The Temple of Aphaia

The Temple of Aphaia is one of the reasons why tourists travel to the island. On the north eastern side of the island is a wooded hill. It overlooks the bay of Agia Marina with the town of the same name. Although the hill is only about 200m high, it commands wonderful views to the east over the bay and the coastline. To the north and east lie Athens, the island of Salamis and the Peloponnese.

When you reach the summit you’ll see why the ancient Greeks built their temple here. It is a truly magnificent setting. Not only that, but the Temple of Aphaia is one of the better preserved buildings from the ancient world.

first view of the Temple of Aphaia
First view of the Temple of Aphaia

Who was Aphaia?

Aphaia was not a well known goddess. Roman writers suggest she was the Cretan goddess Britomartis, who was a virgin huntress. King Minos of Crete had designs on her, and she fled and took refuge on Aegina.

Minoan artifacts have been found on the island at Colonna. Aphaia is thought to have been important for women as a deity associated with child care.

History of the temple

The first real Temple of Aphaia was constructed in the 6C BC which replaced an earlier building. As was the fashion of the day it was brightly coloured, and used the Doric style, but without a collonade. Unfortunately the temple burnt down shortly afterwards, while the paintwork was still relatively fresh. But they put the rubble to good use and now it is part of the supporting platform for the present temple.

The new temple was probably built between 510 BC and 480 BC. Some of the 22 limestone Doric columns are monolithic. If you’ve visited the temples in Delphi or Olympia you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the relatively good preservation of the Temple of Aphaia.

The pediments are of marble, and the sculptures depict Athena as she presides over a battle between Greeks and Trojans. These marbles are known as the ‘Aegina Marbles’, and were bought by Prince Ludwig of Bavaria in 1812. They are now on display in Munich.

intact internal structure of temple
Much of the internal structure is intact

What you can see

Worshippers would have approached the temple area through the propylaia. Today the modern path takes you to the left of this. There are bath-buildings and other rooms on the site, some of which are presumed to have been for the priests.

The Temple of Aphaia is not large by the standards of other temples, but it’s very well proportioned. A ramp leads up to the altar, but today the interior is roped off. Fortunately it’s possible to see all the main details.

Many of the columns remain standing, and the double collonade of the naos (or cella) can be clearly seen. If you look closely at some of the blocks you can still see a “U” shaped cutting in the stone which was used for inserting a rope for lifting.

The museum has a very good display with information in English about the history of the site. You’ll see a models of the temple, together with reconstructions of various parts of the building during different eras. However, it is only open at certain times in the morning. So check before you go to make sure you can get in.

schematic plan of temple
U cutout detail of pillar
“U” cutout can be seen in the centre

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