Temple of Apollo Epicurius
The Temple of Apollo Epicurius, (also Epikourios) one of the most important and most imposing temples of antiquity, stands in the bare and rocky landscape of Bassae, in Oichalia.
It is unique in the history of ancient Greek architecture because it combines a variety of innovative ideas, both in its external appearance and in its internal arrangements.
Pausanias, the famous geographer and traveler who described the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, considered the Temple of Apollo Epicurius to be one of the most beautiful and harmonious temples in all of the Peloponnese, ranking second only to the Temple of Tegea in what is now Tripoli.
The building is dated to 420-400 BC and is believed to be the work of Ictinus, who succeeded in combining masterfully several Archaic features imposed by the conservative tradition of the Arcadians with the characteristics of the new Classical style.
Rebuilding the Temple of Apollo Epicurius
The surviving temple in Messinia is not the first one to have been constructed on the site! The earliest Temple of Apollo, erected in the late 7th century BCE, possibly at the same location, was rebuilt at least twice before, in about 600 and 500 BCE.
Many architectural features from these two phases survive, including a large terracotta acroterion with ornate painted decoration, roof tiles and antefixes.
The Classical temple was built on bedrock, on a uniquely built terrace. Like several other temples in Arcadia, it is orientated east-west rather than the usual north-south, possibly because of local tradition.
The building was constructed with local gray limestone, and parts of the roof, the capitals of the cella, and the sculptural decoration were made of marble.
This is the only known temple of antiquity to combine three architectural orders. It is Doric, peripteral, Distyle in antis, with pronaos, cella, adyton and opisthodomos.
The temple has six columns on the short sides and fifteen on the long sides, instead of the period’s usual ratio of 6:13, giving it the characteristic elongated shape of Archaic temples.
Inside the cella, on either side, was a series of five Ionic half-columns engaged in buttresses, projecting from the sidewalls, thereby dividing the space into niches.
The last couple of half-columns divided the cella diagonally, not at right angles like the others. Between them stood a single column.
Its capital, recorded in the drawings of the first modern travellers, is the earliest known example of a Corinthian capital in the history of Greek architecture – fragments of the capital are now in the National Archaeological Museum.
According to one theory this column was in fact an aniconic representation of the deity in accordance with the earliest Arcadian traditions, while another theory suggests that the fifth pair of half-columns, which stood on either side of this one, was also Corinthian.
The cult Statue of Apollo was inside the adyton, which was located behind the Corinthian column in the Temple of Apollo Epicurius. A door on the east wall led to the pteron, on the outside. The two-sloped roofs had Corinthian marble tiles.