|S a n c t u a r y o f A t h e n a P r o n a i a
a t D e l p h i
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The Sanctuary of Athena Pronaia
Located roughly one-half mile from the main concentration of buildings at Delphi, Athena Pronaia was the gateway to Delphi. The site, having been occupied since the Neolithic Period (5000-3000 BCE) and later by the Mycenaeans, may actually predate Delphi as a sacred place. Originally dedicated to the worship of an Earth Goddess, the shrine was eventually occupied by Olympian deities, Athena in particular. Athena's shrine stood near the entrance to Apollo's; hence the epithet 'of the fore-shrine', which is confirmed by inscriptions. Athena Pronaia, 'Athena before the Temple', was also called, by a sort of pun, Athena Pronoia, 'Athena of forethought.'
The other division took guides, and proceeded towards the temple of Delphi, keeping Mount Parnassus on their right hand. They too laid waste such parts of Phocis as they passed through, burning the city of the Panopeans, together with those of the Daulians and of the Aeolidae. This body had been detached from the rest of the army, and made to march in this direction, for the purpose of plundering the Delphian temple and conveying to King Xerxes the riches which were there laid up. For Xerxes, as I am informed, was better acquainted with what there was worthy of note at Delphi, than even with what he had left in his own house; so many of those about him were continually describing the treasures - more especially the offerings made by Croesus the son of Alyattes.
Now when the Delphians heard what danger they were in, great fear fell on them. In their terror they consulted the oracle concerning the holy treasures, and inquired if they should bury them in the ground, or carry them away to some other country. The god, in reply, bade them leave the treasures untouched - "He was able," he said, "without help to protect his own." So the Delphians, when they received this answer, began to think about saving themselves. And first of all they sent their women and children across the gulf into Achaea; after which the greater number of them climbed up into the tops of Parnassus, and placed their goods for safety in the Corycian cave; while some effected their escape to Amphissa in Locris. In this way all the Delphians quitted the city, except sixty men, and the Prophet.
When the barbarian assailants drew near and were in sight of the place, the Prophet, who was named Aceratus, beheld, in front of the temple, a portion of the sacred armor, which it was not lawful for any mortal hand to touch, lying upon the ground, removed from the inner shrine where it was wont to hang. Then went he and told the prodigy to the Delphians who had remained behind. Meanwhile the enemy pressed forward briskly, and had reached the shrine of Athena Pronaia, when they were overtaken by other prodigies still more wonderful than the first. Truly it was marvel enough, when warlike harness was seen lying outside the temple, removed there by no power but its own; what followed, however, exceeded in strangeness all prodigies that had ever before been seen. The barbarians had just reached in their advance the chapel of Athena Pronaia, when a storm of thunder burst suddenly over their heads - at the same time two crags split off from Mount Parnassus, and rolled down upon them with a loud noise, crushing vast numbers beneath their weight - while from the temple of Athena there went up the war-cry and the shout of victory.
All these things together struck terror into the barbarians, who forthwith turned and fled. The Delphians, seeing this, came down from their hiding-places, and smote them with a great slaughter, from which such as escaped fled straight into Boeotia. These men, on their return, declared (as I am told) that besides the marvels mentioned above, they witnessed also other supernatural sights. Two armed warriors, they said, of a stature more than human, pursued after their flying ranks, pressing them close and slaying them.
These men, the Delphians maintain, were two Heroes belonging to the place - by name Phylacus and Autonous - each of whom has a sacred precinct near the temple; one, that of Phylacus, hard by the road which runs above the temple of Pronaia; the other, that of Autonous, near the Castalian spring, at the foot of the peak called Hyampeia. The blocks of stone which fell from Parnassus might still be seen in my day; they lay in the precinct of Pronaia, where they stopped, after rolling through the host of the barbarians. Thus was this body of men forced to retire from the temple.
The History of Herodotus
The Temple of Athena Pronaia was in such good condition at the time of the French excavations that it was possible to re-create the peristyle (surrounding colonnade), but a landslide in 1905 (the rocks can still be seen amid the ruins) destroyed the work.
The second, standing to the west, usually known as the Treasury of the Massalians, is of the Aeolian order and dates from the 6th century BCE, ca. 530 BCE, with 6.39 m x 8.65 m. The column bases were Asiatic Ionic in type but had Doric-style fluting and the capitals were an adaptation of Egyptian palm capitals. Its capitals, carved with palms, are on show in the museum, next to the Naxian Sphinx. The fine carving of this treasury can still be seen in the fluted torus and the frieze of pearls in the remaining sections of the wall.
The building is one of the architectural wonders of the world - an incredible feat of mathematics involving the precise calculation of ratios based on the golden number, represented by the blocks of the stylobate (the top step).
The algebraic complexity of the structure is matched in detail and perfection by its decoration. The moldings are delicate; and the carving, both in bas-relief and in the round, is masterly. There were two magnificent friezes (bad damaged but partially restored): an exterior one and another around the top of the cella wall, each with forty metopes. The exterior frieze is of a battle between Amazons and centaurs. In the museum we can see parts of the frieze and many more small sculptures and statues from this building.
It is the most beautiful and mysterious building in Delphi. There are no inscriptions, and nowhere in literature do we find any hint as to its origin or purpose.
The cella, with extended antae, opening southwest onto a pronaos with 6 prostyle columns. With two columns in the opening between the cella and the pronaos.
This temple is contemporary with the Tholos, but completely different in material, form and style. Here there are neither sculptural decorations nor fine moldings, but the stonemasonry is extremely skillful.
The rooms attached on the west side may have been priests' quarters.
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There are many ways to get to Delphi. There are several local buses a day to and from Athens. The trip takes about three hours. In the summer book early because space is scarce.
Hotels are plentiful: Vouzas Hotel (cat. A), Parnassos Hotel (cat. C), Olympic Hotel (cat. B), Hermes Hotel (cat. B), Stadion Hotel (cat. C). There are two campgrounds within a few kilometers of the town and numerous restaurants.
In Delphi, it's worth getting up early to beat the tourists who descend on the ancient 'center of the world' every day at around 1pm. Take water with you and check out the site before the museum - it's nice to get out of the heat after you've trudged up the hill.
Copyright ©1998-2002 Roy George