Infobox World Heritage Site
WHS = Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae

State Party = GRE
Type = Cultural
Criteria = i, ii, iii
ID = 392
Region = Europe and North America
Year = 1986
Session = 10th
Link =

Bassae (Latin) or Bassai, Vassai or Vasses (Greek, Modern: "Βάσσες", Ancient: "Βάσσαι"), meaning "little vale in the rocks", is an archaeological site in the northeastern part of Messinia Prefecture that was a part of Arcadia in ancient times. Bassae lies northeast of Kyparissia, south of Andritsaina and west of Megalopolis. It is famous for the well-preserved mid-5th century BCE Temple of Apollo Epicurius.

Although this temple is geographically remote from major polities of ancient Greece, it is one of the most studied ancient Greek temples because of its multitude of unusual features. Bassae was the first Greek site to be inscribed on the World Heritage List (1986). [ Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae] , World Heritage List.] Its construction is placed between 450 BCE and 425 BCE.

Temple of Apollo Epikourios

The temple was dedicated to Apollo Epikourios ("Apollo the helper"). It was designed by Iktinos, [The attribution was noted by Pausanias, 8.41.7ff.] architect of the Temple of Hephaestus and the Parthenon. The ancient writer Pausanias praises the temple as eclipsing all others but the temple of Athena at Tegea by the beauty of its stone and the harmony of its construction. [Pausanias, 8.41.7 ff.] It sits at an elevation of 1,131 metres above sea level on the slopes of Kotylion Mountain.

Construction and decoration

The temple is aligned north-south, in contrast to the majority of Greek temples which are aligned east-west; its principle entrance is from the north. This was necessitated by the limited space available on the steep slopes of the mountain. To overcome this restriction a door was placed in the side of the temple, perhaps to allow worshippers to face east or let light in to illuminate the statue.

The temple is of a relatively modest size, with the stylobate measuring 38.3 by 14.5 metres [ Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae] , World Heritage Site.] containing a Doric peristyle of six by fifteen columns (hexastyle). The roof left a central space open to admit light and air. The temple was constructed entirely out of grey Arcardian limestone [ The temple of Apollo the Helper - Heritage] , UNESCO Courier, Jan, 1996, by Takis Theodoropoulos.] except of the frieze which was carved from marble. Like most major temples it has three "rooms" or porches: the pronaos, plus a naos and an opisthodomos. The naos most likely once housed a cult statue of Apollo. The temple lacks some optical refinements similar to those found in the Parthenon, such as a subtly curved floor, though the columns have entasis. [Dinsmoore 1933:207]

The temple is unusual in that it has examples of all three of the classical orders used in ancient Greek architecture: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. [ The Temple of Epicurean Apollo] Hellenic Ministry of Culture] Doric columns form the peristyle while Ionic columns support the porch and Corinthian columns feature in the interior. The Corinthian capital is the earliest example of the order found to date.

It was relatively sparsely decorated on the exterior. [William Dinsmoor made a detailed case for recognising former pedimental sculptures from Bassae, looted by Romans, in three pedimental figures of Niobids discovered at various times in the later nineteenth century on the site of the Gardens of Sallust, Rome (Dinsmoor, "The Lost Pedimental Sculptures of Bassae" "American Journal of Archaeology" 43.1 (January-March 1939:27-47).] Inside, however, there was a continuous Ionic frieze showing Greeks in battle with Amazons and the Lapiths engaged in battle with Centaurs. This frieze's metopes were removed by Charles Robert Cockerell and taken to the British Museum in 1815. (They are still to be seen in the British Museum's Gallery 16, near the Elgin Marbles. [ Bassae Sculpture] , British Museum.] ) Cockerell decorated the walls of the Ashmolean Museum's Great Staircase and that of the Travellers Club with plaster casts of the same frieze. [ [ Beazley Archive] ]

Re-discovery and excavation

The temple had been noticed first in November 1765 by the French architect J. Bocher, who was building villas at Zante and came upon it quite by accident; he recognized it from its site, but when he returned for a second look, he was murdered by bandits. [William Bell Dinsmoor, "The Temple of Apollo at Bassae" "Metropolitan Museum Studies" 4.2 (March 1933:204-227) p 204, notes Bocher's drawings, acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1914. ] Charles R. Cockerell and Haller von Hallerstein, having secured sculptures at Aegina, hoped for more successes at Bassae in 1811. Parts were exposed in excavations begun the following year by a team of scholars under Cockerell and Otto Magnus von Stackelberg, including the frieze, which was auctioned to the British Museum at Zante. All Halle's careful drawings of the site were lost at sea. [Dinsmoor 1933:205.] The frieze sculptures were published in Rome in 1814 and officially, by the British Museum in 1820. Other hasty visits resulted in further publications. The first fullly published excavation was not begun until 1836; it was carried out by Russian archaeologists under the direction of Carlo Brullo. Perhaps the most striking discovery was the oldest Corinthian capital found to date. Some of the recovered artefacts are on display at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow.

In 1902, a systematic excavation of the area was carried out by the Greek Archaeological Society of Athens under archaeologist Konstantinos Kourouniotis along with Konstantinos Romaios and Panagiotis Kavvadias. Further excavations were carried out in 1959, 1970 and from 1975-1979, under the direction of Nikolaos Gialouris.


The temple's remoteness— Pausanias is the only ancient traveller whose remarks on Bassae have survived— has worked to its advantage for its preservation. Other, more accessible temples were damaged or destroyed by war or by conversion to later religious uses; the Temple of Apollo escaped both these fates. Due to its distance from major metropolitan areas it also has less of a problem with acid rain which quickly dissolves limestone and damages marble carvings.

The temple of Apollo is presently covered in white tent with five rows in order to protect the ruins from the elements. Conservation work is currently being carried out under the supervision of the Committee of the Epicurean Apollo, which is based in Athens.


External links

* [ Hellenic Ministry of Culture: Bassae]
* [ Hellenic Ministry of Culture: Temple of Apollo Epikourios]
* [ Excavation of the Temple]
* [ UNESCO: Temple of Apollo Epicureus at Bassae]

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