Far from the town and port of Aegina, on a hill on the northeast side of the island where a pre-Dorian deity was worshipped, the Aeginetans erected the first stone temple to the goddess Aphaia in c. 570 BC. It was a Doric limestone building with a prostyle porch, destroyed by fire around 510 BC.
Following the destruction of the first temple, the Doric limestone peripteral temple which survives today was built in the late 6th–early 5th c. BC. This is one of the best-preserved temples of ancient Greece, now restored. The exceptional marble sculptures on its pediments, depicting the mythical expeditions against Troy in which Aeginetan heroes of the Aeacid dynasty (including Ajax and Telamon) distinguished themselves, are a landmark in the history of ancient Greek sculpture.
Worshippers entered the temple courtyard via a propylon entrance in the south side of the peribolos enclosure delimiting the levelled area. Sacrifices to the goddess were offered by the priests on the altar outside the temple to the east. An inclined paved platform connected the temple to the altar. Votive offerings, such as the tall column topped by a sphinx, adorned the sanctuary.
The temple has 12 columns on the long sides and six on the short sides. It consists of the rectangular cella (inner chamber), the pronaos (portico) and the shallower opisthodomos (rear chamber), with two columns between the pronaos and the opisthodomos. The cella is divided into three parts by two rows of five columns on two levels. The place where the cult statue stood is visible in the central space. There was a doorway between the cella and the opisthodomos. Balustrades with doors blocked the gaps between the four central columns of the narrow façade and the two ends of the long walls, as well as the gaps between the columns of the pronaos and the opisthodomos.
Every visible part of the temple was coated in a painted layer of white plaster to protect the limestone. The metopes were undecorated. The roof was covered with terracotta tiles, apart from the first layer with the palmette-shaped antefixes, which was made of marble. The gutters were carved with lion’s-head spouts. Both the central palmette acroteria were also of marble, with a kore in Ionian dress standing on either side.
The temple, built at the peak of Aegina’s prosperity by an unknown architect, is one of the best examples of the Doric style.
Archaeologist, Ephorate of Antiquities of Piraeus and the Islands
Bankel Hansgeorg, Der Spätarchaische Tempel der Aphaia auf Aegina (Denkmäler antiker Architektur, 19), Berlin 1993.
Ohly Dieter, Die Aegineten, vol. 1: Die Ostgiebelgruppe, München 1976, vol. 2: Die Westgiebel, vol. 2: Die Gruppen auf dem Altarplatz, Figürliche Bruchstücke, Akrotere aus der Tempelcella, München 2001.
Pilafidis-Williams Korinna, The Sanctuary of Aphaia on Aigina in the Bronze Age, DAI, München 1998.
Schwandner E.-L., Der ältere Porostempel der Aphaia auf Aegina (Denkmäler antiker Architektur, 16), Berlin 1985.
Video: Yannis Tzitzas