Old Temple of Athena

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Introduction

The Old Temple of Athena was built around 525 BC and inaugurated in 506 BC on the site of a still older Geometric temple. The so called Arkhaios Naos (old temple of Athena Polias) stood near the center of the Akropolis, between the Parthenon to the south and several archaic sanctuaries to the north. The temple was of the Doric order, peripteral, amphidistyle in antis.

The temple was mostly made of poros. However, its stylobate was made of Kara limestone while the sculptures in the pediments, the metopes, the frieze, the simas and the roof tiles were of marble. It had a peristyle of six columns on the ends and twelve on the sides (corner columns counted twice). The marble sculptures of its east pediment depicted a Gigantomachy, the battle between the gods and giants. A marble statue of Athena wielding her aegis. The marble sculptures of its west pediment depicted two lions tearing a bull apart. The roof marble sima (0.31 m high) ended with tube-like spouts. Exceptionally, the spouts at the four corners depicted lion's and ram's heads.

The old wooden life-size statue of Athena Polias was worshipped in this temple. When the Persians sacked Athens in 480 BC, they demolished the temple. After 470 BC, some of its triglyphs and metopes were incorporated into the new north wall near the Arrephorion. Several authors believe that part of the temple was repaired to be used for worship.

Precinct

The temple was built on a centrally located terrace delimited by old Mycenaean walls. On the west, the wall reached a height between 4 and 5 m. Another old wall ran on the south, its height diminished as the level of the Akropolis rock gradually rose to the east. The levelled terrace met the bedrock of the Akropolis at the place where the Altar of Athena Polias stood.

Opisthodomos

Several Classical texts refer to the Opisthodomos (room behind). One theory argues that the west part of the Old Temple of Athena had been restored around 455 BC to house the Statue of Athena Polias and the treasures. According to this theory the Opisthodomos would have been destroyed only once the Statue had been moved to its new home, the Erechtheion, after its inauguration in 404 BC (???). However, no evidence of restoration has yet been found to support this theory.

Another theory identifies the Opisthodomos with the west room of the Parthenon itself.

Statue of Athena Polias

For centuries, the Athenians had worshipped an old olivewood life-size statue of Athena Polias. This statue probably dated back to the Mycenaean Period and, to the eyes of the Athenians, was the holiest image of the goddess. Considering its age, we can suppose that it was of a rather archaic design. The statue wore a saffron-colored peplos and gold ornaments (a diadem, earrings, necklaces...). The peplos was decorated with purple scenes representing a Gigantomachy.

During the Persian invasion of 480 BC, the statue was probably evacuated to Salamis.

References

Brouskari, Maria; The Monuments of the Acropolis, Athens: Archaeological Receipts Fund, 2001

Camp, John M.; The Archaeology of Athens, Yale University Press, 2001, p. 42-43

Connolly, Peter and Hazel Dodge; The Ancient City - Life in Classical Athens & Rome, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998

Hurwit, Jeffrey M.; The Acropolis in the Age of Pericles, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004

Travlos, John, Pictorial dictionary of Ancient Athens, Books that matter, New York, 1971, p. 143 and 146

TO DO

Include an illustration of a possible representation the pediment.

Include an illustration of a possible representation of Athena Polias.

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