Go back to home page spacer
homeculture & religion > All about the Temple of Afea/ Aphaia

The Temple of Afea

An interview with Ernst-Ludwig Schwandner - architectural archaeologist

On the site of the 5th century BC Doric temple of Afea in northeastern Aegina, an earlier temple existed from 570-510 BC which was destroyed by fire, though the cause is uncertain. One of the oldest of Greek Doric temples, its partial reconstruction is found in the inner portion of the Aphaia museum. This remarkable work was carried out by a man known locally by the Greek name Ludovikos, an "architectural archaeologist" who performed the most recent excavations on the site from 1967-84, in collaboration with German, English and Italian researchers. The workers were local Greeks, mostly from the nearby village of Mesagros, though also from Portes and Kylindros villages.

Ludovikos' German name is Ernst-Ludwig Schwandner. He kindly granted me an interview on the subject of Afea and its successive excavations and restorations.

Some historical facts
In 1811, Bavarian King Ludwig I bought sculptures from the Afea temple and brought them at first to Rome for preservation and restoration, meanwhile beginning construction of the Bavarian Glyptothek Museum in Munich to house them. The arrangement of the groups of figures in the museum reconstruction was however, faulty, and an attempt was made from 1901-1904 to do a better reconstruction. During the World War II bombing of Munich, the sculptures, housed in the basement of the museum, were happily undamaged.

During the rebuilding of the museum during the 1950s and 60s, rearrangement of the groups of sculptures was necessary, and the museum director, Dieter Ohly, decided to do a new excavation on the Aphaia site to find indications of their proper placement. The excavations began in 1967 and included areas previously unexcavated. One important discovery was that the terrace surrounding the temple contained architectural remains from the older temple. This project was carried out under the auspices of the Greek Service of Antiquities under the Greek Ministry of Culture.

A kouros was found dating from the time of the old temple which is housed in the archaeological museum in Piraeus, and ceramics from the site are housed both in the Kolona museum (near the Myceanean ruins just north of Aegina town) and in the Afea museum. Finds of greater interest are given to the Greek Archaeological Service, such as the heads found in a 1902 excavation.

Returning of sculptures
Concerning the recent demand by some for the return of the sculptures housed in the Glyptothek to Aegina, Ludwig explained to me that Greek national treasures that are returned to Greece are officially turned over to the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. In addition, the construction of facilities to house them on the site would be financially prohibitive in any case - the building, the personnel, (including full 24-hour security), etc. The situation with the "Aeginitans" as the sculptures are known, is not at all the same as that of the Elgin marbles, he explained, because the Aegina sculptures were excavated (in 1811) under the authority of the officials of Palaiachora (the old island capital on the hill next to the Agios Nektarios monastery), officials including Greeks, along with one Turk, who were paid for export of the marbles - quite a different situation from the slicing away of temple sculptures as in the case with Elgin marbles and their purchase from the Turkish Porte by the English.

Why do those pressing for return of the sculptures from Munich not press the Greek Archaeological Museum for return of heads found on the site in 1902? asks Loudovikos, who believes that political, tourististic and patriotic motives are behind the outcry.

The site at present:
Concerning the proposed night lighting for the Afea temple now under discussion by the Aegina municipality, Ludovikos finds the scheme repellent—a scheme which would create an ugly presence around the temple, with tall, heavy lamps, and cables requiring trenches. Some of the temple columns, he told me, are in need of restoration to prevent them from falling (hence making them totally unsuitable for supporting heavy lamps and such). From the late 1960s to the late '70s the temple was entered by some 5000 daily summer visitors, after which it was closed, due to its sensitive floors, some of which have traces of red stucco.

Myths surrounding the temple:
Many believe that the temple forms an isosceles triangle with the Parthenon and the temple at Sounio, but Ludovikos maintains that the distances are not equal, that the means for measuring those distances were not available at the time, and that Athens and Aegina were in any case enemies.

As to the belief that Afea was really the goddess Athena, he states that this is an error based upon a false 19th century inscription, and that Pausanias confused Oros (the highest peak in Aegina, located in the south central part of the island) with Aphaia and also refers to a temple of Athena. The two tympana sculptures over the columns in the Aphaia temple have sculptures depicting scenes from the Trojan wars, with Athena in the center in the role of supportive goddess. Since the Aeginitans were important heroes in both Trojan wars, the sculptures commissioned by wealthy island families for the temple reflected local patriotism in this regard, thus giving rise to this myth, according to Ludovikos.

I had read in a major travel guide to Greece that the Aphaia site had been a sanctuary 2000 years before the building of the Afea temple (495 BC). My informant told me that although shards had been found on the site as early as the 3rd millennium BC, there is no proof that they were connected with a sanctuary. It is certain, however, that from Mycenean times (1500-1200 BC) there was a sanctuary for the mother goddess on the site, with many finds of votive figures of mothers with children.

Financial crises and archaeological projects
How has the economic crisis affected archaeological projects? I asked. Positions have been cut, he told me, as well as there being insufficient funds for workers, restorations, and documentation.

Visiting the temple
The local KTEL bus that goes to Agia Marina stops at Aphaia; the KTEL ticket office and departure point for buses is across from Aegina port, buses being visible from the ferry ticket offices. Admission to the temple grounds is 4 Euros. The site, temple and museum are all beautiful and well worth a leisurely visit, with picnic grounds nearby, just down the road towards Agia Marina.

* Afea is also written as Aphaia, Aphaea or Aphea.

Text by Souzana Raphael

Show The Temple of Afea/ Aphaia on a bigger map
Afea/ Aphaia Temple
18010 Agia Marina
Aegina island
Telephone: (+30) 22970 32398
Opening hours site: 09:30 - 16:30
Opening hours museum 10:30 - 13:30
Museum closed: on monday
Admission: € 4,00
Prof. Dr. & Ing. Ernst-Ludwig Schwandner 
Email: schwandner@gmx.de
The local KTEL bus that goes to Agia Marina stops at Afea; the KTEL ticket office and departure point for buses is across from Aegina port, buses being visible from the ferry ticket offices.

bus timetables

AeginaGreece.com - The ultimate Aegina Internet Guide