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Image by Xenofon Tsantilas

The Temple of Aphaia

The Temple of Aphaia is dedicated to goddess Athena and is located on the island of Aegina, on top of a hill. It is one of the architectural wonders of ancient Greece. It was built in 480 BC and 25 of the original 32 Doric columns still stand. It is situated in a sanctuary complex, about 13 km east of the port of Aegina.


The temple was built over the ruins of an earlier temple dating from around 570 BC, but that was destroyed in a fire in 510 BC. The remains of this older temple were filled in order to create a large, flat terrace on which the new temple was built. Because of this, the ruins of the old temple were well preserved, and many painted remnants can still be found.

There is a possibility that another temple had been built at this very site in the 7th century BC. However, most archeologists agree that this temple was very small and simple. In any case, many figurines belonging to the late Bronze Age have been excavated there, especially female figurines showing that cult activity existed at this very site as early as the 14th century BC, connected to Minoan civilization.

The last temple, the one known standing today, has an unusual plan and is noted for its beautiful sculpture that shows remarkable progress from Archaic to Early Classical techniques. The sculptures are on display in the Glyptothek of Munich, and a large collection of fragments can be seen in the museums of Aegina: the Archaeological Museum of Kolona and the Museum of Aphia, which is right next to the temple. Click here for more opening hours and more information.

Historical evidence points to the fact the people of Aegina were worshipping a deity at this site as early as the second millennium. By the end of the second millennium, the Dorians colonized Aegina and continued to worship the goddess. During the Greek period worship of the Goddess Aphaea began. The mythology associates Aphaia with Britomartis from Crete, the daughter of Zeus and half-sister of Artemis. Britomartis was pursued by King Minos of Crete who had fallen in love with her. In order to escape his unwanted attentions she fled into the sea but was caught in the net of fishermen who took her towards Aegina. A fisherman was captivated by her beauty and attempted to rape her. Britomartis manage to flee onto Aegina and disappeaedr into the woods. The word Aphaia is derived from the Greek for 'invisible'. 

Aphaea is said to be a mountain and a hunting goddess who protects shipping. Aegina was an important shipping area of the region.

The maritime prosperity of Aegina during the sixth and fifth centuries is the reason the beautiful Temple of Aphaia was built. There were many theories regarding the temple of Aphaia. When initially discovered in the 18th century, but British and German archeaologists, after years of oblivion and disuse, it was thought to be the temple of Zeus Panhellenius and was attributed to Athena only later, when a relic containing a relevant inscription was found.

The sanctuary consists of many buildings. The temple lay at the center of the enclosing walls. A large altar with paved pathway and a ramp leading to the temple was found east of the temple. Four bases, two on either side of the ramp, can be seen. These were probably meant for statues. The altar was used to burn offerings. On either side of the alter we can see the foundations of two buildings, which may have been open buildings to house more statues.

On the northern side is a cistern to collect rainwater from the roof of the temple. Near the cistern is a large column with a sphinx on top. It is believed to have been built around 600 BC and the height of the column was about 14 meters. It is the only remains of the older sanctuary that existed there. At the entrance, on the south side, was a columned gateway. The southeast building seems to have been used for administrative purposes.

The temple had 32 columns, twelve on each side and six at the front and back. The columns on the sides incline inwards slightly (about 3/4 inches) to lend greater strength to the building. The columns at the angles are about ¾ inches thicker than the others. Limestone found in Aegina was used to build the present temple, which was covered with a thin layer of stucco that was richly painted.

The upper parts of the temple were more colorful than the lower part. They were brightly painted with horizontal elements in red and vertical ones in black. Carved wooden plaques that were painted or embellished with bronze relief may have filled the metopes on the frieze. The upper surfaces of the horizontal cornice were usually painted in red representing earth and the background in cobalt blue to represent the sky. The temple, which was built during the archaic period, displays both archaic and classical styles.

The temple is built in the Doric style, but the influence of Ionic architecture ican clearly be seen. It is said that the slender line of the columns lends a sense of soaring lightness - a hallmark of Ionic architecture. Among the most remarkable and interesting features of the Temple of Aphaia are the three pediment groups of the temple. They consist of two east groups and one west group. One of the east group and the west group belong to the same period and were created around 500 to 510 BC. The second east group was built about 20 years later.

The pediments depict scenes of battles fought by Aeginetan heroes during the first and second wars against Troy. The goddess is seen in the center, looking ahead in both east and west groups. Not much information is found on the various sculptures that were mounted in the buildings flanking the sacrificial altar. Set up on the east side of the temple are two groups of sculptures, a few statues simply called the warrior groups and sculpted most probably by the west pediment master sculptor.

The statue of the deity Aphaia is believed to have been erected at a position less than central; a stone base found in the northwest corner in the cella may have held a wooden statue of Aphaia. In the center of the same cella presumably stood another statue of the goddess which was set on a base and surrounded by a wooden railing.

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