Sacrality and the Greek Polis


Memory and Innovation

Memory and Innovation: Architectural developments in the sanctuaries of Central Greece and Northern Peloponnese (8th – 4th century BC)

Jean Vanden Broeck-Parant

This project, part of the Anchoring Innovation research agenda in 2020-2021, aims at exploring the architectural developments in Central Greece and the Northern Peloponnese from the 8th to the 4th century BC.

The Gulf of Corinth and the Saronic Gulf were at the centre of major trade and communication networks in antiquity. The regions surrounding them were tightly interconnected through maritime and terrestrial routes. Early in the Archaic period, these regions saw the development of important sanctuaries, often with monumental architectural projects. A significant part of these sanctuaries stayed in activity throughout the Archaic and the Classical periods. During this time period, new buildings were added and existing ones were restored, transformed and rebuilt, considerably modifying their landscapes.

Greek sanctuaries were places of memory, but also of spatial and architectural innovations and experimentations. A constant negotiation was necessary to make the innovations acceptable to the viewers familiar with an existing landscape. The new must have integrated recognizable elements from the past in order to be readable and understandable by the many.

The purpose of this project is to explore the ways for anchoring architectural innovation in such contexts, focusing on three important sites: Delphi, Corinth and Epidauros. More specifically, it addresses the issues of the emergence, diffusion and adoption of these innovations. Two levels of enquiry are considered: the sanctuaries themselves and the regional networks to which they belong.

At the level of the sanctuary (the local level), new architectural features are set against their surrounding environment, that is, the existing architectural context, in order to assess to what degree they deviate from the norm. This approach takes both the stylistic and the technical aspects of the new features into account. At the regional level, the response to novelty can be observed through the adoption and spreading of new forms and techniques from sanctuaries to others. The spreading of new architectural features is mapped and set against better known social networks such as the mobility pattern of builders and craftsmen in the region, in order to determine the channels through which innovation travelled.

Aside from the architectural remains themselves, textual evidence serves as an interpretative tool for understanding the sociological and political framework of architectural change and its articulation with memory. Dedicatory inscriptions in the sanctuaries are used for addressing the political and ideological aspects of the new buildings, as well as the restored ones. Ultimately, the architecture of sanctuaries can be understood as a social and political phenomenon which, as such, anchors and articulates memory and innovation.