A Sacred Place


T he ancient Greek temple was not so much a place of worship but it was mostly a dedication of the city to the gods. Its function was restricted to housing and enhancing the cult statue, as well as to displaying diverse and usually precious votive offerings to the god. Worship usually took place in the open air, in front of the temple, where the space was specially arranged and dominated by the altar.In this open space in front of the temple there stood, in addition to the altar, various dedications of the faithful, mainly statues and votive stelai. The façade of Greek temples normally faces east. Some temples accommodated special uses, such us oracles while others hosted mystery rites and were known as telesteria.


T he altar was usually built in front of the temple's entrance so that the god ( that is his statue), standing inside the cella, could see it. The sacrifice was the most important aspect of worship and for this reason the centre of the sanctuary was the altar. Sacrifices could be either bloodless offerings of fruits, flowers, honey, wine, milk, oil or blood sacrifices with the slaughtering of animals, such as rams, oxen, pigs according to the financial state of the devotees and the substance of the god. The inedible parts were burnt upon the altar and the rest was divided among the congregation. In return, the faithful asked for help, protection, a good harvest or purification of evil acts.


T the earliest cult objects were shapeless stones or some piece of wood thought to have fallen from the sky. Later on, the cult centred on primitive xoana (wooden statues) to which dresses or jewelry could be offered. The first stone statues themselves were offerings to make the gods feel happy (agalmata).They gradually replaced the xoana as objects of worship. The columns, in the interior of the temple, which aligned in two rows supported the roof, formed a monumental frame that enhanced the cult satue. In Archaic, as well as in some late- Hellenistic and Roman temples, there was an adyton at the far end of the cella.


I n the open space in front of the temple there stood, in addition to the altar, various ex-votos, mainly statues and votive stelai, dedications of the faithful. Stelai with inscriptions relating to the raising of the temple or its repair, known as building stelai, were also set up.


T emples as places of worship were associated with the celebration of religious feasts and events. These festivals were often accompanied by athletic contests. The most famous holy festivals of panhellenic characters, such as Olympia, Pithia, Nemea and Isthmia, overpasted the limits of a simple religious worship and become the most important social manifestations of the ancient world. Awards in these games were wreaths of olive, laurel, pine and wild candle respectively. Of course there were also local sport events in every city with money and valuable gifts as a prize.