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The Architecture of the Lost Temple of Hercules Gaditanus and Its Levantine Associations

The Architecture of the Lost Temple of Hercules Gaditanus and Its Levantine Associations


The Temple of Hercules-Gaditanus or Melkart-Herakles, built perhaps in the eighth century B.C.E. outside the confines of the Phoenician city of Gadir on the southern coast of Spain, was, even during the Roman period, one of the most important sanctuaries in the western provinces. The temple was the treasure of Gadir, the most important Phoenician city on the Iberian peninsula and one of the most significant sites in the far western Mediterranean. As such, it must have served as the model for other Phoenician temples and for native architectural experiments during the centuries after its establishment. Its significance is affirmed in the writings of several Romanperiod authors whose works span from the first century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. Nothing of the sanctuary survives, and even its location is debated. Only the Roman authors provide some glimpse of the architectural form of the temple itself. Since it began as a Phoenician sanctuary dedicated to Melkart and never lost its Semitic associations, it is a major monument for understanding the nature of Levantine architectural forms and influences in the far western Mediterranean. Though twentieth-century scholars have referred to the temple, only Antonio García y Bellido attempted a thorough investigation by considering the sources and their possible associations with the archaeological findings from the Levantine region. His work was limited by the archaeological material available to him in 1963, and he concluded that the temple must have closely resembled that which Solomon built in Jerusalem, another structure known only from later literary sources. Forty years of archaeological investigations in the Levant have increased our knowledge of the possible sources on which the Temple of Melkart could have been based. It is also clear that the temple of Solomon could not have been one of them. The sanctuary must have begun as a small shrine, probably similar to the Phoenician shrine discovered at Kommos on southern Crete. As the city of Gadir developed, the sanctuary may well have been embellished and could have begun to assume an aspect more like that of the Phoenician Temple of Astarte at Kition. Later Arabic sources, which describe the ruined temple, refer to a tower in association with it. In its final form the temple may well have come to have a raised central unit, part of a tripartite holy of holies. It was in these various manifestations that the temple provided models for builders of temples and sanctuaries elsewhere in the far western Mediterranean world.

The Architecture of the Lost Temple of Hercules Gaditanus and Its Levantine Associations

By William Edwin Mierse

American Journal of Archaeology Vol. 108, No. 4 (October 2004), pp. 545–575

DOI: 10.3764/aja.108.4.545

© 2004 Archaeological Institute of America