The Temple of Apollo

The Temple of Apollo
© Ephorate of Antiquities of Phocis, Ministry of Culture and Sports

The archaic temple of Apollo was constructed in 510 B.C. with funds raised by several Greek cities, under the auspices of the Alcmaeonids of Athens. When this temple was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 B.C., the Greek cities collected money once again and in ca. 330 B.C. accomplished the temple which is extant today. It was a Doric peripteral temple, distyle in antis with a vestibule and an opisthodomos. In the cella stood the statue of the god and the omphalos (the stone representing the navel of the earth), whereas in the vestibule were inscribed the Delphic maxims of the seven wise men of Ancient Greece.

The prehistory of the temple and the Archaic temple
Tradition has it that the first temple of Apollo was a hut made of laurel tree branches; the second one was made of wax and bees' wings; the third one was made of bronze; and the fourth one was made of poros stone by the mythical architects Trophonius and Agamedes with the aid of Apollo. That temple was destroyed by fire in 548 B.C.
The Greek cities raised money in order to build a new temple, which was accomplished at the instigation of the Alcmeonids, the exiled aristocratic family of Athens, in ca. 510 B.C. It was a Doric peripteral temple, made of poros stone with a marble façade and an exquisite sculpted decoration executed by the sculptor Antenor. On the eastern pediment was depicted the epiphany of Apollo, i.e. his arrival at Delphi accompanied by his sister Artemis and his mother Leto. On the western pediment was depicted a scene from the Gigantomachy, of which only the figures of Athena, a fallen giant, a male figure, and the front parts of two horses have been preserved. This archaic temple was destroyed by an earthquake in 373 B.C.

The 4th century B.C. temple
After the destruction of the archaic temple by an earthquake, the Amphictyony once again collected money from the Greek cities for its reconstruction. The management of these funds was assigned to a council of Naopoioi (i.e. temple-makers), educated citizens from various Greek cities whose duty was to take care of the erection of the temple. Its construction was halted between 356 and 346 B.C. due to the Third Sacred War and the attacks by Philip II of Macedon and the Thessalians. This temple was finally accomplished in 334-333 B.C. and was inaugurated in 330 B.C., whereas the sculpted decoration of the pediments was added in 327 B.C.
The building, the remains of which we see today on-site, was created by the architects Spintharus, Xenodorus and Agathon. It is a peripteral doric temple with 6 columns on the façade; its vestibule and opisthodomos were distyle in antis with two columns in front. The temple stands on a crepis consisting of three levels and made of hard local limestone, whereas the elevation was made of poros stone. The marble pediments were made by the Athenian sculptors Praxias and Androsthenes. On the east pediment were depicted Apollo and the Muses, whereas on the west pediment, Dionysus among the Thyiads (Maenads). The presence of Dionysus was inevitable, since he became master of the temple during the three winter months each year, when Apollo went to the land of the Hyperboreans; in fact, Dionysus' “tomb” was located within the temple. The metopes of the pteron bore no sculpted decoration; instead they bore golden or gilded shields, commemorating the victories of the Greeks against the barbarians. On the façade and on the south side the shields were related to the victories against the Persians, particularly the battle at Marathon (490 B.C.), whereas on the south and west sides they were related to the victories against the Galatians (279 B.C.).

The cella was divided in three naves by colonnades, each one of which had eight Ionic columns. At a lower level within the cella was located the adyton, where Pythia pronounced her oracles and where only priests who interpreted her words were allowed to enter. Very few things are known about the interior of the temple, the main sources being the ancient authors: on the walls of the vestibule were inscribed the “Delphic maxims”, famous aphorisms by the seven Greek Sages, such as “Know thyself”, “Avoid excess”, as well as the letter E. There was also a bronze statue of Homer and an altar dedicated to Poseidon. On another altar, dedicated to Hestia, a log of fir tree was permanently burning. During the Thracian attack at Delphi in 83 B.C. the fire on this altar died out, which was considered a bad omen.

The building was restored and renovated in 84 A.D. by the emperor Domitian, as attested by an oversize inscription kept in the Museum. In the 3rd century A.D. it suffered damages from fire and was partly restored by Julian in 363 A.D. It seems it was abandoned following the anti-pagan edicts of Theodosius I at the end of the 4th century A.D.
Text-translation: Dr. Aphrodite Kamara, Historian