On the trail of a Poseidon sanctuary

Representation of the previously discovered remains of the approximately 30 meter long temple from the 6th century BC. © ÖAW-ÖAI/Marie Kräker

Was this the main temple of the sacred precincts of the god Poseidon? New excavations have revealed further details of a cult building discovered in 2022 in the west of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. The column-decorated building from the 6th century BC. BC was therefore more monumental than previously thought and unusually designed. There are also traces of renovation around 300 BC. BC. As the archaeologists explain, the new finds confirm the assumption that it was a main building of a religious center, which is suspected to be in the region where the find was made.

An important sanctuary of the sea god Poseidon is said to have once been located on the west coast of the Peloponnese. The ancient Greek historian and geographer Strabo reported on this cult center in the Triphylia region in surviving writings. It has long been suspected that the place was located beneath the ancient fortress remains of Samikon. In 2022, this seemed to be confirmed: an excavation team from the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) and the Greek Ministry of Culture discovered the remains of a large building at the foot of the fortress mountain, which probably belonged to this old temple district. The ÖAW is now reporting on the further results of the excavations in Kleidi-Samikon.

An unusual double temple or place of worship with two halls

The discoveries of 2023 have shown that the building had even more impressive dimensions than initially assumed. Because what the archaeologists initially interpreted as a vestibule turned out to be another room. This also resulted in an overall impression of the building structure. Accordingly, it is a column-decorated building about 30 meters long and ten meters wide.

Base of a column that once supported the roof of the building. © ÖAW-ÖAI/Marie Kräker

“We have before us an archaic temple that consisted of two main rooms. This includes a central row of columns that we found in the first hall, supporting the large tiled roof. “One can assume that there were such columns in the second room too,” says Birgitta Eder from the ÖAW.

However, what function the two rooms served remains unclear. “The layout of the temple is unusual. So far we don’t know of any comparable buildings,” says Eder. According to the team, it is possible that it was a kind of double temple that served two different ritual purposes. Perhaps one of the two halls was also used as a meeting place for the loose association of the cities in the Triphylia region. This religious-cultural unit, known as amphictyony, was dedicated to the joint preservation of the sanctuary, the experts explain.

Two construction phases are emerging

The archaeologists report that the excavation results also reveal a later change to the building. “In the second half of the 4th or the first half of the 3rd century B.C. The archaic temple from the 6th century BC was built. “Redesigned,” says Erofili-Iris Kolia from the Greek Ministry of Culture. “The old roof tiles were evenly applied as a base for the new floor. They served as insulation against groundwater and to stabilize the soil. Something that still works today, because in the places where bricks are missing, the ground is damp and muddy,” says the archaeologist. The team reports that other finds also correspond to the two construction phases. These are the remains of ceramic vessels that date from the Archaic period, but also from the Late Classic period up to the era of Alexander the Great.

As the team concludes, there may still be a lot of interesting things to discover at the excavation site. The description by the ancient author Strabo suggests complex structures of the Poseidon sanctuary. There could therefore be other temple buildings, altars, treasure houses, a processional route or shrines for votive gifts hidden in the underground of the excavation area.

Source: Austrian Academy of Sciences

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