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Aegina's Temple of Aphaia

- by Archimedes

One of the best preserved monuments in Greece.

Not many holiday visitors to the island of Aegina will miss out on a visit to the remarkable Temple of Aphaea, often spelt Aphaia near the popular island beach resort of Aghia Marina.

This 5th century BC Doric temple is one of the best preserved in Greece with 24 limestone columns of the sanctuary complex still standing.

Aphaia was a Greek goddess, a hunting nymph daughter of Zeus, and worshipped exclusively at this temple which was first excavated in 1811 and again in 1901.

Unfortunately English and German collectors stripped the sanctuary of its most important artefacts, now held mainly in German museums, although some finds are on display in the museum on Aegina.

Archaeological and renovation work was started again in 1966 and has continued on and off ever since. Significant quantities of Bronze Age female figurines have been unearthed which suggest a religious role since the 14th century BC and even a Minoan connection.

The temple is approached by a ramp incline from the east near some large stones that are thought to have once been sacrificial altars.

Near the entrance are the ruins of a large building, thought to be lodging for temple priests. Just beyond the entrance there once stood a majestic column topped with a sphinx, which is now in the Aegina museum.

These early structures are thought to date from 570 BC butdestroyed by fire around 60 years later. The temple seen today was built on the ruins of the older temple.

The layout of Aphaia is unusual for its era in that it has six Doric columns at the ends and twelve along its flanks, a two to one relation instead of the more usual three to one.

Other notable architectural features, such as slender columns spaced further apart, are thought to have influenced the architectural style of later Classical temples such as the great Parthenon in Athens.

The Aphaia temple once had 32 columns constructed entirely of local limestone and covered with marble stucco that was once painted over. Indeed it is believd the temple was once lavishly decorated with bright coloured pigments.

The complex also contained many sculptures carved from Parian marble depicting scenes from the Trojan war but the pediments on which these were carved were among the items stolen when Greece was under Turkish occupation.

The temple of Aphaia makes an excellent archaeological site to visit while on holiday on Aegina. The small size and area of the temple fits nicely in the beautiful setting on Melagros hill and surrounded by pine trees with the spectacular views over the Saronic Gulf.

The best time to visit is early in the morning before 10 am when the bus loads of tourists arrive on guided tours. Although the surrounding pines offer shade from the intense heat of summer, the sanctuary itself is very exposed and offers very little shade.

There is a small cafe near the entrance and a small car park. There are daily buses Aegina town to the temple or there are many car and bike hire firms.

Agia Marina is the nearest holiday resort with a busy beach area. Those staying in Agia Marina can follow an ancient trail up the hill to visit the temple on foot.