and by the gate is buried Diogenes1 of Sinope, whom the Greeks surname the Dog. Before the city is a grove of cypresses called Craneum. Here are a precinct of Bellerophontes, a temple of Aphrodite Melaenis and the grave of Lais, upon which is set a lioness holding a ram in her fore-paws.”

Temple of Apollo in Epicurius

Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae

According to UNESCO: “The columned temple of Apollo Epicurius rises majestically within the sanctuary of Bassae in the mountains of Arkadia. It is one of the best-preserved monuments of classical antiquity and an evocative and poignant testament to classical Greek architecture. It is highly significant for its architectural features and influence.” The temple is dedicated to the god of healing and the sun, has the oldest Corinthian capital yet found, and combines the Archaic style and the serenity of the Doric style with some daring architectural features. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

“The temple was built at the height of the Greek civilization in the second half of the 5th century B.C. (420-400 B.C.). It was dedicated to Apollo Epicurius by the Phigaleians, who believed the god of sun and healing had protected them from plague and invasion. In 174 AD the ancient traveller Pausanias admired the beauty and harmony of the temple and attributed it to Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon. =

“The temple appears to have been forgotten for almost 1700 years until it was rediscovered in the 18th century and attracted intense interest from scholars and artists. The isolation of the site ensured many significant features survived largely intact. The temple is one of the earliest post-Parthenonian edifices and the earliest monument in which all three ancient Greek architectural orders – Doric, Ionic and Corinthian – are found together. It also included the earliest surviving Corinthian column capital. The temple further exhibits a number of bold and innovative architectural designs that mark a turning point in the development of temple-building. Through a series of ingenious devices, the architect successfully balanced contrasting elements and blended the old with the new, contributing to the unique architectural and artistic value of the monument. The temple, as well as its sculptural decoration consist one of the best-preserved samples of the ancient Greek civilization, from the period of its heyday (5th century B.C.). =

“The Temple of Bassae represents a unique artistic achievement, remarkable for its archaic features (elongated surface, an exceptional proportion of 15 columns on the longer side and 6 columns on the facade, and a north-south exposure), and for its daring innovations: use of Ionic and Corinthian orders for a Doric edifice, the variety of materials used, and the originality of the layout of the cella and the adyton. The capital of the central column of the Temple of Bassae is the most ancient conserved Corinthian capital, and as such the temple may be considered a model for all “Corinthian” monuments of Greek, Roman and subsequent civilisations. Isolated as it is in a conserved environment, the temple of Apollo is an outstanding example of a Hellenic votive sanctuary in a rural setting. =

Temple of Diana in Ephesus, Another of the Seven Wonders

Plan of the Temple of Diana

The Temple of Diana (in Ephesus) was ordered by King Croesus and completed around 550 B.C. after 120 years of labor. Described by Phion as the greatest of the seven wonders, the Temple of Diana was 225-feet-wide and 525-feet-long, with 127 sixty-foot-high marble columns. The largest and most complex temple in ancient times, it was made out of marble, wood and tile, and built on marshy soil so it would be immune to earthquakes. Even so the temple had to be rebuilt three times before Goths destroyed it in 262 A.D.

The Temple of Diana was built around 550 B.C. near the sea and destroyed by invading Goths around A.D. 262. Ertastratus ordered the Temple of Diana to be burned down he did so to ensure that it was remembered, English archeologist J. T. Wood rediscovered the temple in 1874 after 11 years of digging. Today the ruins are located a mile or so away from Ephesus, and unfortunately all that remains is a foundation.

Diana of Ephesus, also known as the virgin huntress of the moon, was worshipped throughout most of Europe and the Mediterranean during ancient times and she still has followers today. The Greeks knew her as Artemis, and her origins can be traced as far back as Babylon. She may even have evolved from Stone Age earth mothers goddesses that dominated primitive cultures before the Greeks popularized male gods.

Despite the fact she was a permanent virgin, she was the goddess of fertility, and the famous statue of her now in the Selçuk Museum has endowed her with 18 breasts. None of the breasts have nipples, however, which led one classical scholar to venture they were actually bull's testes or the ova on scared bees. Whatever they were Diana's image has fascinated artists for centuries. Other statues have placed bees on her knees and lions over her shoulders. A Raphael painting of her graces the Vatican. And recently a Brooklyn artist gave her four buttocks as well as a chestful of breasts.

What got St. Paul into trouble was his statement: "Diana should be despised and her magnificence should be destroyed" The Temple that honored her was a popular tourist attraction and silver souvenirs of Diana and her temple were sold on the streets of Ephesus like miniature Eiffel towers and Statues of Liberty are sold today. During the festival of Artemis images of Diana were placed on the steps of her temple for worshipers to kiss. [Source: Vicky Goldberg, New York Times, August 21, 1994].

Temple of Zeus in Athens

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): “Before the entrance to the sanctuary of Olympian Zeus” is “the statue, one worth seeing, which in size exceeds all other statues save the colossi at Rhodes and Rome, and is made of ivory and gold with an artistic skill which is remarkable when the size is taken into account...Before the pillars stand bronze statues which the Athenians call "colonies." The whole circumference of the precincts is about four stades, and they are full of statues” from “every city... and the Athenians have surpassed them in dedicating, behind the temple, the remarkable colossus.[Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

Zeus Temple in Athens

Within the precincts are antiquities: a bronze Zeus, a temple of Cronus and Rhea and an enclosure of Earth surnamed Olympian. Here the floor opens to the width of a cubit, and they say that along this bed flowed off the water after the deluge that occurred in the time of Deucalion, and into it they cast every year wheat meal mixed with honey. On a pillar is a statue of Isocrates, whose memory is remarkable for three things: his diligence in continuing to teach to the end of his ninety-eight years, his self-restraint in keeping aloof from politics and from interfering with public affairs, and his love of liberty in dying a voluntary death, distressed at the news of the battle at Chaeronea1. There are also statues in Phrygian marble of Persians supporting a bronze tripod; both the figures and the tripod are worth seeing. The ancient sanctuary of Olympian Zeus the Athenians say was built by Deucalion, and they cite as evidence that Deucalion lived at Athens a grave which is not far from the present temple.

“Close to the temple of Olympian Zeus is a statue of the Pythian Apollo. There is further a sanctuary of Apollo surnamed Delphinius. The story has it that when the temple was finished with the exception of the roof Theseus arrived in the city, a stranger as yet to everybody. When he came to the temple of the Delphinian, wearing a tunic that reached to his feet and with his hair neatly plaited, those who were building the roof mockingly inquired what a marriageable virgin was doing wandering about by herself. The only answer that Theseus made was to loose, it is said, the oxen from the cart hard by, and to throw them higher than the roof of the temple they were building.

“Concerning the district called The Gardens, and the temple of Aphrodite, there is no story that is told by them, nor yet about the Aphrodite which stands near the temple. Now the shape of it is square, like that of the Hermae, and the inscription declares that the Heavenly Aphrodite is the oldest of those called Fates. But the statue of Aphrodite in the Gardens is the work of Alcamenes, and one of the most note worthy things in Athens. There is also the place called Cynosarges, sacred to Heracles; the story of the white dog1 may be known by reading the oracle. There are altars of Heracles and Hebe, who they think is the daughter of Zeus and wife to Heracles. An altar has been built to Alcmena and to Iolaus, who shared with Heracles most of his labours. The Lyceum has its name from Lycus, the son of Pandion, but it was considered sacred to Apollo from the be ginning down to my time, and here was the god first named Lyceus.”

Acropolis Area in Athens

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): “After the sanctuary of Asclepius, as you go by this way towards the Acropolis, there is a temple of Themis. Before it is raised a sepulchral mound to Hippolytus. The end of his life, they say, came from curses. Everybody, even a foreigner who has learnt Greek, knows about the love of Phaedra and the wickedness the nurse dared commit to serve her. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“All the Acropolis is surrounded by a wall; a part was constructed by Cimon, son of Miltiades, but all the rest is said to have been built round it by the Pelasgians, who once lived under the Acropolis. The builders, they say, were Agrolas and Hyperbius. On inquiring who they were I could discover nothing except that they were Sicilians originally who emigrated to Acarnania.

“In addition to the works I have mentioned, there are two tithes dedicated by the Athenians after wars. There is first a bronze Athena, tithe from the Persians who landed at Marathon. It is the work of Pheidias, but the reliefs upon the shield, including the fight between Centaurs and Lapithae, are said to be from the chisel of Mys1, for whom they say Parrhasius the son of Evenor, designed this and the rest of his works. The point of the spear of this Athena and the crest of her helmet are visible to those sailing to Athens, as soon as Sunium is passed. Then there is a bronze chariot, tithe from the Boeotians and the Chalcidians in Euboea.There are two other offerings, a statue of Pericles, the son of Xanthippus, and the best worth seeing of the works of Pheidias, the statue of Athena called Lemnian after those who dedicated it.

reconstructed Acropolis

Acropolis of Athens

Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): “There is but one entry to the Acropolis. It affords no other, being precipitous throughout and having a strong wall. The gateway has a roof of white marble, and down to the present day it is unrivalled for the beauty and size of its stones. Now as to the statues of the horsemen, I cannot tell for certain whether they are the sons of Xenophon or whether they were made merely to beautify the place. On the right of the gateway is a temple of Wingless Victory. From this point the sea is visible, and here it was that, according to legend, Aegeus threw him self down to his death. For the ship that carried the young people to Crete began her voyage with black sails; but Theseus, who was sailing on an adventure against the bull of Minos, as it is called, had told his father beforehand that he would use white sails if he should sail back victorious over the bull. But the loss of Ariadne made him forget the signal. Then Aegeus, when from this eminence he saw the vessel borne by black sails, thinking that his son was dead, threw himself down to destruction. There is at Athens a sanctuary dedicated to him, and called the hero-shrine of Aegeus. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

“On the left of the gateway is a building with pictures. Among those not effaced by time I found Diomedes taking the Athena from Troy, and Odysseus in Lemnos taking away the bow of Philoctetes. There in the pictures is Orestes killing Aegisthus, and Pylades killing the sons of Nauplius who had come to bring Aegisthus succor. And there is Polyxena about to be sacrificed near the grave of Achilles... There are other pictures, including a portrait of Alcibiades, and in the picture are emblems of the victory his horses won at Nemea. There is also Perseus journeying to Seriphos, and carrying to Polydectes the head of Medusa, the legend about whom I am unwilling to relate in my description of Attica. Included among the paintings — I omit the boy carrying the water-jars and the wrestler of Timaenetus1 — is Musaeus. Right at the very entrance to the Acropolis are a Hermes (called Hermes of the Gateway) and figures of Graces, which tradition says were sculptured by Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus, who the Pythia testified was the wisest of men, a title she refused to Anacharsis, although he desired it and came to Delphi to win it.

“Hard by is a bronze statue of Diitrephes shot through by arrows...I remember looking at other things also on the Athenian Acropolis, a bronze boy holding the sprinkler, by Lycius son of Myron, and Myron's Perseus after beheading Medusa. There is also a sanctuary of Brauronian Artemis; the image is the work of Praxiteles, but the goddess derives her name from the parish of Brauron. The old wooden image is in Brauron, the Tauric Artemis as she is called. There is the horse called Wooden set up in bronze. That the work of Epeius was a contrivance to make a breach in the Trojan wall is known to everybody who does not attribute utter silliness to the Phrygians. But legend says of that horse that it contained the most valiant of the Greeks, and the design of the bronze figure fits in well with this story. Menestheus and Teucer are peeping out of it, and so are the sons of Theseus. Of the statues that stand after the horse, the likeness of Epicharinus who practised the race in armour was made by Critius, while Oenobius performed a kind service for Thucydides the son of Olorus.1 He succeeded in getting a decree passed for the return of Thucydides to Athens, who was treacherously murdered as he was returning, and there is a monument to him not far from the Melitid gate.

“In this place is a statue of Athena striking Marsyas the Silenus for taking up the flutes that the goddess wished to be cast away for good. Opposite these I have mentioned is represented the fight which legend says Theseus fought with the so-called Bull of Minos, whether this was a man or a beast of the nature he is said to have been in the accepted story. For even in our time women have given birth to far more extraordinary monsters than this. There is also a statue of Phrixus the son of Athamas carried ashore to the Colchians by the ram. Having sacrificed the animal to some god or other, presumably to the one called by the Orchomenians Laphystius, he has cut out the thighs in accordance with Greek custom and is watching them as they burn. Next come other statues, including one of Heracles strangling the serpents as the legend describes. There is Athena too coming up out of the head of Zeus, and also a bull dedicated by the Council of the Areopagus on some occasion or other, about which, if one cared, one could make many conjectures.

“On the Athenian Acropolis is a statue of Pericles, the son of Xanthippus, and one of Xanthippus him self, who fought against the Persians at the naval battle of Mycale. But that of Pericles stands apart, while near Xanthippus stands Anacreon of Teos, the first poet after Sappho of Lesbos to devote himself to love songs, and his posture is as it were that of a man singing when he is drunk. Deinomenes made the two female figures which stand near, Io, the daughter of Inachus, and Callisto, the daughter of Lycaon, of both of whom exactly the same story is told, to wit, love of Zeus, wrath of Hera, and metamorphosis, Io becoming a cow and Callisto a bear.“

Temple of Athena: the Parthenon


Pausanias wrote in “Description of Greece”, Book I: Attica (A.D. 160): “As you enter the temple that they name the Parthenon, all the sculptures you see on what is called the pediment refer to the birth of Athena, those on the rear pediment represent the contest for the land between Athena and Poseidon. The statue itself is made of ivory and gold. On the middle of her helmet is placed a likeness of the Sphinx — the tale of the Sphinx I will give when I come to my description of Boeotia — and on either side of the helmet are griffins in relief.[1.24.6] These griffins, Aristeas1 of Proconnesus says in his poem, fight for the gold with the Arimaspi beyond the Issedones. The gold which the griffins guard, he says, comes out of the earth; the Arimaspi are men all born with one eye; griffins are beasts like lions, but with the beak and wings of an eagle. I will say no more about the griffins. [Source: Pausanias, “Description of Greece,” with an English Translation by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D. in 4 Volumes. Volume 1.Attica and Cornith, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd., 1918]

The statue of Athena is upright, with a tunic reaching to the feet, and on her breast the head of Medusa is worked in ivory. She holds a statue of Victory about four cubits high, and in the other hand a spear; at her feet lies a shield and near the spear is a serpent. This serpent would be Erichthonius. On the pedestal is the birth of Pandora in relief. Hesiod and others have sung how this Pandora was the first woman; before Pandora was born there was as yet no womankind. The only portrait statue I remember seeing here is one of the emperor Hadrian, and at the entrance one of Iphicrates,1 who accomplished many remarkable achievements. “Opposite the temple is a bronze Apollo, said to be the work of Pheidias. They call it the Locust God, because once when locusts were devastating the land the god said that he would drive them from Attica. That he did drive them away they know, but they do not say how. I myself know that locusts have been destroyed three times in the past on Mount Sipylus, and not in the same way. Once a gale arose and swept them away; on another occasion violent heat came on after rain and destroyed them; the third time sudden cold caught them and they died. Such were the fates I saw befall the locusts.

“By the south wall are represented the legendary war with the giants, who once dwelt about Thrace and on the isthmus of Pallene, the battle between the Athenians and the Amazons, the engagement with the Persians at Marathon and the destruction of the Gauls in Mysia. Each is about two cubits, and all were dedicated by Attalus. There stands too Olympiodorus, who won fame for the greatness of his achievements, especially in the crisis when he displayed a brave confidence among men who had met with continuous reverses, and were therefore in despair of winning a single success in the days to come.

“Near the statue of Olympiodorus stands a bronze image of Artemis surnamed Leucophryne, dedicated by the sons of Themistocles; for the Magnesians, whose city the King had given him to rule, hold Artemis Leucophryne in honor.But my narrative must not loiter, as my task is a general description of all Greece. Endoeus1 was an Athenian by birth and a pupil of Daedalus, who also, when Daedalus was in exile because of the death of Calos, followed him to Crete. Made by him is a statue of Athena seated, with an inscription that Callias dedicated the image, but Endoeus made it. There is also a building called the Erechtheum. Before the entrance is an altar of Zeus the Most High, on which they never sacrifice a living creature but offer cakes, not being wont to use any wine either. Inside the entrance are altars, one to Poseidon, on which in obedience to an oracle they sacrifice also to Erechtheus, the second to the hero Butes, and the third to Hephaestus. On the walls are paintings representing members of the clan Butadae; there is also inside — the building is double — sea-water in a cistern. This is no great marvel, for other inland regions have similar wells, in particular Aphrodisias in Caria. But this cistern is remarkable for the noise of waves it sends forth when a south wind blows. On the rock is the outline of a trident. Legend says that these appeared as evidence in support of Poseidon's claim to the land.

Healing Temples of Ancient Greece

Asclepeion in Epidaurus

Strabo wrote in “Geographia” (c. A.D. 20): “On the road between the Tralleians and Nysa is a village of the Nysaians, not far from the city Acharaca, where is the Plutonium, with a costly sacred precinct and a shrine of Pluto and Kore, and also the Charonium, a cave that lies above the sacred precinct, by nature wonderful; for they say that those who are diseased and give heed to the cures prescribed by these gods resort there and live in the village near the cave among experienced priests, who on their behalf sleep in the cave and through dreams prescribe the cures. These are also the men who invoke the healing power of the gods. And they often bring the sick into the cave and leave them there, to remain in quiet, like animals in their lurking-holes, without food for many days. And sometimes the sick give heed also to their own dreams, but still they use those other men, as priests, to initiate them into the mysteries and to counsel them. To all others the place is forbidden and deadly. [Source: Strabo, The Geography of Strabo: Literally Translated, with Notes, translated by H. C. Hamilton, & W. Falconer, (London: H. G. Bohn, 1854-1857)

Philostratos wrote in “Life of Apollonios of Tyana” (c. A.D. 190): “When the plague broke out at Ephesos and there was no stopping it, the Ephesians sent a delegation to Apollonios asking him to heal them. Accordingly, he did not hesitate, but said, "Let's go," and there he was, miraculously, in Ephesos. Calling together the people of Ephesos, he said, "Be brave; today I will stop the plague." Then he led them all to the theater where the statue of the God-Who-Averts-Evil had been set up. [Source: Philostratus, the Athenian, “The Lives of the Sophists,” translated by Wilmer Cave Wright, (London: Wm. Heinemann, 1922)

“In the theater there was what seemed to be an old man begging, his eyes closed, apparently blind. He had a bag and a piece of bread. His clothes were ragged and his appearance was squalid. Apollonios gathered the Ephesians around him and said, "Collect as many stones as you can and throw them at this enemy of the Gods."The Ephesians were amazed at what he said and appalled at the idea of killing a stranger so obviously pitiful, for he was beseeching them to have mercy on him. But Apollonios urged them on to attack him and not let him escape. When some of the Ephesians began to pitch stones at him, the beggar who had his eyes closed as if blind suddenly opened them and they were filled with fire. At that point the Ephesians realized he was a demon and proceeded to stone him so that their missiles became a great pile over him. After a little while Apollonios told them to remove the stones and to see the wild animal they had killed. When they uncovered the man they thought they had thrown their stones at, they found he had disappeared, and in his place was a hound who looked like a hunting dog but was as big as the largest lion. He lay there in front of them, crushed by the stones, foaming at the corners of his mouth as mad dogs do.”

Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus: Healing Cult Sanatorium

votive plaque

According to UNESCO: “In a small valley in the Peloponnesus, the shrine of Asklepios, the god of medicine, developed out of a much earlier cult of Apollo (Maleatas), during the 6th century B.C. at the latest, as the official cult of the city state of Epidaurus. Its principal monuments, particularly the temple of Asklepios, the Tholos and the Theatre - considered one of the purest masterpieces of Greek architecture – date from the 4th century. The vast site, with its temples and hospital buildings devoted to its healing gods, provides valuable insight into the healing cults of Greek and Roman times. [Source: UNESCO World Heritage Site website =]

“The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus is a remarkable testament to the healing cults of the Ancient World and witness to the emergence of scientific medicine. Situated in the Peloponnese, in the Regional unit of Argolis, the site comprises a series of ancient monuments spread over two terraces and surrounded by a preserved natural landscape. Among the monuments of the Sanctuary is the striking Theatre of Epidaurus, which is renowned for its perfect architectural proportions and exemplary acoustics. The Theatre, together with the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion and the Propylaia, comprise a coherent assembly of monuments that illustrate the significance and power of the healing gods of the Hellenic and Roman worlds. =

“The Sanctuary is the earliest organized sanatorium and is significant for its association with the history of medicine, providing evidence of the transition from belief in divine healing to the science of medicine. Initially, in the 2nd millennium B.C. it was a site of ceremonial healing practices with curative associations that were later enriched through the cults of Apollo Maleatas in the 8th century B.C. and then by Asklepios in the 6th century B.C.. The Sanctuary of the two gods was developed into the single most important therapeutic center of the ancient world. These practices were subsequently spread to the rest of the Greco-Roman world and the Sanctuary thus became the cradle of medicine. =

“Among the facilities of the classical period are buildings that represent all the functions of the Sanctuary, including healing cults and rituals, library, baths, sports, accommodation, hospital and theatre. The Theatre of Epidaurus is an architectural masterpiece designed by the architect from Argos, Polykleitos the Younger, and represents a unique artistic achievement through its admirable integration into the site as well as the perfection of its proportions and acoustics. The Theatre has been revived thanks to an annual festival held there since 1955. =

Significance of the Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus

“The site is one of the most complete ancient Greek sanctuaries of Antiquity and is significant for its architectural brilliance and influence. The Sanctuary of Epidaurus (with the Theatre, the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion, the Propylaia, the Banqueting Hall, the baths as well as the sport and hospital facilities) is an eminent example of a Hellenic architectural ensemble of the 4th century B.C.. The form of its buildings has exerted great influence on the evolution of Hellenistic and Roman architecture. Tholos influenced the development of Greek and Roman architecture, particularly the Corinthian order, while the Enkoimeterion stoa and the Propylaia introduced forms that evolved further in Hellenistic architecture. In addition, the complicated hydraulic system of the Sanctuary is an excellent example of a large-scale water supply and sewerage system that illustrates the significant engineering knowledge of ancient societies. The exquisitely preserved Theatre continues to be used for ancient drama performances and familiarizes the audience with ancient Greek thought. =

“The Sanctuary of Asklepios at Epidaurus exerted an influence on all the Asklepieia in the Hellenic world, and later, on all the Roman sanctuaries of Esculape. The group of buildings comprising the Sanctuary of Epidaurus bears exceptional testimony to the healing cults of the Hellenic and Roman worlds. The temples and the hospital facilities dedicated to the healing gods constitute a coherent and complete ensemble. Excavations led by Cavvadias, Papadimitriou and other archaeologists have greatly contributed to our knowledge of this ensemble. = The Theatre, the Temples of Artemis and Asklepios, the Tholos, the Enkoimeterion and the Propylaia make the Sanctuary of Epidaurus an eminent example of a Hellenic architectural ensemble of the 4th century B.C.. =

“The emergence of modern medicine in a sanctuary originally reputed for the psychically-based miraculous healing of supposedly incurable patients is directly and tangibly illustrated by the functional evolution of the Sanctuary of Epidaurus and is strikingly described by the engraved inscriptions on the remarkable stelai preserved in the Museum...The facilities that have been discovered in the Sanctuary represent all its functions during the entire duration of its use up until Early Christian times. These include the acts of worship, the procedure of healing with a dream-like state of induced sleep known as enkoimesis through the preparation of the patients, the facilitating of healing with exercise and the conduct of official games.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World ; BBC Ancient Greeks ; Canadian Museum of History ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, ; Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “History of Warfare” by John Keegan (Vintage Books); “History of Art” by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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