Sunday, 11 May 2014

Lost Cities of Greece Part VII: Temple of Apollo at Bassai

Temple of Bassai Plan 

I was speaking with an archaeologist a number of months ago and inquired about some of the sites she has worked on. Because she has some seniority in her field the sites she's been on throughout Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean were somewhat enumerable. Fascinated by all of these interesting places she's been I took the liberty to ask her what she thought was the “top site” in Greece  that seems to be overlooked. Maybe a site that was worthy of more funding and research. Her answer came quick, “Bassai,” she said without hesitation. This name was interesting and so was her description of the site. As she was telling me about Bassai I had a faint spell of deja vu. When she left I put those familiar thoughts of Bassai in the back of my mind.

About six months later Bassai came up again. Mike and our friend Natasha were up for an adventure when a a small village called Dimitsana was mentioned. I had known from my conversation with the archaeologist that Dimitsana was a place worth visiting in the winter because it was a, "cute village" and located near Bassai. Remembering Bassai I brought up the Temple of Apollo, something no one seemed to have heard of, but talk of it definitely sparked everyone's interest. Later that evening I looked up the site online and sure enough there it was. Not only was it close to the "cute village" of Dimitsana it was actually a site my wife and I had stumbled upon about 6 years ago when we were taking one of our many road trips through Greece (the good ole days).


Driving into the Village Dimitsana
The temple at Bassai is, or rather was, the Temple of Apollo where cult activity has been traced to have started around the 8thcen BCE with the first temple being erected in 625 BCE. One of the many things that's interesting about this temple, other than the fact that its covered with a massive big-top tent to protect it from the harsh elements, is its location. This temple is, and was in the past, located in a very remote area.Common theories as to why this is may have to do with the the Phigaleians, those that were from Phigaleia and who were in control of the sanctuary, were mostly shepherds and farms. Possibly being people of “the land” maybe they felt compelled to erect this temple in the middle of the country? Another interesting fact worth pointing out is that the temple sits from north-to-south and doesn't follow the standard east-to-west plan.

On the way to the temple

Beautiful nature scenery along the way.

Although the first temple was built in 625 BCE the third temple, the remains you'll see today, were established some time around 430-400 BCE. Pausanias states the temple was, “second only to the temple at Tega for its proportion and the beauty of its stone.” The temple is constructed entirely out of grey Arcadian limestone. He also states that Iktinos was the architect, which just so happens to be the same architect who was responsible for the Parthenon. Pretty amazing! Even more amazing is that the temple featured all three orders of columns: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. As for the Corinthian columns the temple once displayed the earliest known Corinthian columns to date. Unfortunately they have been lost. While were on the subject of loosing things or things vanishing and /or becoming lost on the inside of the temple was a continuous Ionic frieze which depicted the Greeks in battle with the Amazons and the Lapiths engaged in battle with the Centaurs, common themes and motifs for Greek temples of the 5th cen BCE. Sadly, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, a fellow by the name of Charles Robert Cockrell removed the frieze’s metopes and like a good British traveller of the 1800's took them to the British Museum in 1815. Remember Lord Elgin's plunder of the Parthenon Marbles from 1801-1812!  It's also believed that Cockrell is responsible for one of the proto-Corinthian capitals, that some how it was lost at sea when he was trying to transport it from Greece to England. With that said it was the Society of Travellers, Cockrell's little club, that did the initial excavations of the site. However, the discovery of the temple doesn't go to Cockrell and his travellers club but was actually discovered, sheerly by accident, by a French architect whose name was J. Bocher around 1765. When he first stumbled upon the place he understood its importance and upon returning for a second look was murdered by bandits. I always looked at this as some sort of weird cruse, you know, like the mummies curse.

The massive big-top tent protecting the Temple from the harsh elements.

Next to nothing admission!

Hundreds, if not thousands, of cataloged stones surrounding the sanctuary

Our friends next to the temple for scale. Thanks guys for being our models.

Inside the tent. The Temple of Apollo!

Some buttresses still remain.

B.T. Before Tent

Note the Doric Capitals.

I believed this to be the Adyton, the most sacred of areas where perhaps those proto-Corinthian columns were. Do you see the light of Apollo shining in? Amazing!

triglyph metope triglyph  

The surrounding area is litter with numbered block

Small pieces to a big puzzle

Here are a number of shots taken from around the temple. Even to this day we can see how remote the area is. 

The first stop had to be Dimitsana so after the office was closed and the tours were done the three of us jumped in the car and speed off. It was the dead of winter and the closer we got to the mountain village of Dimitsana the colder it became. Dimitsana is built on a mountain slope above the river Lousios, at about 950 m elevation and only has a population of about 730. While we were there it seemed like Dimitsana had a population of maybe 200. The village is a walk-able one with a few narrow cobble-stoned streets that have little cafes, bars, tavern's, traditional product stores and gift shops. It was a quaint and warm village filled with curious and familiar villagers.

Typical Guesthouse in Dimitsana

Wood and Stone is the traditional composition. Beautiful!

After a night out on the town, which consisted of a nice taverna and then some live Greek music and dancing at a local bar, we retired for the evening. I could hear a sharp, cold wind blowing outside as I nestled in the bed of my warm and cozy room. It had been so long since I last had been to Bassai and seen the temple. I was anxious and ready to pay homage to that great God and that Great Temple once again.

Getting There:

Car: The best way to get to Dimitsana and Bassai  is to drive your own car. It will take you about 1 hour to reach Dimitsana and because the moutain roads are windy another 1 1/2 hours to get from Dimitsana to Bassai.You could always get a quote on rental cars from our website. Gas may set you back 30-40 Euros, but no more (current price per-liter is 1,65 Euros). Here's a map.

Bus: I don't know of any buses going to Dimitsana or Bassai. There are buses going to Dimitsana from Terminal A Station in Athens, but the bus ride is 4 hours, hence it is the WRONG Dimitsana.

Taxi: From Athens to the site (one way) may cost around 200 euros (depending on the integrity of your driver).

Archeological Site Information:

Archeological Site Tel. +30 26260 22254

Museum Tel. N/A

Tickets: 3,00 Euros per-person 

Hours of Operation: 8 A.M. - Sunset

Free admission days:

6 March (in memory of Melina Mercouri)
5 June (International Environment Day)
18 April (International Monuments Day)
18 May (International Museums Day)
The last weekend of September annually (European Heritage Days)
27 September, International Tourism Day
Sundays in the period between 1 November and 31 March
National Holidays