THE TEMPLE OF EPIKOURIOS APOLLO AT BASSAE AS MONUMENT OF WORLD CULTURAL HERITAGE
The Temple of Apollo Epikourios at the Arcadian Bassae is one of the greatest and most famous of antiquity. The monument rises imposingly on a natural plateau of the South side of Mount Kotilion, at an elevation of 1130 m. The Temple stands against the most sacred sanctuary of the ancient Arcadians, that of Lycaeon Zeus, and succeeded in the same location two, at least, older temples of the archaic period, and operated as sanctuary, under the regime of the ancient citizens of Figalea, for more than six centuries.
It was dedicated by them to Apollo because the god helped them to win martial conflicts against the Spartans, but also to overcome an epidemic disease. The location of the monument is at the confluence of the contemporary limits of the prefectures of Helis and Messinia, 14 km. South of Andritsena and 11 km. Northeast of Perivolia.
The temple was erected during the last quarter of the 5th century BC, and is attributed to Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon. It is a world famous monument, one of the best surviving buildings of classical antiquity, and the first in Greece that has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986.
Pausanias, the ancient traveler who visited the area, was dazzled by the beauty of the Temple and described it second in beauty and harmony to the one in Tegea. The Temple stands out from the rest of the classical ancient temples because of its North to South orientation instead of the customary East to West, probably for religious reasons associated with the local traditions of the Arcadians, as some other temples of the region bear the same orientation.
The Temple combines archaic, classic and traditional Arcadian features, offering an attractive blend of old and new, rustic and refined styles. The elongated outer structure (39,87 x 16,13 meters) is constructed mainly from local gray limestone. The outer front six columns Colonnade of the temple follow an extremely austere Doric style (with not carved metopes). On the contrary the interior is decorated with superb quality sculpture of a more ornate architectural style. The front portico and opisthodomos with two columns in antis remind the Doric style. Thus, the Temple is identified as of a Doric, six columned, double in antis style. In contrast, in the Cella a row of Ionian columns stands on fixtures against low support walls. In the southern part of the sanctuary, the two last Cella Ionic semi-columns form an angle of 45o with the longitudinal walls, while among them use to stand a sole Corinthian column in the centre of the Temple.
The capital of this column is the oldest extant specimen and is considered the model for all the "Corinthian style" monuments of Greek, Roman and the subsequent civilizations. The decoration of the Temple is notable specifically because of the different materials used: the walls, the foundations and the columns are of limestone; the Ionic column capitals and the Corinthian capital is made of marble from Doliana, as well as the sculptures of the external frieze of the metopes in the nave, the slabs of the internal Ionian frieze, and the tiles of the roof.
In the early 19th century the frieze was excavated and offered for sale. Eventually it was bought by the British Government. In ancient Greek architecture the frieze adorned the outside of the temples, but at Bassae the frieze surrounded the interior of the Cella. The frieze depicts two subjects: the battle among the Greeks, led by Hercules (distinguished by the lion hide) and the Amazons and the battle between the Lapiths and the Centaurs. This was a frequent theme in ancient Greek art and appears also on the metopes of the Parthenon. Here the women of the Lapiths hold tight to their children as they try to resist the Centaurs. Although the performance of this frieze is uneven in quality, dramatic snappiness and violent motion project through the whole of the composition. Excessive motion in the clothes of the Lapiths women and the Amazons reflect and reinforce the sense of movement featuring the same forms. Due to these characteristics some scholars noted elements of Baroque. The frieze was probably painted and it is attributed to sculptor Paeonius, creator of famous Victory at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia.
The Temple remained in use during the Hellenistic and Roman times as shown by the repairs under the roof. The first major disaster occurred with the collapse of the roof due to the deterioration of the wooden beams. The human intervention was another corruptive factor. In 1765 the Temple was successfully identified by the French architect J. Bocher. In 1812 the first systematic excavations were carried out by J. Foster, C. R. Cockerell, K. H. von Hallerstein, G. Gropius, J. Linckh, O. M. Stackerlberg and P. O. Brondsted who unearthed the frieze slabs and the Corinthian capital. The findings were transferred to Zakynthos, with the consent of Veli Pasha who had been bribed for this purpose. In 1814 the frieze was bought by George the Prince Regent and in 1815 came to the British Museum. The English scholar Christian Muller described the taking away of the antiquities as an act of vandalism, similar to that of Lord Elgin.
In 1902 a systematic excavation of the area begun by the Athens Archaeological Society, under the archaeologists P. Kavvadias, K. Kourounioti and K. Romeos, while up to 1908 some restoration operations were carried by N. P. Ioannitis, which resulted in the monument to get the form that we know today. Further excavations took place in 1959, 1970 and 1975-80 under the direction of N. Gialouris. In 1975 the Apollo Epikourios Temple Maintenance Committee was established by the Ministry of Culture and Sciences, mandated for planning and supervision of the maintenance and protection of the monument, the operation of which is continued almost uninterruptedly until today.