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.