The Temple of Aphaea is one of the most important sights to be visited on the island of Aegina. It is built on a hill of 160 m, surrounded by pine trees and stands out for its unique energy.
In the Prehistoric Period (1300 BC) it was a unique place of worship. However, its sanctuary flourished during the Archaic Period, when three temples were built in the same place, with the last one being preserved to this day.
Where it is located
The Temple is located 15 km from the capital of Aegina (2 km east of Mesagros) and was built in 500-490 BC on a previous temple, which was destroyed by fire around 510 BC. The Aeginetans therefore decided to demolish it, retaining though the gate and the large altar, and to build a new one depicting the sculptures of the “Aeginetan” School. The new temple took its final form in 500 BC and is an exquisite example of Archaic architecture.
Bonus info: Iktinos and Kallikrates are said to have relied on this model temple in order to later design the Parthenon.
The architecture of the Temple of Aphaia
This particular temple is a Doric Peripteros, made of local limestone (the pediments are made from Parian marble) and is a crossroads for ancient Greek architecture, since the elongated proportions of the Archaic temples are abandoned. Instead of 6 columns on the narrow and 15 on the long sides, the proportions of the temple of Aphaea are very close to the proportions of the temples of the Classical period with 6 columns on the narrow sides and 12 columns on the long sides.
Another element of its architecture, geometry, technique and physics concerns the outer columns which have a slight inward leaning and the columns located at the corners that are somewhat thicker than the rest. Today, 24 of its 32 columns exist.
The origin of its name
The sanctuary was dedicated to deity Aphaea. The Temple of Aphaea is mentioned by Pausanias in the 2nd century AD, the famous Greek periegetic writer who identified Aphaea with Britomartis - Diktynna, the Cretan goddess, daughter of Zeus and Carme. According to the myth, Minos, the king of Crete, fell in love with Britomartis, chased her and she, in order to escape him, fell into the sea, where she was caught in the nets of fishermen who took her on their boat. But a sailor fell in love with her and she, in order to escape again, fell into the sea and went out to the island of Aegina, where the ship happened to pass by. Britomartis kept looking for a place to hide and ended up on this remote hill of Artemis where the goddess made her disappear. When they went to look for her, they found in her place a statue which they named Aphaea (Aphaea = invisible). In this place the Aeginetans founded a sanctuary in her honour and built the famous temple of Aphaea. Later, goddess Aphaea was associated with Athena and so the temple was named after Athena Aphaea.
Its famous impediments
The temple of Aphaea was especially known in antiquity for the pediments which adorned both its narrow sides. The sculptures of the pediments were colourful and were made from Parian marble, with themes taken from the Trojan War, in which Aeginetan warriors and descendants of the king of the island, Aeacus, were distinguished. Athena as a central figure is present on both pediments.
The Aeginetans presented their island as the homeland of the Aeacus family. At about the end of the 6th century BC, when Aegina was threatened by the Athenians, the Aeginetans decided to change the pediments to emphasise their roots connected to Aeacus and, of course, their achievements.
The Temple of Aphaia in modern times
The sanctuary of Aphaia was not maintained for long. After the Athenian enforcement in Aegina, from the mid-5th century BC, the sanctuary began to decline so that by the end of the 2nd century BC the area had already been abandoned and has since been preserved as seen today.
The first excavations took place in 1811 by the architect Ch. R. Cockerell and his friend Baron von Hallerstein, who visited the site and excavated the sculptures of the pediments. They transported the sculptures to Italy and then in 1828 to Munich, where they remain on display at the Glyptothek of Munich.
Systematic excavation of the monument was carried out by the German Archaeological Institute in 1901, under the supervision of Ad. Furtwangler and H. Thiersch and later, in 1964-1981, under that of D. Ohly. The years 1956-1957 restoration work was carried out by A. Orlandos and E. Stikas.
The Temple’s energy
It is said that the Temple of Aphaia with the Parthenon and the Temple of Sounion form an imaginary isosceles triangle (the sacred triangle of antiquity which the ancient Greeks took care to observe and apply when it came to the architecture and energy of a temple). When the atmosphere is clear, there is direct visibility between these three temples which is said that the ancient Greeks used as a way of communicating in case of attack by enemies.