Aegina Aphaia: Building the finest Archaic Greek Temple

The stone blocks of Aphaias may seem rather unattractive, even rather uninteresting, at first glance. In fact, they are of great importance and reveal some of the major aspects of the process of building the ancient Greek temples.

Beyond, they testify to the construction of the ancient temple of Aphaia on the island of Aegina, about 2,500 years ago.

Ancient Greek Temple-building

"Building an Ancient Greek Temple" Image Credit: Athens Insiders

Today, they are among the few surviving proofs of antiquity and are on the terrace amidst the ruins of the ancient temple. Few other similar blocks can still be seen at their original location - as in the photo in which the blocks in question are displayed above the columns of the temple's eastern porch.

Blocks posted above the columns

"Blocks posted above the columns" Image Credit: Athens Insiders

But what makes these blocks so exceptional and how could they illustrate the old methods of construction?

A careful examination of the blocks of stone used at several sites in Greece - notably the famous Acropolis of Athens and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion - revealed the various methods used to raise and maneuver them, as well as for the use of ropes, special cranes and pulley systems. The most common method of lifting was to wind ropes around small projections on the sides of the blocks. These small square protrusions, called ancon, are visible on the back wall of the monumental portal of the Acropolis, where, eager to complete the building, the craftsmen neglected to remove them.

Small square protrusions, known as ancones, can be seen at the rear wall of Acropolis’ monumental gateway

"Small square projections, called ancon, are visible on the back wall of the monumental portal of the Acropolis." Image Credit: Athens Insiders

In the case of the Aegina temple, the workers used a different approach.

On several blocks, special U-shaped cuts were cut on the sides, while on the rest, deep holes were drilled on the upper surface: two different methods, both extremely effective to loop the ropes and suspend.

U-shape slots

"U-shaped slots" Image Credit: Athens Insiders

U-shape slots

"U-shaped Slots" Image Credit: Athens Insiders

Then, a type of crane with a highly complex pulley system and windlasses would be used for the heavy blocks to be lifted and placed in their high position.

Beautiful aegis

In the 7th and 6th centuries BCE, Aegina was one of the most powerful cities in the Greek world. Although the neighboring Classical Athens becomes the largest and by far the most complex and wealthy Greek city, the Aegina Navy is in first place, providing trade from the Black Sea to Egypt. The Egyptians would have established commercial outposts in the Nile Delta and later colonized southern Italy. In addition, they were the first to hit coins while their fleet was the most powerful in the entire Mediterranean and their fighters were the best among all Greeks.

The Temple of Afea

"The temple of Aphaia" Image Credit: Athens Insiders

The temple of Aphaia, one of the most beautiful and best preserved in Greece, was built around 500 BC and is an outstanding example of late archaic architecture. It is a building of surprisingly squat proportions for its time, built in local limestone, covered with a thin layer of partially painted plaster and decorated with many statues in excellent Cycladic marble. Today, it stands in the middle of dense pines at the top of the old terrace overlooking the Athenian peninsula, recalling in the most amazing way the wealth, power and sophistication of the island.

Cover Image Credit: WeLoveAegina

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