The Landscape Guide

Greek Sanctuaries see also

Sacred Gardens

Greek civilization drew upon the Minoan civilization of Crete which drew upon West Asia and Egypt. Religious ideas passed along this chain, with Osiris worshiped in Greece.

There are Minoan archaeological remains but no religious texts. They left representations of goddess but not of male gods. The most powerful deity is described as an Earth Mother. Vincent Scully, in his book on The earth, the temple and the gods argues that 'All Greek sacred architecture explores and praises the character of a god or a group of gods in a specific place. That place is itself holy and, before the temple was built upon it, embodied the whole of the deity as a recognized natural force… Therefore, the formal elements of any Greek sanctuary are, first, the specifically sacred landscape in which it is set, and, second, the buildings that are placed within it.'

Greek gods took human forms but continued to represent concepts. Apollo, the god of light, awe, wisdom and divine distance, was associated with a range of sacred interests, including medicine, animals, music and the Delphi oracle. Jellicoe wrote that ‘Although the scene [at Delphi] is given apparent cohesion and high purpose by the Temple of Apollo, the overall unifying influence is that of the stupendous genius loci, expressing as it does the structure of the world’ . The location of all Greek sanctuaries was determined by site characteristics. Scully draws attention to the presence of symbols of the Earth Mother: a cave, a spring, a conical hill and two peaks in the location of Cretan palaces and Greek sanctuaries: ‘These features create a profile which is basically that of a pair of horns, but it may also suggest raised arms or wings, the female cleft, or even, at some sites, a pair of breasts’ . Palaces stood on the Earth Mother’s mons Veneris.

The temples of Delphi stand on the bank of a steep valley between the Gulf of Corinth and Mount Parnassus, with a sacred spring and horned peaks. In part, the air of mystery which has always made it the most popular site in Greece, after Athens, results from the fact that these features are sensed but, from the sanctuary, unseen. The creation of life on earth was explained by a union between the sky god (Uranus) and the earth mother (Gaia). Gaia was associated with caves and springs. A sacred tree, or phallic symbol, represented Uranus. Statues and alters were placed near springs and caves. This is the origin of the garden grotto.