Two handfuls of upright, semi-stable columns; a nave carved from time-polished marble; vandalized metopes that long ago lost their priceless sculptures to an unworthy German museum; this is the Temple of Aphaia anchored on an Aeginian hill overlooking the aquamarine waters of the Saronic Gulf, the not-all-that-distant shores of the Peloponnese, the pine forest that stretches all the way to Perdika on the southernmost tip of Aegina island: a fragile adumbration of the glory that was Greece some two and half millennia ago.
A precursor of the Parthenon, the temple conforms to the same 1:1.618 golden ratio as its more famous look-alike, and celebrates one of Zeus’ many goddess-daughters. Formerly thought to be Athena or Artemis (the prototypical feminists), currently archeologists have veered towards Britomartis, a virginal deity that aroused the passions of the lecherous King Minos of Crete. She is meant to have escaped by jumping into the sea to emerge on Aegina where she avoided detection by becoming invisible (Aphane: Aphaia).
A fertility cult developed around her worship dating back to 1300 BCE. Her devotees built a sanctuary to her some seven hundred years later, with the frontispiece temple in wood, that was destroyed by fire; rebuilt quickly in marble that succumbed to the same earthquake that might have engulfed Atlantis; and a third time during the Golden Age (just ahead of the Periclean endeavors on the holy rock of the Athenian acropolis), yet another incarnation of a temple that stands (almost) intact to this day.
as the Muse of architecture
toys with the minds and souls
of little humans in need
and a quest for earthly rewards
that she’ll never fulfill
secrets that she refuses to ever reveal
even if the temple appears to levitate
the longer one contemplates
its fractured but unbreakable perspectives
its sacred geometry
Aphaia is claimed to be the oldest still-standing temple of Ancient Greece, and like all their important sites, it is connected trigonometrically to other dominant locations. This one has a proven triangularity (albeit of the isosceles persuasion) with the Parthenon (Temple to Athena) in Athens and the Temple to Poseidon in Sounio (south-west of Athens). Aphaia owns another particularity: it is said that when it rains here it rains absolutely everywhere in Greece; as if the Ancients weep to this day that their uncorrupted goddess was barely saved from being violated by the self-important tyrant of their sworn enemy Crete, the island nation to the south.
for more information visit: www.visitgreece.gr
words by Byron Ayanoglu
Photographs & Stone Sculptures by Algis Kemezys (copyright 2011)