The famous UNESCO World Heritage Site of Apollo Epikourios occupies a natural plateau, known as Bassa, on mount Kotilion, at a height of 1130 metres and is one of the most impressive temples in Greece thanks to its well-preserved state and its unique architectural features. It probably formed-together with the two small temples of the summit and the spring in the lower slopes of the mountain- a single sanctuary, the precinct of Bassai-Kotilon.
The temple is, according to the testimony of the 2nd c. A.D. traveler Pausanias, the work of the Iktinos, the well-known Athenian architect of the Parthenon. It was built in the last quarter of the 5th c. B.C (420-400 B.C) for the cult of Apollo.
The temple of Apollo Epikourios is a peripteral, hexastyle building. The outer colonnade is Doric. The distinctive elements of its architecture include the elongated plan –a feature of Archaic temples-, due to the fact that the long sides have 15 columns (not the 13 one would expect on the basis of the ratio of long: short sides regularly found at this period), the north-south orientation (which contrasts with the east-west orientation of the majority of the ancient temples) and the existence of the east gate which was the second gate of the temple.
The character of the cult
The worship of Apollo in the area of Bassai goes back to at least the 7th c. B.C. Apollo was originally worshipped as a warrior god, which is confirmed by the weapons of war that form the majority of the archaeological finds. This is probably due to the fact that he came to assist the Figaleis to the fight against the Spartans on the 659 B.C. It appears, however, that the gods military character had been converted into that of a healer god by the Classical period, and that the god was given the epithet Epikourios because he averted the spread of the plague that struck Greece at the time of the Peloponnesian War.
One of the characteristic features of the interior of the cella is its architectural and sculptural decoration. Inside the cella, there is an Ionic colonnade, with bases that have an unusual form, and on the main axis of symmetry is a column that once supported the earliest known Corinthian capital. The architectural solutions that were adopted were pioneering and very bold in their time, and constitute a turning point in the history of temple architecture.
There is an Ionic frieze on all four sides of the interior of the cella. The twenty-three marble slabs, now in the British Museum, depict two favorite stories from Greek mythology: the myths of the Amazons (the Amazonomachy) and of the Centaurs (the Centauromachy)
The earliest restoration works
The systematic archaeological excavation of the area of the temple was begun in 1902. In the same period (1902-1908) a large scale program of restoration was carried out by the Greek Archaeological Society. This restoration resulted in the reconstitution of the temple in the form it has today. Also in 1965, remedial work was carried out on the monument. This included emergency interventions on three epistyle blocks that were ready to collapse.
In the autumn of 1987, the monument was covered with a temporary canopy that formed a protective shell against the immediate effects of the weather (rain, ice), which has already caused severe deterioration to the building material (local limestone). Its design incorporates slopes and pitches which prevent the accumulation of large quantities of snow. The form of the canopy is a clear statement of its temporary character and its protective role. It was given a neutral design, so that is differentiated from, rather than incorporated into the architecture of the monument.
Over thirty years have elapsed since the installation of the canopy, and its positive effects are now firmly established. The intense variations in temperature have been reduced and the foundations of the temple are not subsiding- one of the major problems- due to the fact that they are no longer exposed to the effects of rainwater. The undisputed need to protect the monument justifies –through it does not nullify- the strictly aesthetic disadvantage of the canopy: the fact that isolates the temple from its natural surroundings. The installation of the canopy only marks the first stage in the planned restoration project and it is probably not a final solution.