We started to explore the meaning of sacred space and the importance to mark borders and significant geographical areas by placing small sacred peaks (read more here). A question can be rise: why not building a temple or erect an altar, instead of placing a pile of stones in a spiritually significant area. Greeks indeed erected altars in geographical spots that considered being important and divine representative. Today we will start talking on how the ancient Greeks constructed their temples and altars.

Starting up with the writing, it would be helpful to take an example as Jon Mikalson did in his latest material entitled, Ancient Greek Religion (2005), - an extensive review will be available in the forthcoming second volume of the Journal of Hellenic Religion. However, I will not follow ‘word by word’ that example and I will not use a history of known altar to presenting this Greek religious practice, as Mikalson did for the Temple of Poseidon at Sounion (read chapter here in pdf). On the contrary, I will try with plenty of imagination to recreate a lost cult of Zeus Parnethios (of the Mt. Parnes north-west of AtticaStrabo, IX, 2, 11).

First let us define the meaning of the sacred space. What is a sacred space and where we can find it.?

A sacred space according to Paul Wheatley (2001) on his review of the Sacred Space: Shrine, City, Land (ed. Kedar, B.Z., and Werblowsky, R.J.Z., 1998), “is perceived as such when it is linked directly to divinity, which means in effect when it is the, often awe-inspiring, locality where a deity, or something an adjuvant of a deity, is believed to reside, is reliably attested to have manifested himself or herself or is otherwise held to have intervened in terrestrial affairs.”

The above definition can introduce to us the main concept of a sacred space and also explains how a sacred area was selected. Normally, Gods and Goddesses (including heroes and minor deities) with temples and cults allocated outside of the city-state had positioned in Their sacred area. A sacred area which had records of supernatural elements close connected with a god. However, a sacred space was not only defined by terrestrial events, but also by the socio-economic element. We find always an altar and temples at the Agora (Forum) combined even within the public buildings. We can observe that every residence, regardless, of whether is new or old, had its own altar of Zeus Herkios. Polignac (1984) defines these non-rural sanctuaries as possessions of liminal / threshold Gods and Goddesses. Therefore, sacred space was also related with the ‘land’, the city and the people and not just with the ‘site’ or better articulated by Shiner’s terms “lived space” (1972).

Let us consider the case of been an ancient Greek farmer. We are leaving in a small agricultural settlement on the Mt. Parnes (of about 1480 meters). The need of our settlement’s religious praxis and the great atmosphere as well as the spatial importance of our area, force us to take the decision to erect an altar to Zeus Parmenios. Thus, the first question is where to place the altar, near or far from the settlement, at the top or low level of the mountain?

To be continue…