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Work Model of a shrine

Department of Near Eastern Antiquities: Levant

Model of a temple

© 1985 RMN / Pierre et Maurice Chuzeville

Near Eastern Antiquities

Benoit Nicolas

The ancient world had a long tradition of architectural models. This small model of a Cypriot building dates from the 6th century BC. The model, which reflects both Oriental and Egean influences, is of a shrine to the Phenician High Goddess Astarte. It was probably made to watch over the final voyage after death, as it was found in a grave.

An architectural model

This small terracotta model of a building was found by Georges Colonna-Ceccaldi, brother of the French consul in Cyprus, some time between 1866 and 1869, when it became part of the Cypriot collection in the Louvre. Unfortunately, he only gave a very vague account of the discovery. It seems that he found the model alongside another similar piece in a grave in the Idalion necropolis. The building is rectangular but rounded at the corners and has neither a floor nor a roof. A cornice runs round the top of the walls, which are hollowed, but not pierced through, with rows of cupules. Three of the walls have a window, while the fourth has a door and threshold. The door is framed by two small columns with floral capitals that in turn bear a small horizontal canopy. The building is inhabited by three female figures. A winged figurine stands in the doorway, while two female heads can be seen at the windows to the left and right of the door. Given the absence of a precise archeological context, the model has been dated to the 6th century BC on stylistic grounds.

A widespread and ancient tradition

In Cyprus, terracotta models were placed in graves as far back as the Chalcolithic era. The same tradition is found in various parts of the ancient world, from Egypt and the Egean to the Middle East. In Cyprus, from the Chalcolithic to the Geometric periods, the models took the form of large bowls or vessels, made first by hand and later, from the 1st millennium BC onward, thrown on a wheel. These items were designed to resemble buildings, with figurines and architectural details such as doors and windows. During the archaic period, under Cretan influence, the models began to lose their similarity to vessels, becoming more rectangular in shape, although the rounded corners indicate that they were still initially thrown on a potter's wheel. This model dates from this period and is thus based on a Cypriot tradition with Cretan influences. The palm capitals reveal an Oriental influence, common to the Phenicians of the Levant and of Cyprus. The iconographic style of the figurines likewise betrays the Phenician influence.

A shrine to the High Goddess

Most of the architectural models known today are of places of worship. The columns at the doorway to this building are modeled on the great shrine of Astarte in Kition, a Phenician city in Cyprus, which was ornamented with just such columns. The link with the Phenician goddess is also shown by the motif of the women at the window. This theme was widespread in religious iconography. The island's Greek population associated it with the image of Aphrodite Parakyptousa (Aphrodite leaning from the window). The cupules hollowed in the upper part of the shrine's walls represent dovecotes, as doves played a central role in the worship of the goddess. The third figure plays a more marginal role. She is thought to be a siren or a harpy - half-woman, half-bird - accompanying the deceased on his final journey. The model was left in the grave to protect the deceased by calling on the intercession of two deities - the woman at the window, goddess of fertility and rebirth, and the siren, who guided the souls of the deceased to the other world.


Caubet Annie, "Les maquettes architecturales d'Idalion", in Studies presented in memory of Porphyrios Dikaios, Nicosie, 1979.
Caubet Annie, Hermary Antoine, Karageorghis Vasos (sous la dir. de),
Art antique de Chypre au musée du Louvre : du chalcolithique à l'époque romaine, Paris, Éditions de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1992, Athènes, Kapon, 1992, pp. 106-108, n 129.
Caubet Annie, Yon Marguerite, "La tradition des maquettes architecturales de Chypre", in Maquettes architecturales de l'Antiquité : regards croisés (Proche-Orient, Égypte, Bassin égéen et Grèce, du néolithique à l'époque hellénistique), Actes du colloque de Strasbourg, 3-5 décembre 1998, sous la dir. de Béatrice Muller avec Denyse Vaillancourt, Strasbourg, Publications de l'université de Strasbourg II, Paris, E. de Boccard, 2001, coll. "Travaux du Centre de recherche sur le Proche-Orient et la Grèce antiques", 17, pp. 143-160, ill. : couverture, p. 154, fig. 7.
Karageorghis Jacqueline, La Grande Déesse de Chypre et son culte à travers l'iconographie, de l'époque néolithique au VIe siècle av. J.-C., Lyon, Maison de l'Orient, Paris, E. de Boccard, 1977, coll. "Maison de l'Orient méditerranéen ancien", Série archéologique, 4, p. 203.

Technical description

  • Model of a temple

    Cypro-Archaic (6th century BC)


  • Terracotta

  • Acquired by Colonna-Ceccaldi, 1869 , 1869

    N 3294

  • Near Eastern Antiquities

    Sully wing
    Ground floor
    Levant: Cyprus, 9th–1st century BC
    Room 316
    Display case 3: Cyprus in the Archaic II period (late 7th–early 5th century BC)

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