Bassae

Bassae

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Bassae or Bassai, Vassai or Vasses (Greek
Greek language
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages. Native to the southern Balkans, it has the longest documented history of any Indo-European language, spanning 34 centuries of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the majority of its history;...

, 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
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

 in ancient times. Bassae lies near the village of Skliros, northeast of Figaleia
Figaleia
Figaleia is a village and a former municipality in Elis, West Greece, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Zacharo, of which it is a municipal unit. Its 2001 population was 184 for the village and 2,499 for the municipality. The seat of the municipality was...

, south of Andritsaina
Andritsaina
Andritsaina is a town and a former municipality in Elis, West Greece, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Andritsaina-Krestena, of which it is a municipal unit...

 and west of Megalopolis
Megalopolis, Greece
Megalópoli is a town in the western part of the peripheral unit of Arcadia, southern Greece. It is located in the same site as ancient Megalopolis . "Megalopolis" is a Greek word for Great city. When it was founded, in 371 BC, it was the first urbanization in rustic and primitive Arcadia. In...

. It is famous for the well-preserved mid- to late-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). Its construction is placed between 450 BCE and 400 BCE.

Temple of Apollo Epikourios


The temple was dedicated to Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

 Epikourios ("Apollo the helper"). It was designed by Iktinos
Iktinos
Ictinus was an architect active in the mid 5th century BC. Ancient sources identify Ictinus and Callicrates as co-architects of the Parthenon....

, architect at Athens of the Temple of Hephaestus
Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus, also known as the Hephaisteion or earlier as the Theseion, is the best-preserved ancient Greek temple; it remains standing largely as built. It is a Doric peripteral temple, and is located at the north-west side of the Agora of Athens, on top of the Agoraios Kolonos hill....

 and the Parthenon
Parthenon
The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their virgin patron. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although...

. The ancient writer Pausanias
Pausanias (geographer)
Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the 2nd century AD, who lived in the times of Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece , a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from firsthand observations, and is a crucial link between classical...

 praises the temple as eclipsing all others but the temple of Athena at Tegea
Tegea
Tegea was a settlement in ancient Greece, and it is also a former municipality in Arcadia, Peloponnese, Greece. Since the 2011 local government reform it is part of the municipality Tripoli, of which it is a municipal unit. Its seat was the village Stadio....

 by the beauty of its stone and the harmony of its construction. 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 principal 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
Stylobate
In classical Greek architecture, a stylobate is the top step of the crepidoma, the stepped platform on which colonnades of temple columns are placed...

 measuring 38.3 by 14.5 metres containing a Doric
Doric order
The Doric order was one of the three orders or organizational systems of ancient Greek or classical architecture; the other two canonical orders were the Ionic and the Corinthian.-History:...

 peristyle
Peristyle
In Hellenistic Greek and Roman architecture a peristyle is a columned porch or open colonnade in a building surrounding a court that may contain an internal garden. Tetrastoon is another name for this feature...

 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 Arcadia
Arcadia
Arcadia is one of the regional units of Greece. It is part of the administrative region of Peloponnese. It is situated in the central and eastern part of the Peloponnese peninsula. It takes its name from the mythological character Arcas. In Greek mythology, it was the home of the god Pan...

n limestone
Limestone
Limestone is a sedimentary rock composed largely of the minerals calcite and aragonite, which are different crystal forms of calcium carbonate . Many limestones are composed from skeletal fragments of marine organisms such as coral or foraminifera....

 except for the frieze
Bassae Frieze
The Bassae Frieze is the high relief marble sculpture in 23 panels, 31m long by 0.63m high, made to decorate the interior of the cella of the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae. It was discovered in 1811 by Carl Haller and Charles Cockerell, and excavated the following year by an expedition of...

 which was carved from marble
Marble
Marble is a metamorphic rock composed of recrystallized carbonate minerals, most commonly calcite or dolomite.Geologists use the term "marble" to refer to metamorphosed limestone; however stonemasons use the term more broadly to encompass unmetamorphosed limestone.Marble is commonly used for...

. [Although in ancient times they were most likely colored with a bold paint] Like most major temples it has three "rooms" or porches: the pronaos, plus a naos
Cella
A cella or naos , is the inner chamber of a temple in classical architecture, or a shop facing the street in domestic Roman architecture...

and an opisthodomos
Opisthodomos
An opisthodomos can refer to either the rear room of an ancient Greek temple or to the inner shrine, also called the adyton ; the confusion arises from the lack of agreement in ancient inscriptions. In modern scholarship, it usually refers to the rear porch of a temple...

. The naos most likely once housed a cult statue of Apollo. The temple lacks some optical refinements found in the Parthenon
Parthenon
The Parthenon is a temple on the Athenian Acropolis, Greece, dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, whom the people of Athens considered their virgin patron. Its construction began in 447 BC when the Athenian Empire was at the height of its power. It was completed in 438 BC, although...

, such as a subtly curved floor, though the columns have entasis
Entasis
In architecture, entasis is the application of a convex curve to a surface for aesthetic purposes. Its best-known use is in certain orders of Classical columns that curve slightly as their diameter is decreased from the bottom upwards. In the Hellenistic period some columns with entasis are...

.


The temple is unusual in that it has examples of all three of the classical orders used in ancient Greek architecture: Doric
Doric order
The Doric order was one of the three orders or organizational systems of ancient Greek or classical architecture; the other two canonical orders were the Ionic and the Corinthian.-History:...

, Ionic
Ionic order
The Ionic order forms one of the three orders or organizational systems of classical architecture, the other two canonic orders being the Doric and the Corinthian...

, and Corinthian
Corinthian order
The Corinthian order is one of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric and Ionic. When classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance, two more orders were added to the canon, the Tuscan order and the Composite order...

. Doric columns form the peristyle while Ionic columns support the porch and Corinthian columns feature in the interior. The Corinthian capital
Capital (architecture)
In architecture the capital forms the topmost member of a column . It mediates between the column and the load thrusting down upon it, broadening the area of the column's supporting surface...

 is the earliest example of the order found to date.

It was relatively sparsely decorated on the exterior. Inside, however, there was a continuous Ionic frieze
Frieze
thumb|267px|Frieze of the [[Tower of the Winds]], AthensIn architecture the frieze is the wide central section part of an entablature and may be plain in the Ionic or Doric order, or decorated with bas-reliefs. Even when neither columns nor pilasters are expressed, on an astylar wall it lies upon...

 showing Greeks in battle with Amazons
Amazons
The Amazons are a nation of all-female warriors in Greek mythology and Classical antiquity. Herodotus placed them in a region bordering Scythia in Sarmatia...

 and the Lapith
Lapith
The Lapiths are a legendary people of Greek mythology, whose home was in Thessaly, in the valley of the Peneus and on the mountain Pelion.They were an Aeolian tribe. Like the Myrmidons and other Thessalian tribes, the Lapiths were pre-Hellenic in their origins...

s engaged in battle with Centaur
Centaur
In Greek mythology, a centaur or hippocentaur is a member of a composite race of creatures, part human and part horse...

s. This frieze's metopes
Metope (architecture)
In classical architecture, a metope is a rectangular architectural element that fills the space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze, which is a decorative band of alternating triglyphs and metopes above the architrave of a building of the Doric order...

 were removed by Charles Robert Cockerell
Charles Robert Cockerell
Charles Robert Cockerell was an English architect, archaeologist, and writer.-Life:Charles Robert Cockerell was educated at Westminster School from 1802. From the age of sixteen, he trained in the architectural practice of his father, Samuel Pepys 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
Elgin Marbles
The Parthenon Marbles, forming a part of the collection known as the Elgin Marbles , are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures , inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens...

.) Cockerell decorated the walls of the Ashmolean Museum
Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first university museum...

's Great Staircase and that of the Travellers Club
Travellers Club
The Travellers Club is a gentlemen's club standing at 106 Pall Mall, London. It is the oldest of the surviving Pall Mall clubs, having been established in 1819, and was recently described by the Los Angeles Times as "the quintessential English gentleman's club." Visits are possible by invitation...

 with plaster casts of the same frieze.

Re-discovery and removal by the British




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. Charles Robert Cockerell
Charles Robert Cockerell
Charles Robert Cockerell was an English architect, archaeologist, and writer.-Life:Charles Robert Cockerell was educated at Westminster School from 1802. From the age of sixteen, he trained in the architectural practice of his father, Samuel Pepys Cockerell...

 and Carl Haller von Hallerstein
Carl Haller von Hallerstein
Johann Carl Christoph Wilhelm Joachim Haller von Hallerstein was a German architect, archaeologist and art historian.-Biography:...

, having secured sculptures at Aegina
Aegina
Aegina is one of the Saronic Islands of Greece in the Saronic Gulf, from Athens. Tradition derives the name from Aegina, the mother of Aeacus, who was born in and ruled the island. During ancient times, Aegina was a rival to Athens, the great sea power of the era.-Municipality:The municipality...

, hoped for more successes at Bassae in 1811; all Haller's careful drawings of the site were lost at sea, however.

The site was explored in 1812 with the permission of Veli Pasha, the Turkish commander of the Peloponnese
Peloponnese
The Peloponnese, Peloponnesos or Peloponnesus , is a large peninsula , located in a region of southern Greece, forming the part of the country south of the Gulf of Corinth...

, by a group of British antiquaries who removed twenty-three slabs from the Ionic cella frieze and transported them to Zante along with other sculptures. Veli Pasha's claims on the finds were silenced in exchange for a small bribe, and the frieze was bought at auction by the British Museum in 1815. This frieze's metopes
Metope (architecture)
In classical architecture, a metope is a rectangular architectural element that fills the space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze, which is a decorative band of alternating triglyphs and metopes above the architrave of a building of the Doric order...

 were removed personally by Charles Robert Cockerell
Charles Robert Cockerell
Charles Robert Cockerell was an English architect, archaeologist, and writer.-Life:Charles Robert Cockerell was educated at Westminster School from 1802. From the age of sixteen, he trained in the architectural practice of his father, Samuel Pepys Cockerell...

. (They are still to be seen in the British Museum's Gallery 16, near the Elgin Marbles
Elgin Marbles
The Parthenon Marbles, forming a part of the collection known as the Elgin Marbles , are a collection of classical Greek marble sculptures , inscriptions and architectural members that originally were part of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens...

.) Cockerell decorated the walls of the Ashmolean Museum
Ashmolean Museum
The Ashmolean Museum on Beaumont Street, Oxford, England, is the world's first university museum...

's Great Staircase and that of the Travellers Club
Travellers Club
The Travellers Club is a gentlemen's club standing at 106 Pall Mall, London. It is the oldest of the surviving Pall Mall clubs, having been established in 1819, and was recently described by the Los Angeles Times as "the quintessential English gentleman's club." Visits are possible by invitation...

 with plaster casts of the same frieze. 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 fully 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
Corinthian order
The Corinthian order is one of the three principal classical orders of ancient Greek and Roman architecture. The other two are the Doric and Ionic. When classical architecture was revived during the Renaissance, two more orders were added to the canon, the Tuscan order and the Composite order...

 found to date. Some of the recovered artefacts are on display at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow
Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

.

In 1902, a systematic excavation of the area was carried out by the Greek Archaeological Society of Athens
Athens
Athens , is the capital and largest city of Greece. Athens dominates the Attica region and is one of the world's oldest cities, as its recorded history spans around 3,400 years. Classical Athens was a powerful city-state...

 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.

Preservation


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 preserved only by conversion to Christian uses
Christianised sites
One aspect of Christianisation was the Christianisation of sites that had been pagan. In the 1st centuries of Christianity churches were either house churches in whatever houses were offered for use by their owners, or were shrines on the burial-sites of martyrs or saints, which following the usual...

; 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
Acid rain
Acid rain is a rain or any other form of precipitation that is unusually acidic, meaning that it possesses elevated levels of hydrogen ions . It can have harmful effects on plants, aquatic animals, and infrastructure. Acid rain is caused by emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen...

 which quickly dissolves limestone and damages marble carvings.

The temple of Apollo is presently covered in a white tent 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.

See also

  • Bassae Frieze
    Bassae Frieze
    The Bassae Frieze is the high relief marble sculpture in 23 panels, 31m long by 0.63m high, made to decorate the interior of the cella of the Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassae. It was discovered in 1811 by Carl Haller and Charles Cockerell, and excavated the following year by an expedition of...

  • Architecture of Ancient Greece
    Architecture of Ancient Greece
    The architecture of Ancient Greece is the architecture produced by the Greek-speaking people whose culture flourished on the Greek mainland and Peloponnesus, the Aegean Islands, and in colonies in Asia Minor and Italy for a period from about 900 BC until the 1st century AD, with the earliest...

  • Greek temple
    Greek temple
    Greek temples were structures built to house deity statues within Greek sanctuaries in Greek paganism. The temples themselves did usually not directly serve a cult purpose, since the sacrifices and rituals dedicated to the respective deity took place outside them...

  • List of Greco-Roman roofs

External links