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Archaeological site of Heraion (Perachora)

The archaeological site of Heraion is located 15 kilometers to the northwest of Ancient Corinth, at the end of Perachora peninsula. Excavations carried out in the region have brought to light the temple of Hera and significant remains of the early Corinthian civilization, such as an L-shaped stoa, a large cistern, dining rooms and a smaller temple.

The temple of Hera is the most significant monument of the site. It lies near a small harbor under the lighthouse of Melagavi. The region was an important part of the Corinthian land during the early roman period. The findings in Perachora provide valuable information on Corinthian art from the geometric and archaic period.

Excavations (1930-1933) were carried out at the site of Heraion and the temple of Hera Akraia, above the harbor, and Hera Limenia, by the harbor. The investigation extended to Vouliagmeni lake, and it attested the existence of remains that date back to the Neolithic, early Helladic and Mycenaean age. It is believed that a significant town called Heraion existed on the site. The findings in the area indicate that the town Oinoi was located in the area of Schoinos, and that the settlement of Therma was located in the modern town of Loutraki.

Although there is a variance between Argos, Megara and Corinth on the control of the site, it is likely that the sanctuary was under the control of Corinth since the entrance to the sanctuary was oriented towards the ancient harbors of the town. Domestic structures were built in the region during the roman period attesting that the site was no longer used as a sanctuary.

It was at the Heraion that, according to the myth, Medea buried her murdered children as she was leaving Corinth. In the 1st century B.C., the Greek historian Strabo mentioned the existence of an oracle in the sanctuary.

At present, the known structures of the sanctuary cover an area of approximately 45×245 meters that comprises of a small gulf and extends to the east along the ridge.

At the southwest side there is a polygonal area of 25 x25 meters hewn into the rock. Many archaeologists believe it is the ancient Agora. It dates back to the 6th century B.C. and it is considered to be contemporary with the temple of Hera Akraia. The name Akraia (dwelling on the heights) refers to the location of the sanctuary at the point of the peninsula. It was probably destroyed in the 4th century B.C. and its use was replaced by the Stoa. In the middle of this area there are ruins of a roman house. The oldest structure (late 9th century B.C.) at the site is an apsidal construction which is thought to resemble the temple-house models known from the Argive Heraion.

To the west of the apsidal construction, there was a Doric order tetrastyle – prostyle temple built in the 6th century B.C. It is considered to be of an unusual design as its cella was divided in three aisles. There was a wall to separate the west end of the cella. Its roof was made of marble. Evidence from the use of certain construction material might indicate that there was a prior phase of the structure in the 7th BC.

In the southern side of the temple, there was a 4.5meter diameter limekiln. Scorch marks remain visible on the stones. Fifteen meters to the east of the temple there was an altar (25 x 4 meters) decorated with triglyphs and metope friezes that was built in the early 4th B.C. In the late 4th century B.C. Ionic columns were added to the corners.

To the east of the altar there was a two storied L-shape stoa that dated to the late 4th century B.C. The dimension of the eastern arm of the stoa was 16.55×5.5 meters, while the northern arm 17.5×5 meters. The ground floor had Doric columns and the upper floor Ionic. It is the first example of the combination of the two orders.

Approximately 35 meters east to the stoa there was a double apsidal cistern (6 × 21 meters). Internal piers supported the vaulted roof. At the eastern end of the cistern there was a settling tank (3×5 meters) while the water diversion point was located 10 meters to the northeast. According to the excavations, the cistern dates within the 6th to the 4th centuries B.C.

To the south of the cistern was a double dining room. The construction was initially identified as a Hellenistic house, but remains of dining couches reinforce the belief that the construction was used as a dining room that dated back to 490 B.C.

Approximately 75 meters to the east of the cistern lay the remains of a construction that dates to the 6th century B.C. A bronze bull with a Sikyonian inscription, which dates to the late 6th century, was found at the site. The construction served as a house-temple as attested by a hearth located at the center.

750 meters north east of the sanctuary there was a row of cisterns accessible by a 50 meter rock cut staircase. The descent is steep and the stairs are not well preserved.

540 meters to the northeast of the sanctuary, there was a hexastyle fountain contemporary to the stoa. Behind its façade there were three rock-cut basins similar to the Peirene fountain in Ancient Corinth. The construction was later transformed to a roman villa. Water channels connect the cisterns with the fountain and the fountain with the Sanctuary and Stoa cistern. Along the water channels there were settling basins, including one above the fountain.

The Heraion is significant for the study of the temple architecture and of the rural cult in the region of Corinthia. The unusual plan, the location and the remains of the 9th century B.C. apsidal construction are of interest for the study of the evolution of the temple as rural or cult architectural form. The reference of the Greek traveler Strabo to an oracle and the myth concerning Medea’s children suggest the existence of chthonic elements in the cult of Hera Akraia. This suggestion has not been generally accepted.

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