In Greece, besides the temples dedicated to local deities located in small cities, there were also several sacred places where a common piety brought Greek peoples together. The most famous of these sacred places were the great sanctuaries of Delphi, Olympia, and Delos. Usually, these sanctuaries were crossed by a main road called Via Sacra, as in Delphi. The sanctuary used to be enclosed within a precinct known as peribolos* which was accessed through a monumental gate or Propylaea. In these sanctuaries a myriad of votive monuments, sacred, and recreational buildings were built around the central temple, as well as small buildings in the form of in antis temples or treasures which were small chapels designated for each city as a warehouse for votives* or to bring together fellow pilgrims during the great feasts and solemnities. In some treasures of the Ionian cities (like the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi) the architrave was supported by two female figures like korai with long braids and wide folded robes. These female figures serving as columns were the ancestors of the famous caryatids* of the Erechtheum in Athens where they formed a beautiful portico.
In the Sanctuary of Delphi was the Temple of Apollo, hexastyle and peripteral (i.e. with columns all around), and at the farthest area of its cella had a small chamber for the oracle. In the main pediment of this temple was represented the battle between gods and giants. Besides the Temple of Apollo, at the top of the precinct of Delphi, was a theater and outside the city walls was the stadium used for races and athletic games. Greek stadiums were elongated with grandstands on each side, at one end they ran in a semicircle so that the chariots and horses could turn easily, at the other end they were closed. In the center the stadium had a low wall decorated with statues which served to divide the track.
The Sanctuary of Olympia had the same essential elements of Delphi’s. The Temple of Zeus at Olympia had in its cella the famous giant statue of the Olympian god Zeus executed by Phidias, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Two beautiful groups of monumental sculpture were executed for the pediments of the Temple of Zeus in mid V century BCE. The themes represented in these pediments were two. The first included the myth of the hero Pelops, who was portrayed besides Oenomaus with Zeus in the center. Pelops and Oenomaus appeared ready to ride their respective chariots for the race in which the fate of Hippodamia will be decided. The second theme located on the other pediment depicted the scene of the fight that followed the wedding of Pirithous, when centaurs (who were invited to the wedding) wanted to kidnap women instigated by the anger of Ares and were consequently defeated by the Lapitas led by Theseus. At the center stood Apollo, invisible, presiding the combat and extending his arm to decide the victory.
It is admirable how in Olympia the statues were distributed in the triangular space of the temple’s pediments. While the protagonists nobly stand in the center, the secondary figures lie down or crouch half hidden in the angles of both sides. In regards to style and technique, the Olympia sculptures revealed great progress. In one of the fight scenes the group of a centaur abducting one of the women appears full of movement. The metopes of the Temple of Zeus in Olympia were also decorated with beautiful sculptures alluding to the myth of Hercules, the favorite hero of Zeus father of gods.
Apart from the sanctuary of Delos, the fourth Panhellenic sanctuary was the temple built on top of a promontory in the island of Aegina. The Temple of Aphaia at Aegina was dedicated to a local deity, the goddess Aphaia, of Cretan origin. The sculptural decoration of the pediments of Aegina represented the fights between Greeks and Trojans. In the pediments of Aegina, Palas Athena is the central figure serving as fate’s arbiter and demonstrating the political supremacy of Athens after the Greco-Persian Wars.
Caryatid: (from Greek meaning “maidens of Karyai”, an ancient town of Peloponnese). A sculpted female figure serving as an architectural support taking the place of a column or a pillar supporting an entablature on her head. The ancient town of Karyai had a famous temple dedicated to the goddess Artemis in her aspect of Artemis Karyatis: “As Karyatis she rejoiced in the dances of the nut-tree village of Karyai, those Karyatides, who in their ecstatic round-dance carried on their heads baskets of live reeds, as if they were dancing plants”.
Peribolos: In ancient Greek and Roman architecture, a peribolos was a court enclosed by a wall, especially one surrounding a sacred area such as a temple, shrine, or altar.
Votive: (also known as a votive offering). Refers to one or more objects displayed or deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for broadly religious purposes. Such items are a feature of modern and ancient societies and are generally made in order to gain favor with supernatural forces.