Athena Alea was worshipped in Arcadia as a patron deity and her temple in Tegea testified to the importance attributed to her by the locals; it was the second largest temple in the Peloponnese, after that of the Olympian Zeus in Olympia.
The temple was created by the famous sculptor Skopas from Paros, who worked there for some time as an architect. For its construction he used marble from Doliana and for its foundations local almond stone. The temple follows the three basic orders of ancient architecture, combining the Ionic, the Doric and the Corinthian orders. It was built a little before the mid-4th century B.C. in the place of an older temple, of the archaic period, which was probably destroyed by a fire around 395 B.C.
Fragments of the temple came to light in the previous century by the French School of Athens and the Archaeological Society, and they can be found in the archaeological site of Tegea, which can be visited. In the same area there is also the Archaeological Museum of Tegea, with exhibits mainly from the temple of Athena Alea.
The temple of Athena Alea, who was worshiped as the region’s protector, is located to the southwest of the ancient city of Tegea, near Tripolis. The name Alea came from Aleos, king of Tegea and descendant of Arkadas, who established the worship of Athena. To honour her, the locals established the celebrations of Aleaia and Alotia, which were taking place at the stadium of Tegea.
According to archaeological evidence, this temple was built in the 4th century BC. However, there is further evidence proving the existence of an older, archaic temple dating back to the 7th century, where, during the Mycenaean era, a female deity was worshipped. It appears that this temple was destroyed by a fire that occurred in 395 BC and in this exact location a new temple was erected, whose architect was the famous sculptor Skopas, from the island of Paros.
The temple of Athena Alea was one of the biggest and most important in the Peloponnese. It’s a very impressive structure, built within a sacred grove, something that also served its mystical character, since entrance and access was forbidden to the uninitiated, which of course suggests that various ceremonies were held there. The location of the two sacrificial altars reveals a shift towards a new religious morality, since the one for bloodless sacrifices is in a prominent position, while the one for the bloody ones stands secluded.
The architect managed to masterfully combine the three main styles found in ancient buildings: Ionic, Corinthian and Doric. The interior of the temple was decorated with impressive statues of various deities and heroes, with those of Athena, Aesculapius and Hygeia standing out. The existence of the latter indicates that the temple served as an infirmary at some point. Excavations that took place in front of the temple brought to light the foundations of the Great Altar of the Goddess, which was the work of Satire, a student of Skopas, as well as remnants of an early Christian basilica.