music by Lucas Thanos
photographs by various artists
location: Lycosura, Greece
Lycosura (Ancient Greek: Λυκόσουρα Lykosoura also Latin: Lycosoura) was a city of Arcadia said by Pausanias to be the oldest city in the world, though there is no evidence for its existence before the fourth century BCE. Its current significance is chiefly associated with the sanctuary of the goddess Despoina, which contained a colossal sculptural group perhaps made by Damophon of Messene; this group comprises acrolithic-technique statues of Despoina and Demeter seated on a throne, with statues of Artemis and the Titan Anytos standing on either side of them - all in Pentelic marble. The dates of both the temple and the sculptural group have occasioned some dispute. Remains of a stoa, altars and other structures have also been found. The Sanctuary of Despoina at Lycosoura is located 9 km WSW of Megalopolis, 6.9 km SSE of Mount Lykaion, and 160 km SW of Athens. There is a small museum at the archaeological site housing small finds as well as part of the cult group, while the remains of the cult statues of Despoina and Demeter are displayed at the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
The Temple of Despoina is prostyle-hexastyle in plan and in the Doric order - i.e. it had six Doric columns across the front façade only. In plan, the stylobate (platform) of the temple measures 11.15 by 21.35 m and is divided between a pronaos (front portico) and a cella. The lower portion of the walls of the temple's cella are built of limestone, consisting of a course of orthostates capped by two string courses; the walls are then completed to the level of the roof in fired clay brick, which would then have been plastered. The six columns of the façade are in marble, as is the entablature. A curious feature of this temple is the doorway in the south wall facing the theater-like area. Although uncommon, side doorways are known from other temples in Arkadia: i.e. Athena Alea at Tegea, and Apollo Epikourios at Bassai.
Rather than extending as steps along the four sides of the temple, the stepped crepidoma spans only the front of the temple and has returns on the sides as far as the antae. The architecture also deviates from the standard Doric schema in that its Doric frieze is 1.5x the height of the architrave. At the rear of the cella is a massive, c. 1m high stone podium designed to hold the cult statuary group, in front of which is a mosaic decorating the floor. General consensus holds that the first construction of this temple dates to the 4th century BCE. There were several repairs in the Roman period.
To the south of the temple, inset into the slope of the hill, is a theater-like area with ten rows of stone seats ranging from 21 to 29 m in length. These rows of seats are uncurved and parallel with the south wall of the temple.
To the NE of the temple, there was a Stoa also in the Doric order with a single story and an internal colonnade, measuring 14 by 64 m. Foundations for a room of uncertain function measuring 5.5 by 6 m are connected to the west end of the stoa. Pausanias reports that the stoa contained a panel painted with matters pertaining to the mysteries and four bas-relief sculptures in white marble depicting:
Zeus and the Fates
Hercules wrestling Apollo for the Delphic tripod
nymphs and pans
The historian Polybios with an inscription praising his wisdom.
Unfortunately, none of these reliefs has been recovered in the excavations. Similar use of a stoa to display artwork is known for the Stoa Poikile (Painted Stoa) of ancient Athens, where scenes were painted directly onto the rear wall of the structure. Stoas, as well as treasuries, were frequently used at sanctuaries to store votive gifts to the deities: e.g. the stoa and treasury of the Athenians at Delphi and the multiple treasuries at Olympia.
Three small, stone altars were found in the area c. 15m to the east of the temple dedicated to Despoina, Demeter, and the Great Mother respectively. Many votive gifts and offerings were also found in the excavation of the sanctuary.
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