Oratory of Phalaris

Valley of the Temples- Upper Agora

The building now known as the Oratory of Phalaris was erected between the end of 1st century. B. C. and the beginning of the 1st century B.C. when the ekklesiasterion of classical times was completely covered with earth.

The archaeological literature, on this construction, has given various explanations over time: it is thought that it was a tomb of an important Roman family or even a heroon. According to the interpretation that is currently considered the most reliable, it is a small religious building (about 13 by 9m) placed on top of a podium resting on few steps.

The “Oratory of Phalaris” must have had, according to a common use of the Hellenistic age, a mixture of different architectural styles: prostyle, tetrastyle with Ionic columns that supported a Doric entablature with alternating triglyphs and metopes. The small cella, (about 6 x 5,30m), is the only part of the building which has come down to us thanks to its re-use in Norman times as a chapel linked to the nearby monastery spread all over Poggio San Nicola. Clearly, the Christian use has left some traces, still visible today: the enlargement of the cella door which was given an arched pointed shape, the presence of an ogival vault and the addition of an apse on the eastern side.

The apse is no longer visible but is clearly depicted by the late eighteenth century travelers. We don’t know when it was removed, but it already no longer appears in nineteenth century paintings. Regarding the reason that led to this decision one can only guess it was an attempt made by the Bourbons to restore the old appearance on the ‘impetus, of the neoclassical revival.

Text © Copyright Corrado Capraro