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December 11, 2007

Heraion of Perachora

The Heraion of Perachora (Greek, Modern: Ηραίον Περαχώρας) was a sanctuary of the goddess Hera situated in a small cove of the Corinthian gulf at the end of the Perachora peninsula. In addition to a temple of Hera of unusual construction and antiquity, the remains of a number of other structures have also been found, including a L-shaped stoa, a large cistern, dining rooms, and a second potential temple. The Sanctuary of Hera at Perchora is located 14.2 km NNW of Ancient Corinth, and 75.9 km W of Athens. Although there is debate between Argos, Megara and Corinth, the sanctuary was probably under the control of Corinth, as it faced the harbors of that powerful city across the Corinthian gulf. Cult activity at the site continued from perhaps the 9th century BCE to 146 BCE, when the Roman general Mummius sacked Corinth during the war with the Achaean League. In the Roman period, domestic structures were built on the site, indicating that the area was no longer a sanctuary. This site is significant for the study of the origins of Greek temple architecture and rural cults.

Mythology and History

There is a legend recounted in Euripides that Medea buried her murdered children at a sanctuary of Hera Akraia as she fled from Corinth. [1] This may be a reference to this site. Herodotus tells the story of Periander stripping the clothes off of the Corinthian women at a sanctuary of Hera. [2] In the 1st century CE, the Greek historian Strabo wrote that there was an oracle associated with the sanctuary.

Archaeology

Overview of the Cove looking south; the West Court is at the top right.
Overview of the Cove looking south; the West Court is at the top right.

The known structures of the sanctuary cover a rectangle approximately 45m NS and 245m EW. The sanctuary wrapped around a small cove and extended toward the east uphill along a ridge. The structures will be discussed in order from west to east.

West Court

At the extreme SW end of the sanctuary, there is a polygonal area of roughly 25 by 25m largely cut into the rock beside the cove. This structure has been variously termed the agora, or the west court. This structure may date to the 6th century BCE and thus be contemporary with the Temple of Hera Akraia. It appears to have been destroyed in the 4th BCE; it has been proposed that the L-shaped stoa took over its function. There appear to have been colonnades on the western and southern sides. There are remains of a house from the Roman period roughly at the center of the area.

Apsidal Structure and Temple of Hera Akraia

The western end of the 6th BCE Temple of Hera Akraia showing the three aisles.
The western end of the 6th BCE Temple of Hera Akraia showing the three aisles.

The earliest structure at the site was an apsidal building of perhaps the 9th century BCE, which is thought to resemble the house-temple models known from the Argive Heraion. On that analogy, it would have had a high-peaked rook, covered perhaps in thatch. There were Early Helladic sherds under this structure.

In the 6th BCE a Doric order tetrastyle-prostyle temple (c. 10 by 30m) was built on the same site as the much earlier apsidal structure. [3] This superimposition of the temple over the apsidal structure may indicate a continuity of cult and support the idea that the earlier structure functioned as a temple as well. The epithet Akraia refers to the position of the sanctuary at the point of the peninsula. The cella of this temple was divided into three aisles – a highly unusual design. There was a wall to divide the west end of the cella and a screen in front of the cult statue. Evidence for the reuse of some blocks may indicate that there was a prior phase of the structure in the 7th BCE. The roof of this temple was in marble. No evidence has yet been found of pedimental sculptures.

The lime kiln in the 6th BCE temple.
The lime kiln in the 6th BCE temple.

The Doric order triglyph and metope frieze may have only extended along the eastern face, as few of the elements of this survive. The metopes were c. 15cm thick and slotted into the triglyph blocks rather than forming a single block with them, as is more typical. Roughly in the center of the southern side of the temple was a c. 4.5m diameter limekiln used to reduce the marble of the temple (and of the sanctuary generally) into lime for the construction of the Hexamilion wall across the Isthmus of Corinth in the 5th century CE. Scorch mark remain visible on the stones of the temple around a circular area where the heat of the limekiln caused the breakdown of the underlying stones.

Triglyph and Metope Altar

The triglyph and metope altar from the south; beyong the altar is the western end of the L-shaped stoa.
The triglyph and metope altar from the south; beyong the altar is the western end of the L-shaped stoa.

Fifteen meters east of the Temple of Hera Akraia, there was a stone altar decorated with a triglyph and metope frieze dating from the early 4th century BCE. This altar measured c. 2.5 by 4m. In the late 4th BCE Ionic columns were added to the corners, perhaps for a canopy.

L-Shaped Stoa

Overview of the lower sanctuary looking west with the L-shaped stoa in foreground and the temple of Hera Akraia in the distance at right and the West Court in the distance at left.
Overview of the lower sanctuary looking west with the L-shaped stoa in foreground and the temple of Hera Akraia in the distance at right and the West Court in the distance at left.

Immediately east of the altar was a two-storied stoa with an L-shaped plan, also though to date to the late 4th BCE. The eastern arm of the stoa was c. 16.5m north to south and c. 5.5m in depth, while the northern arm of the stoa was c. 17.5m east to west and c. 5m in depth. [4] The lower level employed an external colonnade of the Doric order, while the upper floor used the Ionic order. This is the first known example of this combination. The stairs to the second floor are not preserved. A water channel extended to this structure from the hydraulic system east of the sanctuary.

Double-Apsidal Cistern

Around thirty-five meters east of the L-shaped stoa, there was a c. 6 by 21m cistern with each end rounded off into an apsidal shape. Stone internal piers supported the vaults for the roof. On the eastern end of the structure there was a settling tank of c. 3 by 5m. Ten meters to the NE of the settling tank there was a diversion point in the water channel with one branch directed to the cistern and the other to the L-shaped stoa. The excavator dates the cistern to within the 6th to the 4th centuries BCE.

Dining Rooms

View south over the water channel, the double-apsidal cistern, and the dining rooms.
View south over the water channel, the double-apsidal cistern, and the dining rooms.

Immediately south of the cistern was a double dining room, probably associated with the cult activity at the site. This structure was initially identified as a Hellenistic house, but the cuttings for the legs of the dining couches make the identification as a dining room secure. Tomlinson proposes before 490 BCE as the date for this structure.

Sacred Pool

Around 30m east of the cistern, was a pool c. 2m deep though to perhaps have a sacred function within the cult. Significant numbers of mesomphalic phiales (libation vessels) were found within this structure. This structure is now backfilled.

Temple of Hera Limanaia

The temple (?) of Hera Limanaia, looking SE.
The temple (?) of Hera Limanaia, looking SE.

Around seventy-five meters east of the Cistern, there was a structure that dates perhaps to the 8th century BCE. During its excavation a bronze bowl in Sikyonian letter shapes dated to the end of the 6th BCE was discovered. There was a hearth at the center of the building. It may have been a house-temple or a dining room, as evidenced by spits for roasting meat found inside. Many diagrams and reconstructions of this structure show a door in the western side-wall; however, the gap in the stones was produced by the slit trench of an earlier excavator.

Remains Outside the Sanctuary

Remains are known to extend for 1.7km eastward from the Sanctuary to a lagoon. The best preserved of these constitute an extensive hydraulic system.

Rock-cut Cisterns

The stairway down into the upper rock-cut cisterns.
The stairway down into the upper rock-cut cisterns.

750m ENE of the sanctuary, there was a series of massive cisterns, reached by a rock-cut stairway extending c. 50m down into the bedrock. The opening of the stairway is 64m NW of the openings of the cisterns. The descent is steep and the steps are not all well-preserved. There are cuttings for a parapet wall around the vertiginous upper openings of the cisterns to prevent falls. It has been proposed that the water was raised from the cisterns to the water channel by the use of large human-powered waterwheels.

Fountain house

540m ENE of the sanctuary, there was a hexastyle-prostyle fountain house (having six columns in its facade). Behind the facade there were three rock-cut basins, similar to the Pirene fountain house at Corinth. This structure was later incorporated into a rural villa in the Roman period. This fountain house is thought to date to the same time as the L-shaped stoa, which is the ultimate destination of the water of the system.

Aqueduct

Water channels join the upper cisterns to the fountain house and the fountain house to the cistern of the sanctuary and the L-shaped stoa. At intervals there were settling basins along the water conduit, including one immediately above the fountain house.

Significance of the Site

As is the case for the rural sanctuary of Artemis at Brauron in relation to the religion of Athens, the sanctuary of Hera at Perachora is important or the study of rural cult in the Corinthia. The unusual plan of the 6th century BCE temple of Hera Akraia coupled with its location on the remains of a 9th BCE apsidal structure are of interest to the study of the development of the Greek temple as an architectural and cultic form. While it has been proposed that the cult of Hera Akraia had chthonic elements, [5] this idea has not been generally accepted. The reference in Strabo to an oracle may fit with the idea that the children of Medea were buried at the site, and thus explain any chthonic elements to the cult as pertaining to a heroon.

Images of the Sanctuary of Hera at Perachora


Greece Heraion of Perchora
(Ηραίο Περαχώρας)
Overview of the lower sanctuary looking west with the L-shaped stoa in foreground and the temple of Hera Akraia in the distance at right and the West Court in the distance at left.
Location
Heraion of Perachora (Greece)
Heraion of Perachora
Coordinates 38°1′41.54″N, 22°51′9.22″E
Country Greece
Region Corinthia
Elevation 1 to m
Controlling City Corinth
Peak Period Geometric to Hellenistic

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