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The Archaic Temple of Demeter
A short distance north and west of Lathrina, the Temple of Demeter at Gyroulas (17.5km) comes into view. The site can equally well be reached directly (15.5km) from Ano Sangri. The temple has been put immaculately in order in recent times, with substantial elements reconstructed, and a small museum created on the site (open daily except Mon 8.30–3). It stands on an eminence surveying an open fertile valley, framed by the mountains to the east and the distant sea to the south. Visible from all around, it must have been felt by the ancient workers on the land as a reassuring and protecting presence. The importance of the archaeological site lies in what it has revealed about the way in which cult and architecture develop together. Sometimes Greek temple-design is thought of as a rigid and repetitive model: this temple shows how flexible and varied it can be. This has been made particularly clear by the good archaeological display.
Cult on this hill goes back at least to the 8th century bc, when deities of the fertility of the land were propitiated in the open air in the area under, and in front of, the existing temple. The excavations have revealed interconnected shallow cultic pits in this area for the offering of the produce of the land to the deities. Around 530 bc, during the period of the rule of Lygdamis and of the building of the Portara, a temple was erected here which had the plan of a ‘thesmophoreion’, i.e a place of cult of the chthonic divinities of the land and its fertility: this is the Temple of Demeter whose remains are most visible today. It was constructed entirely in marble: even the beams and tiles which comprised the roof were of local stone. This was a courageous innovation, involving newly developed technologies; but it had been attempted before by the Naxiots, most notably in their Oikos in the Sanctuary of Apollo on Delos . The temple was also ground-breaking in other aspects of design. It had a south facing portico or pronaos, with five columns in antis. Two large framed doorways led from this porch into the enclosed interior whose pitched marble roof was supported by a transverse row of columns whose heights varied with the slopes of the roof.
To the west side of the site a magnificent example of one of the marble beams of the pronaos is preserved. Beams such as this supported the horizontal coffered ceiling which covered the pronaos. The interior of the building, by contrast, had no flat ceiling below its pitched roof. This gave rise to an elating sensation of increased height and space as you passed from the porch to the interior of the temple. The roof-tiles were made in a marble chosen for its translucence, which must have transmitted a beautiful, subdued luminousness into the interior on sunny days.
With the arrival of Christianity, the temple was converted into a church: this happened in two phases and involved re configuring the building to accommodate the different orien tation required by a Christian place of worship. The portico to the south was filled up between the columns to create a lateral narthex. A doorway was made in the west wall; then in the 6th century an apse was created to the east.
The small museum below the temple to the west displays the decorative architectural elements and the smaller finds from the site in two rooms, reflecting the two periods of the building’s history—Ancient and Early Christian. These include architectural elements, such as the marble tiles of the ancient temple and the carved templon screen of the church, and a small display of the votive offerings found.
Naxos Island is part of the Cyclades Island Group, Greece.