Apollon Smintheion, also known as the Temple of Apollo Smintheus, is an ancient sanctuary located in northwestern Turkey, near the modern town of Gülpınar. This remarkable archaeological site holds great historical and cultural significance, particularly due to its connection with the ancient Greek poet Homer.
The sanctuary of Apollon Smintheion is situated on the slopes of Mount Ida, overlooking the Aegean Sea. The site was originally a natural cave where the locals worshipped Apollo as the god of light, music, and prophecy. In the 7th century BCE, the cave was transformed into a sanctuary, and a temple was built to honor Apollo, the patron deity of the site. The temple was later enlarged and refurbished during the Hellenistic and Roman periods.
According to Homer’s Iliad, Apollo was an important deity in the Trojan War, and he was worshipped by both the Trojans and the Greeks. In Book 1 of the Iliad, Apollo is described as the “far-darter” and the “son of Zeus,” who shoots arrows of plague into the Greek camp as revenge for the dishonor of his priest Chryses. In Book 6 of the Iliad, Apollo appears to Hector, the Trojan prince, and encourages him to fight against the Greeks.
The sanctuary of Apollon Smintheion is also mentioned in several other ancient texts, including the works of Strabo, Pausanias, and Pliny the Elder. These authors describe the site as a place of great religious significance, where Apollo was worshipped as the god of prophecy, healing, and music.
The sanctuary of Apollon Smintheion was dedicated to the worship of Apollo Smintheus, an epithet of the Greek god Apollo, who was associated with mice and rats. The name “Smintheus” is derived from the Greek word “sminthos,” meaning “mouse.” The temple was constructed to honor Apollo in his role as the protector against a plague of mice that once plagued the region.
According to ancient Greek mythology and tradition, the origins of Apollon Smintheion can be traced back to the time of the Trojan War, around the 12th or 13th century BCE. It is believed that during the war, a severe epidemic broke out among the Greek forces, which was attributed to Apollo’s anger. In order to appease the god and seek his assistance, the Greek hero Achilles organized a procession and established the sanctuary of Apollo Smintheus. The temple was intended to serve as a place of worship and supplication to Apollo for protection against diseases and pests, particularly mice.
One of the most remarkable features of the sanctuary of Apollon Smintheion is the Temple of Apollo itself. The temple was built on a platform, and its main entrance faced east, towards the rising sun. The temple was constructed in the Ionic order and had six columns on the front and back, and eleven on the sides. The temple was adorned with intricate reliefs and sculptures, including depictions of Apollo, Artemis, and various other gods and goddesses.
The sanctuary of Apollon Smintheion was also home to a large altar, where animal sacrifices were offered to Apollo. The altar was located in front of the temple, and it was surrounded by a colonnade. The sanctuary also had a theater, a stadium, and several other buildings and structures, including a library, a gymnasium, and a bathhouse.
During the Hellenistic period, the sanctuary of Apollon Smintheion became an important center for the worship of the deified king Lysimachus, who ruled the region in the 3rd century BCE. Lysimachus was believed to be the son of Apollo, and he was worshipped alongside the god at the sanctuary. The cult of Lysimachus continued until the Roman period, when the sanctuary became a center for the worship of the emperor Augustus.
Today, the sanctuary of Apollon Smintheion is a popular tourist destination in Turkey, and it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site has been extensively excavated and restored over the years, and many of its ancient buildings and structures have been reconstructed. Visitors to the site can explore the ruins of the temple, the altar, the theater, and other buildings, and learn about the rich history of the sanctuary and its importance in the ancient world.