Why is the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae an interesting building?

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Why is the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae an interesting building?

The Phigaleians built the temple sometime between the 450-420 BC. Pausanias says that it was constructed as a thanksgiving gift to Apollo, who was believed to have cured an outbreak of the plague that struck Greece during the years 429 – 427 BC at the time of the Peloponnesian war. The name Epikourios that usually follows the deity’s name means the Helper or the Saviour. The temple is high up in the Arcadian Mountains on Mt Kotilion. Most of the columns and the architrave have survived because of the isolation of the temple. The temple was isolated and was thought lost until 1765 AD when the French archaeologist Bocher discovered it. Because of its isolation, not many travellers reached the temple before 1811. In 1811, an expedition managed to get to the temple. The expedition included the archaeologists C. R. Cockerell and Haller von Hallerstein. They discovered the frieze of the temple. Excavations continued into the next year and in 1814, the frieze and other fragments of the temple were sold in Zante. They were obtained on behalf of the British Government and are now in the British Museum in London.

Pausanias says that the architect was Iktinos, who was one of the architects of the Parthenon and the most well known architect in the Greek world. According to Pausanias, Iktinos was commissioned from Athens to design the temple. As Phigaleia was a poor state, bringing a world class architect to build their temple would have shown how much they wanted this temple to built and that only the best should build it, in honour of Apollo. If this account is true, then the state’s devotion to Apollo is remarkable.

This must have been incredibly expensive. We know that the state was poor from accounts by later historians such as Pausanias, but we also know that they were poor from the size of the temple. It is much smaller than the Parthenon, but massive for a community as small as the Phigaleians. Only a little marble is used; the temple is mostly made of silver-grey limestone. Unlike the Parthenon, there are no optical corrections, e.g. entasis. The columns are straight and so is the floor. This is most likely because entasis would have cost extra money.  

The temple was based on old Peloponnesian prototypes, which it is why many historians speculate on who actually constructed this. If Iktinos built it, surely he would have included some of the elegant features of the Parthenon. This could have been an experiment in mixing the orders. This could be a plausible explanation; because the exterior is Doric and the interior is Ionic and Corinthian. Other sources say that the architect of the temple was Libon of Elis; this could be more likely as Pausanias wrote his statements centuries after its construction, and is therefore not 100% accurate or reliable. It would seem that it might have been Iktinos because the subjects of the frieze are the same as the Parthenon and there is a mixture of the orders as there is in the Parthenon.

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The Doric features of the temple are masculine and could symbolise the males who died of the plague. The Ionic features could symbolise the females who died of the plague. The Corinthian columns could represent everyone who died because of the plague. This could be likely, as women in Ancient Greece tended to be domestic while the men went out to public meetings, etc. The Ionic half columns are in the cella like women. The Doric columns are on the exterior of the temple, like the men. The Corinthian columns are inside the temple. This is probably to blame the ...

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