A precinct sacred to Apollo Bassitas and site of the famous Doric
Temple of Apollo built in the late 5th c. B.C. it is located 7 km NE of the ancient
city of Phigalia and is contiguous to a second precinct, that of Kotilon, sacred
to Artemis Orthia and Aphrodite. The composite sanctuary (750 m x 350 m) spreads
over the S face of Mt. Kotilios: the precinct of Kotilon (elev. 1226 m) reaches
the peak, Bassai lies below (elev. 1129 m). The god Pan is also attested at the
site and an ancient spring in the SW area may have been sacred to him.
In 1812 an expedition led by Cockerell cleared the Temple of Apollo. Excavations at Kotilon and Bassai and restorations of the Apollo temple have been conducted intermittently since 1903. Finds show that dedications started ca. 675 B.C. and that the cults then flourished through the 5th c. B.C. By ca. 350 B.C. activity rapidly declined but persisted into Roman times.
Ca. 625 B.C. temples were constructed for Apollo, Artemis, and Aphrodite. Evidently, the temples dedicated to Apollo and Artemis were identical in design and decoration (15 x 7 m, pronaos, cella, akroterion disks, antefixes with heraldic sphinxes). The pair of Temples to Artemis and Aphrodite (ca. 9 x 6 m) in Kotilon survived throughout the history of the site; whereas the original structure in Bassai was the first of four Temples to Apollo. Ca. 575 B.C. Apollo I was rebuilt and slightly enlarged (cella 12 m x 7 m, adyton 7 m, opisthodomos 3 m) and redecorated with a new set of architectural terracottas similar in design to those on the first temple. in 1970 foundations of Apollo II were discovered 10 m S of the present temple, Apollo IV; the center lines of the earlier and later temples are on approximately the same N-S axis.
Ca. 500 B.C. a third and large-scale Temple to Apollo was constructed of local limestone. it was subsequently disassembled and its blocks were reused in the substructure for Apollo IV of the late 5th c. B.C. Apparently, many essentials in plan and outward appearance of Apollo IV were in fact derived from Apollo III of the late archaic period (proportions width to length of 1:2.6, disposition of 6 x 12 columns and thickened diameters of frontal columns).
Subtle refinements of design and construction in Apollo IV include a plan which forms an isosceles trapezoid (width of euthynteria is ca. 16 m but S is slightly wider than N, with both lateral sides exactly equal in length, ca. 40 m); in addition there are outward curvature in the stylobate, precise jointing, and decoration of all risers of the krepidoma with molded rebates at the lower edges and raised, stippled panels above. Subtle adjustments were made in column spacings and column proportions and the Doric shafts are without entasis. Metopes of the exterior Doric frieze and the two pediments were undecorated by sculpture; by contrast, a marble roof was trimmed by antefixes and a richly carved and painted raking sima; and the gables were surmounted by floral akroteria. Within the peristyle a set of reliefs filled the metopes of the Doric friezes across the pronaos and opisthodomos (preserved fragments BM 510-19 are all from the S side) and a system of elaborately carved limestone coffers adorned the ceilings of the pteromata.
The most splendid decoration of the temple was a sculptured frieze which encircled the interior of the cella, an arrangement which appears in Greek architecture for the first time at Bassai. The slabs contain scenes of a Centauromachy (BM 520-30) and an Amazonomachy (BM 531-42). The design of the interior peristyle is unique: in plan five columns of the ionic order are engaged to each lateral wall by short spur walls, with the rearmost pair being joined by spurs which run at 45° to the lateral walls. Between this pair and on the center-line axis of the cella there was a freestanding column which bore the earliest known capital of the Corinthian order. Limestone and marble were employed alternately throughout the interior: bases and shafts in limestone, capitals in marble except for the ionic capitals in limestone above the diagonal spurs, frieze in marble, geison in limestone, and coffered ceiling in marble. The adyton and the cella are divided only by the ionic entablature which is carried across the cella on the Corinthian column. Within this area a doorway opens to the E. Originally, it was closed to pedestrian traffic by a permanently fixed grill.
The adyton was also coffered, but the lozenges here differed slightly in shape from the patterns used for ceilings of the cella and lateral niches.
The cult image stood before the Corinthian column; no indication of the base remains on the pavement, but in 1812 fragments of an akrolithic statue (BM 543-44) were found in this part of the cella. The adyton may have served to house a xoanon from the earlier temples.
No altar has been discovered at Bassai. However, other outlying structures have been partially uncovered and include a base at the SW coiner of Apollo iV (perhaps for the 4 m bronze statue of Apollo Epikourios), a stairway in this vicinity, a rectangular foundation for a building 25 m NW of Apollo IV (perhaps to be identified as a workshop) and miscellaneous other stretches of walls in lower terraces to the SW of the temple.
F. A. Cooper, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
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