Studies on the architecture of ancient Greek buildings have predominantly focused on theatres. However, before the construction of the Epidaurus stunning theater, its architect designed around marble building, which he encircled with a colonnade and placed it at the center of this particular sanctuary. According to Epidaurus building records, the thyme building as is known to date was by far the most expensive building erected in Greek in the 5th century BC in one very outstanding expansion project.
In spite of its ritual and physical centrality, this one of a kind building baffles scholars alike even though its functions have not been very clear. In this paper, the decoration and architectural design of the building will be demonstrated. In doing so, the paper argues that the best way in which contemporary architectures could come up with a similar structure is to ensure that they integrate one of the building’s fundamental functions; which was to act as an acoustic sound box in which music was amplified.
At around 389 BCE, Greek citizens living in Epidaurus city mounted an ambitious building project near the Askelepios healing sanctuary. This building was popular amongst Greeks because in the 4th century they had vastly traveled to meet Asklepios, a healing god in their dreams who performed medical processes and prescribed various regimens for their cures. Worshippers also attended the sanctuary to take part in the god’s festivities. This was synonymous with what they performed in other sanctuaries on Delphi and Olympia (Alcock 447).
In the early fourth century, there was need to expand the Epidaurus healing and sanctuary facilities because of the growing population. In terms of design, scale and expense, no other building architectural project had been attempted of such magnitude. This project included a temple and a robust marble alter at the central part of the building for the Asklepios. The building also encompassed new bathing facilities, a statue of the god which had been crafted from ivory and gold, robust gates for the arena, and a bigger theater which could have a sitting of thirteen thousand spectators. In addition, there was a larger storied room where worshippers rested while waiting to be cured (Ashby 34).
Nonetheless, the most critical structure was the sophisticated round building that was delicate in both decoration and plan. This was the thymele and had been designed by Polykleitos junior. This structure obscured all its surrounding structures in terms of complexity, labor, and expenses. The quality and variety of materials that were used to construct it could not be matched in the entire Epidaurian Askelepieion. Apart from that, it could not be found in most of the other sanctuaries that existed in the Greek fourth century establishment. This splendid building was centralized both physically and presumably ritually, to the sanctuary it decorated. This is because it was in close proximity to the old Asklepios and Apollo alters. In terms of its size, flamboyancy, and cost in the entire ancient Greek world, there was none to compare to the thymele (Barker 123).
The thymele was very innovative when it came to design. It was not common to come across round buildings in ancient Greek; furthermore, this particular round building had a striking labyrinthine substructure that made it stand out in the entire Greek architectural history. It is for this reason that scholars have described it as the sanctuary’s most beautiful building whose planners intended to make it a wonder to all and sundry. However, in spite of the fact that the building was strikingly wonderful in terms of design, its specific functions are hidden in the annals of history since no one has a clue on what it was meant to be used for (Alcock 449).
Ever since it was excavated in the 19th century, scholars for the thyme have proposed a wide range of interpretations. All the proposals forwarded have been prompted by its outstanding design. For instance, some scholars have interpreted its function as that of an Askelepios tomb, or a frame to the hero god’s altering. Given its central position, the thymele is believed to be a place of worship or a place for sacrifices. Others believe it functioned as a house for sacred snakes, a fountain room, and a place for therapeutic incubation and even as a dining room (Ashby 36).
At the thymele’s center, there was a hole that opened into the building’s underneath labyrinthine structure. This was interpreted to be a pit for the blood offerings and libations that were poured into it from the cellar: a central room based above the building. As much as a number of these imaginations may have attracted popular imaginations, even appear in guidelines, and hand books on Greek religion and architecture they all are averse with challenges (Barker 125).
Functions and Form
Architectural form is not the only element of its functions; rather, it has the semantic capacity and value to change the experience of people who engage it associatively, spatially, emotionally, metaphysically and psychologically. In this perspective of an ancient Greek building’s form, the combined decorative and structural elements that make up its physical composition has a deep meaning. However, it is not clear what the circular thymele form could connote.
There is a long Greek tradition that connects circularity to performance in ancient Greek. As much as the old notion opines that the circular dancing floor was the origin of the circular Greek dancing style, it is visible that circular performance and spaces were joined firmly in the ancient Greek society (Alcock 450).
How It was Built
The thymele’s architectural design is a beautiful balanced typical Greek temple. It was built to have an externally restrained and spotless limbed configuration. The actual genius of this architecture and one that has had great accomplishments is the delicate and sparing use of ornate decoration. The indication that decoration was employed in building this massive structure can be observed from the exterior. Above the architrave, the constructors placed floral decorations that were divided by lion headwater spouts. Between them, they placed fiery antefix. At the rooftop, they placed the ornate acroterion in a manner that left it positioning into the sky (Ashby 37).
The interior was the most decorated part. One has to peep through the centre chamber in order to have a clear view of these decorations. Through the center chamber, one is able to perceive the exterior wall and the metaphorical Corinthian columns. The architectures ensured that through this view, one had a magnificent artistic tour de force of their sculptural art. The entire building had 42 sections that accomplished 360 degrees. Each of the 42 sections displayed the shape of dart borders and an egg; the inner sections were recessed in nature with centralized flowers that were surrounded by leaves. Finally, on every side of the 42 rooms there was a recessed framework of stems and flowers (Barker 126).
One of the features that make the thymele a mysterious and fascinating building is its very uncharacteristic basement. The designers filled this cavity with three consecutive radiuses. The fundamental reason as to why this is out of the ordinary is the fact that in the entire history of the Greek ancient architecture, no comparable foundation has been witnessed. The structure is extremely unique. The building is perfectly circular with a mystery surrounding its underground chambers.
In the thymele, some of the marks inscribed on the foundation of the building contained seven characters that were accounted for inside the building. The marks in certain cases are speculatively identified. They had the Greek letters: iota, gamma, pi, delta, lambda, and epsilon. That the characters were found to be seven in number, is incredible because there were seven notes accustomed to a certain musical instrument used in the ancient Greek. Apollo’s lyre also contained seven strings. It is therefore believed by scholars that the seven marks found on the thymele’s foundation were evidence of a musical system inherent in the thymele (Alcock 451).
The design of the building point to the fact that it was used for musical performance; at its primary level the enclosed building, especially the circular shaped thymele amplifies sound naturally. Apart from that, there is a hole at the center of the thymele’s cella floor. The entire space over the thymele’s maze like structure is hollow apart from its concentric walls. The infrastructure’s hollow space in combination with the cella’s hollow must have functioned as the guitar or drum (Ashby 40).
Marble was initially used as the major construction material for the thymele. However, with time, the concrete that was used in building the thymele replaced marble as the key building material and this was implemented in the subsequent stages of building the thymele. Stronger pillars were used to support domes and wide Arches that were used in constructing the thymele. This was in contrast to the traditional ancient Greek architectural designs that specialized in the use of impenetrable lines of columns that suspended flat architraves. The architectures had the freedom to use concrete through which they were inspired to come up with colonnade screens. This was essentially a row of absolutely decorative columns that were placed at the entrance of the building. They were also erected at the front of a load-bearing wall. In the thymele, the strength of the concrete freed the thymele’s floor plan by the architectures to a largely free flowing environment (Barker 140).
The thymele architectures perfected the use of concrete by placing it in areas of the building where it could stand on its own while supporting a lot of weight. The concrete used on the thymele building was stronger than any other used concrete in the past since it was a mixture of stones, limewater, sand, pozolana water, and stone rubble. The thymele constructors erected these frames in wooden frames and ensured they hardened before bonding them to a facing of stones. As soon as the stones were removed, the thymele wall was found to be very strong albeit with a rough surface of stones or even bricks. This surface subsequently received smoothening treatments and faced with colored stones referred to as revetment or thin marble panels (Alcock 453).
The equipments used to build the thymele include the otiose shovel model, the Allis Chalmers crawler tractor, the Russell road drug, the murex road pump, the galleon pull grader, the form grader, and the gauge crawler (Ashby 45).
Labor force was largely obtained from the entire community and the chosen laborers were committed to this job because it was part of their spiritual life. They worked in shifts during the day and night to ensure that they completed it in time. The building was built in at least 27 years and was completed around 1726. When construction began, the thymele was referred to the inside of the Corinthian hall. However, twenty six years later, the term referred to the thymele floors pavers. The reason for referring to the floor as a thymele stems from the fact that it was the center of song and dance (Barker 142).
The thymele’s concentrated corridors have mysterious marks, which indicate a function that was closely related to music. These marks were spotted on the euthenteria, which is the lowest course of the thymele’s foundations. They were initially believed to be contractors’ initials. In normal masonry practices, these kinds of letters were used to dispense every block to distinct production workshops, or to show the blocks position in any masonry work. Eunikos a contractor, who stemmed from Epidauros, is the only contractor that can be accounted for in the construction of the thymele. In this case, if one of those marks stood for one contractor, it is likely that there was only one mason’s mark. However, this cannot be practical since it would have been very laborious. The thymele was well above the buildings that surrounded it when it came to labor, complexity, and costs. The quality and variety of material used to build it were not matched in the entire fourth Greek sanctuaries (Alcock 460).
The term thymele was related to the Dionysus alter in the Greek theaters orchestra. This association made scholars to believe that the thymele was a platform that housed an alter on earth. There is no clear assertion that the term ‘thymele’ had anything to do with an alter. However, there is a clue that the term thymele came to enshrine alters in orchestras. Since some scholars contend that thymele means foundation, it could represent be a foundation for alters, houses, or theaters. However, archeological findings show that there were thymele competitions, which had a strong inclination to music festivals (Ashby 55).
How It Can Be Rebuilt Today
If the thymele has to be rebuilt in its 3D format as it hitherto was characterized, architectural teams have to work with the best available references supplied by archeological teams. In order to come up with the best possible acoustic effects, it is advisable that today’s architectures should mark off a horizontal area in the middle of the thymele’s height. At this point, thirteen chambers must be domed at 12 equivalent intervals. In each niche, a bronze jar should be placed on a small platform facing upside down. Some jars should be propped up on wages in order to collect sound from the theatres stage (Barker 200).
In rebuilding the thymele today, architects must first know what the circular form of the building meant. There is an old notion that the ancient Greek theater circular orchestra originated in the circular dancing floor. It has also been confirmed that circular performance and spaces were joined determinedly in the ancient Greek societies. Whenever a group of children step back and clap their hands, they do not come up with a square shape. Today’s architects must put a fundamental item that connects circles to group performance and this in mind in any attempt to rebuild the thymele. The ancient Greek architectures and designers never lost this vital idea and their contemporary counterparts should not lose it. The idea is the many circular shapes of the ancient Greek theaters (Alcock 463).
Even though scholars have delinked dancing floors from the beginning of the circular orchestra of the ancient Greek theaters, these circular singing and dancing spaces are still vital in this particular context. The term synonymous to dancing space in ancient Greek has several connotations. It could signify a troop of dancers or the dancing act itself. The fact that actors, space, and acting are very closely related is very critical. Archeologically, circular dancing floors are very common in the ancient Greek world. The close link between circles and performance can therefore be traced back to prehistory (Ashby 56).
Today, architects should also put in mind that the threshing floor is closely associated with the dancing floor. Most scholars felt that the thymele’s theater round orchestra stemmed from the threshing floor’s circular shape. Here, the grapes and grains harvest were accompanied by celebration in dances and songs. This account is somehow logical since agriculture was linked to the early dithyramb. The circles had a crucial performance function. The threshing floors were amongst the most outstanding public joints and the major outstanding circular areas in the ancient Greek culture (Barker 214).
In the recent past, the relationship between performance and circularity in Greek culture has been given a new face. Some scholars have emphasized on the long-lasting interest in the Greek culture on geometry and its shapes on the link between these shapes to physical harmony and psychic. The Pythagoreans for instance to whom the sphere and the circle were the most beautiful figures, evaluated the relationship between soul, music, the body’s health, and mathematics. There is logic by which they perceived circularity, space, and music to be absolutely interdependent.
In the early fourth century, the Archytas in Pythagorean defined music, astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic as sister studies. Music played a critical role in the entire ancient Greek world. For instance, at Delphi, Apollo established a tradition for music performance upon completing the construction of his temple. The Pythian games, which were celebrated in Delphi after every four years, included music in their festivities. Music was very actually central to worship in Delphi that it was integrated in both its tangible and visual landscape (Barker 236).
There is no one account that can perfectly elucidate the various performances that took place within and without the Epidauros thymele. However, a wide range of likely performances seems to have been taking place. This may have happened in the festival days when the sanctuary was full of worshippers. Despite the fact that there are many mysteries surrounding exactly what took place in the thymele, it still stood out as an exceptional architectural structure of its age and time that has and continues to baffle many scholars and analysts.
Alcock, S. “Tomb Cult and the Post-Classical Polis.” American Journal of Archaeology 95: (2009): 447-67. Print.
Ashby, C. Classical Greek Theatre: New Views on an Old Subject. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press. (2010): 34-56. Print.
Barker, A. The Science of Harmonics in Classical Greece. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2007): 123-234. Print
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