The temple of Athena Pronaia

The sanctuary of Athena Pronaia
© Εphorate of Antiquities of Phocis, Ministry of Culture and Sports

Three distinct phases can be discerned in the formation of the temple of Athena Pronaia: The earlier temples (A and B) were built in the 7th and 6th centuries B.C. respectively and were made of poros stone, whereas the third one was built in the 4th century B.C. of limestone – a prostyle in antis with six columns on the façade, with a cella and vestibule, but without decoration on the metopes and pediments. This building was destroyed in the 1st century B.C. and was replaced by a platform.

The sanctuary of Athena, as attested by the epithet “Pronaia”, was the first one to be seen by the visitors approaching Delphi from the east. It seems that here lay one of the most ancient cult sites, where rituals in worship of Gaia, Apollo’s predecessor in the sacred space, took place. The Mycenaean figurines discovered here during the excavations probably constituted votive offerings, although this is not certain.
The entire sanctuary was named after the temple of Athena Pronaia, one of the oldest buildings in Delphi, with three distinct building phases. The first temple, made of greyish poros stone (temple A), was built in the 7th century B.C. The 12 preserved columns constitute probably the earliest Doric architectural remains in Delphi; some traces of its polygonal foundations are also extant. Τhe capital was low and the flutings on the columns were particularly shallow. This temple was destroyed in the first half of the 6th century B.C. After its destruction, temple B was constructed right on top of (ca. 510 B.C.), probably under the instigation of the Alcmaeonids.
This second temple was also made of poros stone, but of a better, harder quality, with a reddish hue. It measured 13.25 x 27.46 meters and it was a peripteral temple with 12 columns on the long sides and 6 columns on the narrow ones. It stood on a crepis with two levels, of which one was that of the stylobate. It was decorated with clay figures on the metopes, on the pediments (head of Athena), and on the acroteria (Victories). After the excavations, 15 columns were still preserved up to a certain height, but they collapsed due to a rock fall in 1905. Several scholars believe that this temple continued to exist even after the construction of the third temple, as traces of restoration are discernable, and some partly preserved marble members are attribute to this phase. The marble fragments of an Athena head which have been discovered are believed to belong to the cult statue of Athena, situated in the cella of the temple.
It is also believed that in the first, 7th-century temple Croesus, the king of Lydia, had dedicated a golden shield, which was later transferred inside the second temple. In the course of the Third Sacred War, the Phoceans had it melted down, together with other ex-votos, in order to finance their military.
The third temple was built around 360 B.C. (or within the third quarter of the 4th century B.C.) on a safer spot, to the west of the terrace. Although only the foundations are still extant, its plan has been fully restored: it was made of local limestone from St. Elias, it lay on a crepis of three levels and was prostyle in antis with six columns on the façade, a vestibule and a cella, yet without an opisthodome. Its plan was particularly well-designed in its details and bore exquisite analogies. The cella was divided by the pronaos with a gate flanked by two Ionic columns. Statues were placed on bases against the rear wall. The entrance was on the south side, as was in the second, 6th-century temple. Several remains of the temple, particularly architectural members, have been preserved. It seems that the temple had no sculpted decoration, except for the acroteria which are not extant.

Text - Translation: Dr. Aphrodite Kamara, Historian