Kourion: Temple of Apollo

Aerial View of Apollo Sanctuary Dormitories, with Dorms, Central Avenue, and Baths marked

Sanctuary of Apollo, Kourion

Frontal aspect of the Temple of Apollo, plinth, two columns, and partially reconstructed roofline

The Temple of Apollo

The Sanctuary of Apollo dates to 800BC and lasted until funding to pagan temples was stopped in the 5th century AD. Because Apollo was the god of the woodlands, the complex had a sacred grove of trees and deer roamed the area protected from predators, both man or beast according to Aelian. It was built in the new ‘Roman’ style in the 1st century in the time of Nero on an earlier Archaic style temple.

The sanctuary underwent an extensive expansion program in the 1st century AD because Apollo was a favorite deity of the Empire’s pagan population. They represented the majority of Kourion’s citizens during the 1st through 4th centuries.

It was a principal place of pilgrimage on the island equal to the Sanctuary of Aphrodite in Palaepaphos. Pilgrims came from around the empire to make offerings.

Provisions of every kind had to be made for the influx of devotees. There was an extensive bath system next to a gymnasium in the Hellenic style, a small agora for daily purchases, and a expansive arrangement of dormitories.

The dormitories were constructed to house hundreds of people. There was a common area in the center with stone benches that ran the perimeter of the large inside room.

Aerial view of the Dormitories at the Apollo SanctuaryOne dormitory unit at the sanctuary

Around the outer perimeter of the common area were a series of equal-size rooms which seem to have been partitioned, perhaps with wooden panels and/or drapery for privacy. These would have been the actual sleeping areas where pilgrims could have kept their personal things, and might have been allocated. The larger central area of the dormitories would have been used for communal activities.

The Dormitories at Apollo's Sanctuary with a view along the Akrotiri Peninsula

The five dormitories at the sanctuary

The central area most probably contained long rows of tables parallel to the benches and in the center of the common area cooking might have taken place, or cooking might have been done outside on the landing or on the ground. There were at least four of these identical dormitories at the end of the main avenue. It was a highly organized area capable of accommodating a lot of people.

Of course, this is speculation, but the identical layout of each dormitory area makes this description plausible.

Central Avenue of Apollo's Sanctuary, leading up to the Temple

The central avenue from the temple to the dormitories

Also included in the sanctuary complex were a residence for the priests, a treasury, and a circular altar.  Further excavations have uncovered a series of small rooms that line the central avenue from the temple to the dormitories. These could have been shops where pilgrims could buy various offerings. Because of the exceptional quality of some artifacts, archaeologists believe that one area could have been set aside for displaying substantial offerings, and an adjacent room could have been a reception hall for VIP pilgrims.

The Sanctuary of Apollo was a sacred place in a magnificent setting overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. For over a thousand years, faithful pilgrims came to make petitions, give thanks, and to make offerings. The massive earthquake of 365AD coupled with the mandate of Theodosius I ended a millennium  of pagan worship at the Sanctuary of Apollo and throughout the empire.

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