Peloponnese Sights

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Temple of Apollo at Bassae

Temple of Apollo at Bassae Review

Isolated amid craggy, uncompromising scenery, the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae (also spelled Vassae) is one of the great majesties of ancient Greek architecture. Unfortunately, these days it looks more like the Sydney Opera House, thanks to a modernistic shed that has cocooned the temple in an attempt to prevent further weather damage during ongoing restoration. The covering destroys the sense of place that was so important to this temple, which sits in miles of empty, hilltop fields. For many years it was believed that this temple was designed by Iktinos, the Parthenon's architect. Although this theory has recently been disputed, Bassae remains one of the best-preserved classical temples in Greece, superseded in its state of preservation only by the Hephaistion in Athens. The residents of nearby Phygalia built it atop an older temple in 420 BC to thank Apollo for delivering them from an epidemic; epikourios means "helper." Made of local limestone, the temple has some unusual details: exceptional length compared to its width; a north–south orientation rather than the usual east–west (probably because of the slope of the ground); and Ionic half columns linked to the walls by flying buttresses. Here, too, were the first known Corinthian columns with the characteristic acanthus leaves—only the base remains now—and the earliest example of interior sculptured friezes illustrating the battles between the Greeks and Amazons (now in the British Museum). As for the restoration, it will be ongoing for at least another decade.

Climb to the summit northwest of the temple for a view overlooking the Nedhas river, Mt. Lykaeon, and, on a clear day, the Ionian sea.

Updated: 11-17-2011

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