Pagan temple torched by Christian fanatics

One of the most significant rock temples of the Roman era, dedicated to Apollo, the nymphs and Pan, was found at the beautiful site of the Black Rock. Some 2.5 kilometers from Sidirokastro, close to the Krousoviti River, a 3-meter stairway carved into a tall limestone rock leads to the main niche of the ancient temple. Parts of the puzzle of the rites that were performed in the temple (2nd-4th century AD) can be pieced together from the fragments left behind by the fanatical Christians who destroyed the temple in the 4th century. «The destructive mania is obvious. First they removed the statues from the niches, then they cut them to pieces and threw them to the ground in their attempt to rid the area of pagan rites. Then they set fire to the site, as can be seen by the layer of destruction that the dig uncovered,» says Peristeri. However, parts of statues survived, including a headless statue of Pan, the god of shepherds, with a human torso and goat’s legs; a headless statue of Apollo; heads; feet; a thigh; and torso pieces. There were coins, including ones depicting Marcus Aurelius (2nd century AD) and Constantine I (4th century AD), as well as much unglazed pottery with definite signs of incineration (animal bones and metal daggers), which are evidence of religious rituals held outdoors. Peristeri explains that more evidence of the construction of temples dedicated to Apollo and Artemis in the 2nd century (AD 156) comes from an inscribed marble plaque found in Sidirokastro in 1964. It had been used to cover a grave. She argues that the abundance of broken statues of females – one probably of Artemis – that were found with other portable objects, and combined with the beautiful location (with water welling up under dense vegetation), show that «the god Apollo, the nymphs, and Pan, the god of caves and woods, were worshipped on this site for two centuries until the arrival of fanatical Christians silenced the pipe of Pan forever.»