Sanctuaries

free essaySince people considered sanctuaries holy places containing things of religious and spiritual value, everything about them should have been different from common buildings and their purposes. To set a sanctuary aside, they were often placed in remote areas or at least stand-out places. Hilltops were perfect locations because they were raising a sanctuary over the city and served as a reminder to citizenry about its exclusive place and role in the life of the city. Made of white and black marble, the Sanctuary of Asklepios in Kos, Greece, was built in the Hellenistic Period c. 360-330 BCE. Constructed several centuries later in Palestrina, Italy Roman Republic, the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia Praeneste emulated the shape and layered structure of sanctuary complexes but did it in its own manner and, thus, had different relations with the surroundings. The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia also had the conical shape but it was built from plastered concrete and limestone. Both the Sanctuary of Asklepios and the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia are situated on top of a hill. Having a similar conical shape, these two sanctuaries, however, have different ways of interacting with the environment. Whereas the Sanctuary of Asklepios is made of visibly different elements and is both interacting with the landscape and contradicting it, the Sanctuary of Fortuna has very united and symmetrical front that highly resembles the surroundings and is tightly integrated into it.

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Built in the Hellenistic period c. 360-330 B.C., the Sanctuary of Asklepios in Kos, Greece, occupied big amount of space to house all the functions of a sacred place devoted to healing people. Asklepios was from the bevy of new gods that just had arrived in Greece a century earlier. As a god of medicine and doctors, Asklepios was in charge of healing and favorably reacted to people’s offerings and sacrifices. Thus, the temple or sanctuary had to have much space in order to accommodate for such purposes (Pedley 31). The cult of Asklepios required large territories because people had stay close to the chief statue of the god to get the healing. As the cult was increasing its influence on people, the sanctuary “came to function as much as spas or sanatoria as centers of worship” (Pedley 32). Therefore, the sanctuary had to have premises for sacrifices and offerings, patients’ accommodations as well as baths and other hydrotherapeutic procedures.

Placed on a hilltop, the Sanctuary of Asklepios in Kos had three terraces (see fig. 1). The first level had an entrance with a tall staircase leading to the wall of porticoes encircling the perimeter of the terrace. Hiding the courtyard from the external view, the high outside wall was the part of perimetral arcade with the roof and colonnade. Roman baths and latrines as well as accommodations for patients were also on this level. The farthest wall had a row of alcoves. The large area of the courtyard implied that people could use it for different activities such as festivals and athletic games. From the entrance, the wide path led to the staircase of the second terrace, which was slightly narrower than the first level. This terrace had the function of a sanctuary, and there were two temples: an altar of Asclepius and priests’ rooms. The Temple of Asclepius is the one on the right, and it is the oldest building on the territory. Made of black and white marble, the temple had painted columns and paintings by famous Hellenistic artist Apelles. The Temple of Apollo is on the left and is encircled with a colonnade. On the left from the walking path, there is the altar of Asclepius made in the U-form. It used to have a coffered ceiling and statues of gods between columns. The third terrace is also enclosed with the roofed arcades, and on the right there were also patients’ rooms. The staircase leads right to the entrance of the great Temple of Asclepius (“The Asklepieion”).

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Built during the Roman Republic, c. 80 B.C., the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia Praeneste in Palestrina, Italy, is among the first examples of Roman Imperial architecture. The Roman goddess of Fortune called Fortuna Primigenia was a “nurse and offspring of Jupiter”, and at the temple of the goddess an oracle would foretell people their future (Scully). At the second century B.C., the Roman Republic accumulated enough wealth from its colonies to be able to build significant temples to their gods. Simultaneously, technical innovations also made it possible to use concrete in constructions widely, and it enlarged the scope of actions and possibilities of builders (Sear 24).

Accumulating and adapting the Hellenistic scope and heritage, the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia emulated the principle of rising terraces with a great temple on the top. The Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia consists of two complexes: the upper and the lower ones equating the total number of terraces to six. The lower complex contained an old temple and a series of staircases. People could get an access to it using steps on the sides. The complex was hidden from the view, which provided two high walls. Whereas the first complex was more mundane and related to early matters such as selling food and goods, the second one was more monumental and dedicated to worship. Several terraces filled with columns and statues led upward to the sanctuary on top. The last level was a semicircle colonnade with an amphitheater steps and a pit. Built with concrete, limestone, and tufa, the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia was a lavish and exuberant construction. Marble was covered with white plaster to resemble the smooth one (Sear 26).

Visually, both sanctuaries are very similar due to their location on the hill slope and cascade position of the terraces. In both cases, the sites are located in such a way that the temples and the sanctuary complexes are visible from the sea. The island of Kos surfaces amidst the water, and the sanctuary looks like a rising star on the hillside. The sanctuary at Praeneste is cone-shaped and is located in a similar way. However, the conic shape is slightly different in terms of symmetry between these two sites. The Sanctuary of Asklepios is asymmetrical and has a rectangular temple at the top (see fig. 2). Whereas the left side closely resembles the right side of the first and the third terraces, the middle one does not have symmetrical clarity and looks like trying to mingle with the surrounding forest. Besides, the axis of the Sanctuary of Asklepios is not fixed, and the terraces are askew in the relation to the axis (Scully). In contrast, the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia has a rigid symmetry in all six levels (see fig. 3). It has a fixed axis and offers a distinct hierarchal order that differentiate the sanctuary from the environment. In the Sanctuary of Fortuna, the circular temple on top is an additional difference from the Greek one at Kos (Scully).


In terms of culture, the two sanctuaries had different purposes and, hence, functions. Apart from its ritualistic and spiritual purposes, the Sanctuary of Asklepios functioned as a hospital and spa. There were baths, fountains, drinking water sources, and premises where people received medicines and doctors’ guidance (Pedley 32). In contrast, the Sanctuary of Fortuna Primigenia was dedicated to foretelling and forecasting. Because the complex was located next to the Forum, another function of the sanctuary was to fulfill people’s demands. In particular, there were shops and vending places to sell food and goods. Therefore, cultural functions of the two sanctuaries are very different.

Similarly, in the architectural sense, the Sanctuary of Asklepios and the Sanctuary of Fortuna have very different ways of interacting with the environment. In The Earth, the Temple, and the Gods. Greek Sacred Architecture, Vincent Scully explains that the Roman architecture of that period is grounded on the principle “based upon the desire for a kind of security which the Greek had normally been willing to deny himself” (Scully). In their desire for stability and security, the Romans produced mountains by themselves: one may say that the symmetrical outline of the sanctuary in Praeneste resembles two identical mountains copying the one, on which they are built. Another aspect such a monolithic and massive construction informs about is “dominion at vast scale” (Scully). The difference between two sanctuaries comes from it. The Roman sanctuary in Praeneste does not really interact with the environment. It emulates it and suggests its own purposes. Meanwhile, its earlier Greek counterpart is more relaxed and compliant exploring the nature through its architecture. The asymmetrical and off-center structure of the sanctuary at Kos offers more alternatives and interpretations (Scully). Additionally, made of white and black marble, the Sanctuary of Asklepios corresponds to the Hellenistic period, during which rather conservative design was prevailing. For example, the Temple of Apollo had the elements of Roman architecture – half-fluted columns and an impressive floral superstructure (“The Asklepieion”). The columns were constructed in the simple and minimalistic Doric order (Kleiner and Gardner 151). Unlike the sanctuary in Kos, the architecture of Praeneste was modern and contained concrete as well as local materials. Additionally, the columns were slightly more expressive due to the use of Ionic order (Kleiner and Gardner 185).

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Built in different time periods, the Sanctuary of Asklepios in Kos and the Sanctuary of Fortuna in Praeneste resemble each other but being truly works of art they are very distinct even though share similarities. Both taking hilltops, the sanctuaries offer focal points to the cities nearby. As centers of spiritual and ritual life, they give people space to make sacrifices and say prayers to their respective gods. However, each sanctuary has an additional function due to the nature of their gods. The Sanctuary of Asklepios was a hospital-cum-spa while the Sanctuary of Fortuna was a prototype of shopping center for those times. Additionally to cultural functions, the sanctuaries were rather different in the architectural sense. As an example of Hellenistic architecture, the sanctuary in Kos was asymmetrical and had an askew central axis. Meanwhile, the sanctuary in Praeneste was rigidly symmetrical and resembled a ziggurat. The location on the mountain top allowed the sanctuaries to be the beacons of cultural and ritual life to those who see them from afar. At the same time, it emphasized the potency and wealth of the civilization, which built them. Appropriating stability from the conical shape, the two sanctuaries make, nevertheless, different impressions. During the Hellenistic period, the Ancient Greeks’ beliefs were that the world and nature should be embraced. Therefore, the visual elements and structure of the Sanctuary of Asklepios are both interacting with and contradicting the landscape. In contrast, the underlying principle of security and dominion makes the sanctuary in Praeneste the one emulating surroundings and copying the shape of the mountain it is built on but simultaneously being very distinct from them and pursuing its own principles and objectives.