The Greek Temple


Picture used by kind permission of RaBoe/Wikipedia, licensed under creativecommons usage

Is it really a Greek Temple?

A chance remark to Paget and Jones by a custodian at the site mentioned that the massive blocks we can see in the picture above were thought to be part of a Samnite temple, ie dating from around 420 to 330 BC.

Paget called in an expert, Martin W Frederiksen, Fellow of Worcester College, Oxford, England. Frederiksen visited the site.

Frederiksen stated that in his opinion the bulk of the Roman brickwork is late Republican or Augustan. Augustus became the first Roman Emperor in 27 BC. There is also a large amount of Neronian brickwork. Often this is seen as repairs to the earlier Augustan brickwork and this appears to be as a result of earthquake damage. It may well be that these were repairs after the big earthquake of 63 AD.

Frederiksen further stated that in his opinion the large blocks are Greek. They are fastened together with metal clamps of double swallow or dove tail form. In Greek architecture these are archaic, dating to about 6th century BC, sometimes surviving into the 5th.

Clamps such as these are seen sometimes in Roman architecture, mainly of the 1st century BC, but they occur nowhere else in the Roman remains at Baia. It makes no sense, if these large blocks are Roman, for them to be encased in earlier Augustan brickwork.

The clamps and blocks are similar to those used at Greek Paestum in Italy.

Isn’t it a bit small for a Greek Temple?

If the blocks are archaic Greek, which is the most likely answer, they pre-date the classic era of monumental Greek architecture. The first huge Greek Temple, the Heraeum at Olympia, is 100 years later. A comparable feat of engineering to the temple here and the tunnels behind the cliff, the aqueduct at Samos, is 100 years after that.

Frederiksen said this building resembled the cella of a small Greek temple, the most important part.

Paget believed the temple was built after the tunnels, from his observation of the lining of the tunnels and the junction where the tunnels cease to be lined with blocks and become pure rock cut tufa. The edges are rounded off at this point, some way into the cliff.

If we can date the Greek Temple to around 550-475 BC then it ties in with the date of the Greek Oracle of the Sybil at Cuma, just four kilometres away, at a time when it was at the peak of its prosperity and influence.

Who used it?

There possible cults and rites that may relate to this site, but Orphism and mystery cults of the Orphic type are certainly a likely possibility. At Cuma a cemetery has been found, reserved solely for Orphic initiates. Of course the Greek myth surrounding Orpheus and his journey to the underworld is central to this theme.

On the face of it, it looks a bit disappointing

At first sight all we see is a huge mass and jumble of masonry. There seems to be far too much masonry and rubble than necessary and it is hard to make sense of any of this surface building. The pillars lying in front of it formed no part of it, nor did they come from the level above. They must have come from higher up the hill, a place not yet excavated. They are all missing their bases.

It appears that the Romans blocked off this particular building completely, they put it off-limits and there is no evidence of a Roman bath within it. It probably had no entrance at the front, unlike the other buildings set against the cliff.

The tunnel to the oracle runs diagonally underneath the temple, from left to right in the picture.

Above the tunnel and supported by it is a wider chamber going some way into the cliff. Paget called this The Grotto. The size and peculiar cross section of The Grotto is very similar to the antrum leading to the Oracle of the Sybil nearby, again suggesting the Greek connection. In Virgil’s Aenead The Sybil of Cuma takes Aeneas around to the Oracle of the Dead here and she presides over both locations.

There is another passage entrance to the left of the Grotto. It may once have been in a small separate room between the temple and cliff. A narrow access space perhaps accessed from behind the steps on the other side of the wall.

In the picture above The Grotto is the large arched opening on the right. Underneath it can be seen an opening which is just just above the actual tunnel to the oracle, which lies under ground level in a deep slot and extends in either direction. Going to the left of the picture, the tunnel has an opening to a room on the level below, further down the hillside.

Picture used by kind permission of RaBoe/Wikipedia, licensed under creativecommons usage

If we peer over into the temple area from the original entrance as seen here we can start to see a little of what is there. One of the large Greek blocks is still in situ. In the foreground we can see where the Romans placed supporting clay pillars for their hot bath floor.

The passage to the left of the Grotto is blocked due to a landfall some way in. It appears to continue to a point above the main tunnel, at the point where the passage from the back of the Tholos meets it, where there is a Roman tile set in the roof. Its purpose is unknown, perhaps smoke or something was poured in from there to block the view back to the entrance, once a person had entered. Perhaps noises were made through the hole.

The entrance to Hades

We are looking directly into the entrance to the underworld, comprising about 383 yards or 350 metres of tunnel that we know about.

Although faced with crumbling Roman masonry, we can see that the shape of The Grotto above the entrance is similar to the shape of the antrum of the Sybil at Cuma, below:

The entrance tunnel below the Grotto is just wide enough to squeeze a person through, at about 22 inches or .55 metre wide.

Robert Temple’s descent

Robert Temple entered the oracle in 2001, having tried to get access for 20 years. Since then further requests to return have been refused.

There really should be some official investigation of this important archaeological site.

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