Author: Nota Karamaouna (Archaeologist and Licensed Guide)
Aphaias’ stone blocks may look fairly unattractive, even rather uninspiring, at first sight. As a matter of fact, they are of great importance, revealing some of the major aspects of the ancient Greek Temple-building process. Beyond that, they stand witness to how the ancient Temple of Aphaia on Aegina Island was built some 2,500 years ago.
Today, they are among some few pieces of evidence which have survived from antiquity and they are lying at the terrace amidst the ruins of the ancient temple. Few other similar blocks can still be seen at their original location – like in the picture in which the blocks in question are posted above the columns of the eastern porch of the temple.
But what makes these blocks so exceptional and how could they possibly illustrate the ancient construction methods?
Careful examination of the stone blocks used on several sites around Greece – including the famous Acropolis of Athens and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion – has revealed the diverse methods by which they were raised and maneuvered into position alongside the use of ropes, special cranes and pulley systems. The most standard method of lifting was by looping ropes around small projections on the sides of the blocks. These small square protrusions, known as ancones, can be seen at the rear wall of Acropolis’ monumental gateway where, in their haste to finish the edifice, the craftsmen neglected to remove them.
In the case of the temple on Aegina the workmen used a different approach.
On several blocks special U-shape slots were cut on the sides, while on the rest of them deep holes were made on the top surface: two different methods, both extremely efficient for looping ropes and hanging.
Then, a type of crane with a pulley system of high complexity and windlasses would be used for the heavy blocks to be lifted and placed onto their lofty position.
During the 7th and 6th centuries BC, Aegina was one of the most powerful cities of the Greek world. Although the nearby Classical Athens grew to the biggest and, by far, the most complex and rich Greek city, Aegina’s navy held first place, plying trade from the Black Sea to Egypt. The Aegineans are said to have founded commercial outposts in the Nile Delta and, later, to have colonized South Italy. Moreover, they were the first to mint coins while their fleet was the most powerful throughout the Mediterranean and their fighters the best among all the Greeks.
The Temple of Aphaia, one of the finest situated and best preserved in Greece, was constructed around 500BC and it is an outstanding example of Late Archaic Architecture. It is a building of strikingly squat proportions for its time, built of local limestone, covered with a fine, partly painted layer of plaster and decorated with many statues made of excellent marble from the Cyclades. Today, it lies amidst dense pine trees at the top of the ancient terrace overlooking the Athenian peninsula, as the most stunning reminder of the island’s ancient wealth, power and sophistication.
Cover Image Credit: WeLoveAegina