1902 Encyclopedia > Phigalia

Phigalia, Greece




PHIGALIA (_____, also called ____), a city in the south-west angle of Arcadia, situated on an elevated rocky site, among some of the highest mountains in the Peloponnesus,—the most conspicuous being Mount Coty-Hum and Mount Elaeum ; the identification of the latter is uncertain.

In 659 B.C. Phigalia was taken by the Lacedaemonians, but soon after recovered its independence ; it was on the whole unfortunate during the Peloponnesian War; and, in common with the other cities of Arcadia, it appears from Strabo to have fallen into utter decay under the Roman rule. The notices of it in Greek history are rare and scanty. Though its existing ruins of city-wall and forts and the description of Pausanias show it to have been a place of considerable strength and importance, yet no autonomous coins of Phigalia are known. Nothing now remains above ground of the temples of Artemis or Dionysus and the numerous statues and other works of art which still existed at the time of Pausanias's visit, about 170 A.D. A great part of the city-wall, built in fine Hellenic " isodo-mous " masonry, and a large square central fortress with a circular projecting tower, are the only remains now traceable,—at least without the aid of excavation. The walls, once nearly 2 miles in circuit, are strongly placed on rocks, which slope down to the little river Neda.

One very important monument of the wealth and artistic taste of the Phigalians still exists in a fairly perfect state ; this is a temple dedicated to Apollo Epicurius (the Pre-server), built, not at Phigalia itself, but at the village of Bassae, 5 or 6 miles away, on one of the peaks of Mount Cotylium ; it commemorates the aid rendered by Apollo in stopping the progress of a plague which in the 5th century B.C. was devastating Phigalia. This temple is mentioned by Pausanias (viii. 41) as being (next to that at Tegea) the finest in the Peloponnesus, "from the beauty of its stone and the symmetry of its proportions." It has also a special interest in having been designed by Ictinus, who, with Callicrates, was joint architect of the Parthenon at Athens. Though visited by Chandler, Dodwell, Gell, and other English travellers, the temple was neither explored nor measured till 1811-12, when Chas. Rob. Cockerell and some other archaeologists spent several months in making excavations there. After nearly fifty years' delay, Professor Cockerell published the results of these labours, as well as of his previous work at iEgina, in Temples of ^Egina and Bassae (1860), one of the most careful and beautifully illustrated archaeological works that has ever been produced. The labours of Professor Cockerell and his companions were richly rewarded; not only were suffi-cient remains of the architectural features discovered to show clearly what the whole design had been, but the internal sculptured frieze of the cella was found almost perfect. This and other fragments of its sculpture are now in the British Museum.

Fig. 1 shows the plan of the temple, which is of the Doric order, but has an internal arrangement of its cella quite unlike that of any other known temple. It stands on an elevated and partly artificial plateau, which commands a most glorious ar.d extensive view of the oak-clad mountains of Arcadia, reaching away to the blue waters of the Messenian Gulf. Unlike other Doric temples, which usually stand east and west, this is placed north and south ; but it has a side entrance on the east. It is hexastyle, wdth fifteen columns on its flanks ; thirty-four out of the thirty-eight columns of the peristyle are still standing, wdth the greater part of their architrave, but the rest of the entablature and both pediments have fallen, together with the greater part of the internal columns of the cella. It will be seen from the plan that these are very strangely placed, apparently without symmetry, as regards the interior, though they are set, for what reason it is hard to say, re-gularly opposite the voids in the peristyle.





With the exception of one at the south end, which is Corinthian, the internal columns are of the Ionic order, and are built, not free, but engaged with the cella-wall, forming a series of recesses, which may have been designed to contain statues. Another peculiarity of this interior is that these columns reach to the top of the cella in one order, not in two ranges of columns, one over the other, as was the usual Doric fashion. These inner columns carried an Ionic entablature, of which the frieze now in the British Museum formed a part. The pediments and external metopes of the peristyle appear to have contained no sculpture, but the metopes within the ptri-style on the exterior of the cella had sculptured subjects ; only a few fragments of these were, how-ever, discovered. The position occupied by the great statue of Apollo is a difficult problem. Cockerell, with much probability, places it in the vestibule of the cella, opposite the eastern side door, so that it would be lighted up by the rays of the rising sun. The main entrance is at the northern end through the pronaos, once defended by a door in the end of the cella and a metal screen, of which traces were found on the two columns of the pronaos. There was no door between the posticum and the cella. The, general pro-portions of the fronts resemble those of the Theseum at Athens, except that the entablature is less massive, the columns thicker, and the diminution less,—all propor-tionally speaking. In plan the temple is long in proportion to its width,—measuring, on the top of the stylobate, 125 feet 7 inches by 48 feet 2 inches, while the The-seum (built probably half a century earlier) is about 104 feet 2 inches by 45 feet 2 inches.

FIG. 1.
-Plan of the Temple at Bassae.

The material of which the temple is built is a fine grey limestone (once covered wdth painted stucco), except the roof-tiles, the capitals of the cella columns, the archi-traves, the lacunaria (ceilings) of the posticum and pronaos, and the sculpture, all of which are of whit
marble. The roof-tiles, specially noticed by Pausanias, are remarkable for their size, work-manship, and the beauty of the Parian marble of which they are made. They measure 2 feet 1 inch by 3 feet 6 inches, and are fitted together in the most careful and ingenious manner. Unlike those of the Parthenon and the temple of jligina, the apuoi or "joint-tiles " are worked out of the same piece of marble as the flat ones, at a great additional cost of labour and material, for the sake of more perfect fitting and greater security against wet.

Traces of painting on various architectural members were found by Professor Cockerell, but they were too much faded for the colours

FIG. 2.—One slab of the Bassae frieze ; combat of Greeks and Amazons.

to be distinguished. The designs are the usual somewhat stiff and monotonous Greek patterns,—the fret, the honeysuckle, and the egg and dart.

The sculpture is of the greatest interest, as being an important example of the school of Phidias, designed to decorate one of the finest buildings in the Peloponnesus in the latter half of the 5th century B.C. ; see Phigaleian Marbles, Brit. Mus. Publications.

The frieze, now in the British Museum, is quite complete ; it is nearly 101 feet long by 2 feet high, carved in relief on twenty-three slabs of marble i\ to 5 inches thick (see fig. 2). The subjects are the battle of the Lapithae and the Centaurs, and that between the Amazons and the Greeks, the two favourite subjects in Greek plastic art of the best period. They are designed wdth wonderful fertility of invention, and life-like realism and spirit; the composition is arranged so as to form a series of diagonal lines or zigzags /W, 1 thus forming a pleasing contrast to the unbroken horizontal lines of the cornice and architrave. The various groups are skilfully united together by some dominant line or action, so that the whole subject forms one unbroken composition.

The relief is very high, more than 3^ inches in the most salient parts, and the whole treatment is quite opposite to that of the Parthenon frieze, which is a very superior work of art to that at Bassas. Many of the limbs are quite detached from the ground ; the drill has been largely used to emphasize certain shadows, and in many places, for want of due calculation, the sculptor has had to cut into the fiat background behind the figures. From this it would appear that no finished clay-model was prepared, but that the relief was sculptured with only the help of a drawing. The point of sight, more than 20 feet below the bottom of the frieze, and the _direction in which the light fell on it have evidently been carefully considered. Many parts, invisible from below, are left comparatively rough. The workmanship throughout is unequal, and the hands of several sculptors can be detected. On the whole, it must be ad-mitted that the execution is not equal to the beauty of the design, and the whole frieze is somewhat marred by an evident desire to produce the maximum of elfect with the least possible amount of labour,—very different from the almost gem-like finish of the Par-thenon frieze. Even the design is inferior to the Athenian one ; most of the figures are ungracefully short in their proportions, and there is a great want of refined beauty in many of the female hands and faces. It is in the fire of its varied action and its subtlety of expression that this sculpture most excels. The noble move-ments of the heroic Greeks form a striking contrast to the feminine weakness of the wounded Amazons, or the struggles with teeth and hoofs of the brutish Centaurs ; the group of Apollo and Artemis in their chariot is full of grace and dignified power. The marble in which this frieze is sculptured is somewhat coarse and crystalline; the slabs appear not to have been built into their place but fixed afterwards, with the aid of two bronze bolts driven through the face of each.





Of the metopes, which were 2 feet 8 inches square, only one exists nearly complete, with eleven fragments ; the one almost per-fect has a relief of a nude warrior, with floating drapery, overcom-ing a long-haired bearded man, who sinks vanquished at his feet. The relief of these is rather less than that of the frieze figures, and the work is nobler in character and superior in execution. The other pieces are too fragmentary to show what were their subjects.

No modern Greek village exists now on the site either of Bassfe or of Phigalia.

In addition to the works mentioned in the text the following may be consulted:— Leake, Morea (vol. i. p. 490, and ii. p. 319); Curtius, Peloponnesos. (i. 319); Ross, Reisen in Peloponnesos; Staekelberg, Der Apollo-Tempel zu Bassaz (1826): Lenormant, Bas-reliefs du Parthenon el de Phigalie (1834); and Friederichs, Geschichte der griechischen Plastik (1868). (J. H. M.)



The above article was written by: Prof. J. H. Middleton.



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