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Α ‘ plague ’ Temple

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One of best- preserved monuments from the Classical period is Apollo Epicurius, the first Greek entry into UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites.

The temple is in harmony with the rocky Bassae landscape and is perfectly adapted to natural environment, following a basic principle of ancient civilizations: respect for nature.

The good state of preservation was not a matter of chance, as it is located in a inaccessible mountainous area, at the borders between Ellis, Arcadia and Messinia, on the western slope of mout Kotylion and 13 kilometers from ancient Phigaleia, to which it used to belong administratively. Bassae owes its name to the many small valleys (vassae or vissae) that open in the rocks. Far from settlements and human intervention, the temple remained forgotten until 1765, when it was located by the French Architect J. Bocher.

Exceptionally topical due to the current pandemic, the sanctuary was built in around 420-400 BC, in honor of the god Apollo, who helped during the epidemic that had, according to one version, hit the region. This was why it was called Epicurius, meaning ‘he who contributes’ or ‘he who comes to help’.

According to the traveler Pausanias, the temple was a work of the renowned Iktinos, the architect of the Parthenon. Here, the three architectural styles of antiquity are combined: Doric, Ionian and Corinthian. Frequent frosts are a serious problem for the temple, which is located at an altitude of 1,130m. Pausanias expressed his admiration for the main building material used in the temple, the local limestone-schist, which is highly susceptible to erosion. When frozen by cold temperatures, water becomes trapped in the pores and damages the building material.

The horizontal surface on which the temple is built was made artificially on the slope by addition of a layer of clay to the natural rock, a factor that, over time, caused damage to the foundations and subsidence. The unstable ground and frequent frosts coupled with the limestone material made it necessary to cover the building with a permanent roof in 1987.

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