Clash of the Heras

Comparing the Heraion at Olympia and the Temple of Hera One at Paestum

The pan-Hellenic site of Olympia and the town of Paestum are both multi-temple sites. The former contains two and the latter, three huge temples. This demonstrates that a lot of money went towards these temples. However, although these two temples were both dedicated to the supreme goddess Hera, and are both in a Doric style, they share their similarities and differences.

Since the temples are both Doric style, they give off a sense of sturdiness in their appearance and seem to have been made to last. All the Doric temples have a narrower front and back and relatively longer sides which give the impression of shortness. This is also accentuated by the entasis found in the columns and the fact that the entablature can be nearly as tall as half the columns. This makes the building seem squatter. Furthermore, the columns sit directly onto the crepis doma.

Even though this is the case, the temples are still different. Whereas the Heraion at Olympia has six columns across the front and 16 along its sides, the temple of Hera One at Paestum displays nine columns along the front; the effect of this is called Enneastyle, and 18 along each of the sides. I believe that the wider front on the latter temple gives a sturdier impression than only six columns; however, the comparatively shorter sides reduce the effect. The columns on this temple are much thicker than the ones at Olympia because they were all built at the same time as each other. However, at Olympia, the columns were originally in wood and were slowly changed into stone by different polis as they received the money. As a result, the columns are very different one from another. Some are monoliths, others polyliths. In my opinion, the poor regularity of the Heraion at Olympia reduces the effect of longevity that the temple tries to evoke. This is not the case at Paestum. Moreover, the columns at the temple of Hera One are subject to greater entasis than at Olympia which gives a more powerful illusion of integrity.

The capitals of the columns on the temple of Hera One at Paestum are wider than the ones at Olympia which emphasises how heavy set the temple is, more specifically the entablature. The capitals need to be bigger because the entablature is made out of stone so is much heavier so the weight needs to be supported better. The entablature at Olympia would have been made out of wood which is much lighter so the capitals are smaller and it also explains why there is no trace of it at the archaeological site. The echinus of the columns at the Heraion at Olympia is more curved than those at Paestum because the former was built 40 years before the other in 590 BC and it is a trait of older temples.

Both temples also seem brawny because of the stereobate. The temple of Hera at Olympia, being an early temple has only two steps which are actually quite small, but the temple of Hera One at Paestum has three larger steps. This gives a more effective impression of solidity because acting with the entablature and the roof; they encapsulate the columns, seemingly reducing their height. This is especially pronounced at Paestum. On both temples, the columns sit on the crepis doma which in my judgement gives the temples a semblance of cohesiveness. The roof will have been large and extremely large and was supported by seven central columns which are present in the naos. This is the only example found in Italy and is not found at Olympia. In addition, both Heraions have very large entablatures which are held up by the columns. This again adds to the optical illusion of being heavily built.

These two temples should not have much decoration and it should not be very intricate. This is because Doric temples are the very beginning of Greek architecture therefore the emphasis is on the building itself rather than the beautification of the edifice. This is compounded by the fact that in the Archaic period, the Greek artisans did not have the skill to create such things. Furthermore, there are no surviving Greek Doric temples with significant decoration.

The columns themselves are a decorative feature which adorn both temples. Since they are Doric temples, they are both doted of 20 flutes which are vertical, carved troughs in the column. These reflect the sunlight at different times of the day to exalt the temple with a brighter colour. The arrises which are created as a result of fluting are also present on both temples. These create an effect which is called in Italian, chiaroscuro (literally light dark). This is because they create different shape shadows on the columns was the sun changes position through the course of the day. The echinus, which is the lower part of the capital, on the tops of the columns at the temple of Hera One at Paestum were decorated with sculpted flowers. These were also probably painted. They are not present on the Heraion at Olympia.

One feature on the Heraion at Olympia that is not present at the temple of Hera One at Paestum is a distyle in antis. These are two columns which were for purely decorative reason positioned in the pronaos. However, the latter temple does have three columns in antis. This is a very rare occurrence which was probably used by the inhabitants of Paestum to exhibit their wealth. Another decorative feature of the temple itself, I maintain, is the absence or presence of a door. Most temples are orientated in an East to West axis so that as the sun rose, it would rise above the cult statue and would shine though the temple as it sets. This was present at the Heraion at Olympia, but is not present at Paestum because of the split naos.

One consideration for the decoration that the architect took into account was the building material with which to construct the temple. The temple of Hera at Olympia was originally built out of mud bricks whereas the Hera One at Paestum is constructed out of limestone, covered with stucco. This is strange because a rich polis such as this would have been able to afford such material. However, this could not be found in the vicinity and import costs were preventative. The stucco had crushed marble in it and would have reflected the suns light during the day and created a divine effect.

All Greek temples have metopes and triglyphs, and these are of no exception. The metopes on the Heraion at Olympia are very special because they can change colour due to green and orange terracotta plates. This helps it to blend in better with the landscape in different seasons, an essential feature of any temple. The metopes on Hera One do not have any decoration whatsoever; they were only painted in red, blue or orange, like all Greek temples. The only logical explanation for this is that the architect or sculptor did not have the necessary skill to do such carvings.

There were no sculptures in the pediment of either temple which is reasonable because these temples come from the Archaic period so the skill of the workers at the time was inferior to that of either the Classical or Hellenistic periods. However, it is possible that both temples contained two cult statues. The temple of Hera One at Paestum had a divided naos; therefore, it is possible that it contained a statue in each. The Heraion at Olympia had as statue of Hera and Zeus made from a wood, covered in stone. This is probably the same for Paestum but it may have been made of a more expensive material due to the wealth of the polis. The roof of the temple of Hera One at Paestum had some decorations called antefixa. These could be found on the eaves of the roof and were sculpted with terracotta as well as brightly covered as the rest of the temple. An acroterion can be found on both temples with a circular one for Olympia and a painted female torso at Paestum.

Although these are both Doric temples, built only 50 years apart, there are considerable differences between the two both in construction and decoration. This just demonstrates how diverse they can be. However, the temples do share some features but either way are both great, long lasting examples of Greek architecture.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s