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What is the Temple of Apollo at Bassae?

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae is an ancient Greek sanctuary, a masterpiece of classical architecture nestled in the Arcadian mountains. Its unique blend of Doric and Ionic elements, along with a rare Corinthian column, reflects a harmonious interplay of artistic styles. How did this temple influence ancient and modern design? Join us as we explore its enduring legacy.
Brendan McGuigan
Brendan McGuigan

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae is a religious site in Greece. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been since 1986. The site is considered by most to be one of the most incredible examples of Classical architecture and art, and is an extremely popular tourist attraction.

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae was built in the 5th century BCE by the Greek architect Iktinos. Iktinos is also known for designing the Parthenon, as well as a Eleusinian structure, the Telesterion at Eleusis. The Temple of Apollo at Bassae was built well into the Arcadian mountains, and its remote location is part of what has allowed it to remain so well preserved over the years.

The Temple of Apollo is dedicated to the god of music and poetry.
The Temple of Apollo is dedicated to the god of music and poetry.

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae was built on a site that once housed an even older temple. It was built by the people of Figalos in gratitude to Apollo, after his intervention spared the people from a deadly plague. Apollo was looked at as a protector god, being the god of healing as well as of the sun. The Temple of Apollo at Bassae is also sometimes referred to as the Temple of Apollo Epicurius or Apollo Epikourious, where Epikoourious is Greek for helper.

The temple contained the oldest Corinthian column ever discovered, but it was destroyed during the excavation.
The temple contained the oldest Corinthian column ever discovered, but it was destroyed during the excavation.

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae was largely forgotten by the world for many centuries, and was spared the ravages of war and looters. It wasn’t until the late-18th century that a French architect stumbled upon it, and it became known to the world. In the early-19th century, King George IV of England seized a number of marble friezes from the temple, moving them to the British Museum, where they are still on display.

The site was excavated by archeologists beginning in the early-20th century, and continuing into the latter part of the century. Recently, researchers have looked at how to restore the temple, and funds for conservation work are being raised to bring the site back to a more historical splendor. While the site is being restored, it is housed under a large tent to protect it from the inclement weather of the region.

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae is loosely modeled after the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, and is constructed of limestone quaried from the surrounding mountains. The most interesting architectural feature of the Temple of Apollo at Bassae is the Corinthian column that was housed in the cella of the temple. This column is thought to have been the oldest Corinthian column discovered, although it was destroyed during early excavation.

The site itself is an excellent destination for a half-day’s exploration. The setting is stunningly beautiful, and the large columns and sweeping expanses of limestone give the entire structure a majestic feel. After visiting the Temple of Apollo at Bassae, most travelers continue up the mountain to take in the amazing vista of nearby Mt. Lykaeon, the Nedhas River, and the Ionian Sea.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the historical significance of the Temple of Apollo at Bassae?

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae is a remarkable ancient Greek temple dedicated to Apollo Epikourios ("Apollo the Helper"). It is historically significant as it represents a unique blend of architectural styles, including Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, which was unusual for its time. The temple is also known for housing the famous Bassae Frieze, a high-relief marble sculpture that depicts various mythological battles and processions. According to UNESCO, which lists the temple as a World Heritage Site, it is an exceptional example of classical Greek architecture and art.

When was the Temple of Apollo at Bassae built, and who designed it?

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae was constructed between 450 and 400 BCE. It is attributed to the architect Iktinos, who is also renowned for his work on the Parthenon in Athens. This connection to a master architect of the classical period adds to the temple's historical and architectural importance. The precise dates of construction are not definitively known, but the stylistic elements suggest it was built during the height of the classical period of ancient Greece.

What are the unique architectural features of the Temple of Apollo at Bassae?

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae is unique for several reasons. It is one of the earliest examples to use the Corinthian order on the exterior, specifically on one of its columns. Additionally, the temple's orientation is unusual; it is aligned north-south, rather than the typical east-west alignment of Greek temples. This orientation is thought to be related to the temple's siting on a steep slope, offering a dramatic view of the surrounding landscape. The interior also features a rare combination of Doric and Ionic columns, showcasing a sophisticated understanding of architectural harmony and diversity.

What was the purpose of the Temple of Apollo at Bassae?

The Temple of Apollo at Bassae was primarily a place of worship dedicated to Apollo, the Greek god of music, prophecy, and healing. It was specifically associated with Apollo Epikourios, a title given to the god in recognition of his assistance during a plague. The temple served as a sanctuary where ancient Greeks could offer prayers, perform rituals, and seek oracular guidance. Its remote location in the mountains of Arcadia suggests it may have been a site of pilgrimage for worshippers seeking a more intimate connection with the divine.

How can visitors experience the Temple of Apollo at Bassae today?

Today, visitors can experience the Temple of Apollo at Bassae by traveling to the remote region of Arcadia in the Peloponnese, Greece. The temple remains a significant archaeological site and is open to the public for tours. While the original Bassae Frieze is housed in the British Museum for preservation, replicas can be seen at the site. Visitors can explore the temple's ruins and enjoy the breathtaking mountainous scenery that surrounds it. Preservation efforts, including a protective tent over the structure, ensure that the temple can be appreciated by future generations.

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    • The Temple of Apollo is dedicated to the god of music and poetry.
      By: lornet
      The Temple of Apollo is dedicated to the god of music and poetry.
    • The temple contained the oldest Corinthian column ever discovered, but it was destroyed during the excavation.
      By: Alexey Pavluts
      The temple contained the oldest Corinthian column ever discovered, but it was destroyed during the excavation.