Contextualizing the Temple at Ano Melpia, Messenia (20 min)


Eirini Spyropoulou, Princeton


Conflicting architectural styles at the temple of Ano Melpia in Messenia, Greece pose a Doric order puzzle for us to solve. On the one hand, excavated foundations belong to an archaic temple with many traditional features of sixth-century Arcadia—a long, cramped cella, and an encircling peristyle. However, limestone blocks of a Doric-order building belong to the Hellenistic period, with many updated features, including extended intercolumniations. If the latter pieces represent the second phase of the same building—as I argue in this paper based on close architectural analysis—we have a picture of a very unusual temple, one that is at once modern in style and very traditional and local in its layout.

The story of Arcadian temples remodeled and updated in stone is best known from the exceptional case of the temple of Apollo at Bassae. Ano Melpia, however, presents the case of a sanctuary that began in a similar way, but underwent its metamorphosis in a different period, under different circumstances, and to different effect. At the time of the initial construction of the Ano Melpia temple, the Bassae temple, which is within view, was not yet surrounded by its stone colonnade, but was of a similar oikos type.

The case of Ano Melpia gives perspective to the process of redeveloping a rural Arcadian sanctuary in stone and contemporary style. Additionally, it reveals a homecoming of the Doric order to a building of the archaic Peloponnese, but a Doric order transformed in Hellenistic style, with Atticisms, Ionicisms and elongated proportions borrowed from stoas. The result is a noncanonical composition, at small scale, but one with parallels in other Peloponnesian peripteral temples at Kionia and Sikyon.