Archaeology

Parrhasia

Land of Ancient Gods and Heroes

In antiquity the Parrhasia was considered to be the most ancient region of Greece. The Parrhasians were mentioned in Homer (Iliad, Book 2) as the recipients of ships from King Agamemnon to help fight in the Trojan War. This name precedes the later regional divisions of Arcadia, Messenia and Elis and thus the name signifies the unification of the area for the purposes of protecting its rich heritage. The proposed area of the park is approximately 300 square kilometers, and includes ancient sanctuaries and cities in southwest Arcadia and parts of modern-day Messenia and Elis. Within the limits of the park there would be several ethnographic and archaeological museums, including the archaeological museum at Lykosoura, the future archaeological museum at Megalopolis and a proposed palaeontological museum for the area.

Among the most important ancient sites within the park area is the Sanctuary of Zeus on Mt. Lykaion in Arcadia. In antiquity all of Mt. Lykaion was considered sacred, and Greek mythology identifies it as the birthplace of Zeus (at Cretea). The second century AD traveler Pausanias describes a stadium and hippodrome at the sanctuary in which the athletic games were held, a sanctuary of Pan, and, at the summit, a temenos and altar of Lykaion Zeus. In front of the altar, Pausanias says, there were two columns crowned by gilded eagles. In the historical period Mt. Lykaion was the site of a famous Pan-Arcadian festival in honor of Zeus, which at times reached Pan-Hellenic proportions.

The famous Temple of Apollo Epikourios at Bassai is also within the area of the proposed park. This beautiful Doric temple made of local limestone was built in the fifth century BC, and, according to Pausanias, its architect was Iktinos, the same architect who built the Parthenon in Athens. It boasts many unusual features including a north-south alignment (rather than the more typical east-west), the first known Corinthian capital on the inside of the cella, a side door opening to the east, and a sculpted frieze around the interior of the cella above the engaged columns. There were at least three earlier building phases at the site situated to the south of the Classical one, with the earliest temple dating back to the end of the seventh century BC, a second building phase dating c. 600 BC, and a third one c. 500 BC. Votive offerings found at the sanctuary indicate that cult activity was taking place there from the end of the 8th century BC onwards. Bassai has already been identified as a World Heritage Site of significance.

The ancient Arcadians believed that Lykosoura was the oldest city of the world. It was the center of the region Parrhasia, which was extended from Megalopolis in the east to Mt. Lykaion in the west. The city of Lykosoura had a famous sanctuary dedicated to the Goddess Demeter and her daughter Despoina, which was excavated by the Greek archaeologist Konstantinos Kourouniotis one century ago. Besides the temple of Demeter and Despoina, there are visible three small altars dedicated to Demeter, Despoina and the Big Goddess, the built enclosure (peribolos) of the sanctuary, a big altar in two levels (megaron) where the official ceremonies took place, and a monumental construction of ten rows of stairs for the worshippers. A small Museum accommodates the finds from the sanctuary, among them the famous cult image of Demeter, Despoina and Artemis by the sculptor Damophon from Messene, who worked at the end of the third to the beginning of the second century BC.

Arcadian Trapezous, which according to Pausanias existed as the mother city of Trapezous in the Pontus region, was localized and partially excavated at the end of the 1990’s in the pastures surrounding the small village of Kyparissia. The most important evidence from this discovery is that a fortified ancient city was created from the outset as a studied town plan in a completely free space. In other words, Trapezous is likely to be one of the first planned cities, which follows the orthogonal town plan grid system with straight lines, parallel and intersecting streets, and shows the idea of the ancient Arcadians for the creation of a city with fixed uses of the land and for the ordering of space, already in the fifth century BC. In the fourth century BC, the Arcadians built a new capital city nearby. For the people of Trapezous who refused to abandon their paternal hearths to settle in Megalopolis, the punishment was death. Those who avoided death fled to the city with the same name in the Pontus, with whom the connections were particularly close. Several other famous ancient cities would be within the limits of the park, including Phigaleia, Megalopolis and Eira.

The Park’s Major Archaeological Sites

Key Sites

Key archaeological sites in the Parrhasian park region include those listed below. All of these have been excavated over the last century or so, and have yielded important and abundant remains. Many more sanctuaries and shrines are mentioned by Pausanias in this region, but no others have yet been found or investigated. The density of cult places in the Parrhasian region is remarkable, especially on Mt. Lykaion. The proposed archaeological heritage area would protect the ancient region of the Parrhasia and any undiscovered ancient remains for future investigation and discovery.

  • Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion
  • Sanctuary of Pan at Mt. Lykaion
  • Sanctuary of Pan at Berekla
  • Sanctuary of Despoina at Lykosoura
  • Sanctuary of Pan at Melpea
  • Sanctuaries of Aphrodite and Artemis at Kotilion
  • Sanctuary of Apollo Epikourios at Bassai
  • Sanctuary of Athena and Zeus at Phigaleia
  • Sanctuary of Apollo Parrhasios at Cretea
  • Ancient city of Phigaleia
  • Ancient city of Eira
  • Ancient city of Trapezous
  • Ancient city of Megalopolis
  • Ancient city of Lykosoura