Temple architecture

Archaeologists claim to have discovered famous lost temple of Hercules

Spanish researchers report having located the lost temple of Hercules Gaditanus, considered one of the “Holy Grail” of archeology. The massive structure is believed to be near the Atlantic port city of Cadiz in southwestern Spain.

The temple is important not only for its religious significance, but also as a place of architectural development and experimentation which has created a model for temples and similar shrines for centuries. The temple is perhaps where the tripartite structure of central rings with a holy of holies inside was developed.

According to ancient sources, the Temple of Hercules was a major place of pilgrimage in ancient times for the Greeks and Romans, attracting visitors such as Emperor Julius Caesar and Carthaginian General Hannibal. Caesar is said to have cried in the temple when he feared that the works of his life would never equal those of his hero, Alexander the Great. General Scipio the African worshiped at the temple before destroying Carthage after Hannibal’s famous assault on Italy with elephants crossing the Alps.

Hercules was the son of the supreme Olympian deity Zeus and the mortal Alcmene. The Romans adopted the iconography and stories of the Greeks into their own art and literature. It is famous for its 12 works and its subsequent apotheosis, including its representation in a constellation. He was widely revered by the Greeks and Romans and continues to be revered by many pagan religions.

Hercules became a common figure in Renaissance and post-Renaissance art and continues to influence even works of the 20th century, such as those of Jeff Koons and Robert Mapplethorpe.

Hercules and the Hydra (circa 1475) by Antonio del Pollaiuolo [Public Domain]

The Temple of Hercules Gaditanus, also known as the Temple of Melkart-Herakles, was built as early as the 8th century BC. Peninsula. The city was on the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the precise location of the city and the temple has been lost in time.

The temple shrine probably started out as a small shrine and grew in importance over time as the city of Gadir grew. However, the importance of the temple and its location have been attested to by Roman authors whose work spans from the first century BCE to the fifth century CE. Arab sources later described a ruined tower and temple structure.

Previous research has focused on the temple site as the Levant, but four decades of previous research essentially excluded the region. However, Ricardo Belizón Aragón, a Ph.D. student at the University of Seville, used terrain modeling software and identified traces of a monumental structure in the bay of Cadiz in Andalusia, Spain, between the towns from Chiclana de Frontera and San Fernando. The structure was found in a shallow channel in the bay called Caño de Sancti Petri. The area includes a salt marsh.

Belizón Aragón’s hypothesis on the structure of the temple is now supported by researchers at his university and the Andalusian Institute of Historical Heritage. He first set out to investigate the ancient coastal geography of Cadiz. He used light sensing and ranging (LiDAR) readings to identify changes in sedimentary structures on ancient coasts. He said their “goal was to retrace the paleoscape 3,000 years ago in an area that was very exposed to the oscillations of the sea.”

The scans, however, showed something else: a large rectangular structure. His doctoral research immediately took a drastic turn. He and other researchers have suggested that the temple might be the famous Hercules.

Francisco José García, director of the Department of Prehistory and Archeology at the University of Seville, said when presenting the results at the Center for Underwater Archeology in Cadiz in December: “We researchers are very reluctant to make archeology a spectacle, but in this case we are faced with spectacular discoveries. They are of great importance.

The researchers noted that the LiDAR data “revealed the existence in Antiquity of an environment totally different from that assumed until now: a new coastal landscape and a coastline heavily anthropized since Antiquity, with the presence of possible breakwaters, large buildings and even a possible closed quay port.

LiDAR scans of the Cadiz site revealed a rectangular structure that matches the descriptions of the ancient temple. [University of Seville]

The researchers noted that the structure “may have a correlation with the information that ancient authors such as Strabo, Silio Italic or Philostratus provide on the sanctuary of Melqart and Hercules”, and added that it “needs to be studied in depth to reconstruct the history of the area and determine the chronology, typology and uses of each of the structures detected.

However, not everyone is convinced that the new findings identify the Temple of Hercules. Some experts are skeptical. They say the location of the temple is more likely elsewhere. One of them is Antonio Monterroso-Checa, an archaeologist whose 2020 study concluded that the temple is most likely located near San Fernando on the Hill of the Martyrs. The site is also in Cadiz. He called the current findings “a triangulation error. “

Seville investigators said research would continue at the site. More work is needed and local conditions create challenges, including murky water and poor visibility.

The researchers say they will continue their investigation nonetheless. “Future research will focus on conducting archaeological studies (land and underwater), specific documentary and geoarchaeological studies and paleoenvironmental sampling,” they said. “All this aimed, in an interdisciplinary manner, to promote knowledge of our past, and to protect and enhance certain exceptional archaeological remains that allow Andalusian society to know and enjoy a singularly remarkable aspect of its history. history, and that this can have a positive impact on the economic and social development of Andalusia.