LivingTravelThe Temple of Olympian Zeus: The Complete Guide

The Temple of Olympian Zeus: The Complete Guide

The Temple of Olympian Zeus took almost 650 years to build. It dominates a huge archaeological site below the Acropolis in central Athens and was once the largest temple in the ancient world. But originally it was not intended to honor Olympian Zeus at all. And it’s not actually even Greek.

The site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, known as the Olympeion, is a 15-acre archaeological park just southeast of the Acropolis. At the height of its glory, which only lasted around 100 years, the massive temple at its center was made up of 104 marble columns, standing over 56 feet tall. The columns, topped with elaborately carved Corinthian capitals, were 5.57 feet in diameter and 17.51 ​​feet each. The fluted columns each had 20 flutes and were arranged in double rows of 20 each along the length and triple rows of eight each along the ends.

Viewed another way, the temple was 362 feet long and 143.3 feet wide. Inside it housed two equally massive statues: an ivory and gold sculpture of Zeus and another of the Roman Emperor Hadrian who considered himself a god.

If you visit the site today, you will have to work your imagination overtime to imagine this immense temple. All that remains of what had been the largest temple in Greece (and possibly the largest in the world at the time) are 16 massive marble columns, 15 standing and one blown over by the winds in the late 19th century.

Other highlights to see

The site was originally bordered by the Ilissos River (now mainly transported in underground conduits), shrines dedicated to a variety of titans, gods, and nymphs, known as the Parilissia Shrines, bordering the banks of the river turning the entire area into a religious center. wooded on the outskirts of town

Over the centuries, the Olympeion was also the site of Roman baths, classical houses, a 5th-century basilica, and part of the city walls. The ruins of some of this can be seen on the site or just off the site.

Today, the boundary of the temple platform site is one of the rare quiet corners of Athens. Stroll among the foundations of the first shrines and shrines, surrounded by natural, relatively neglected shrubs and trees, to get a sense of what this sacred riverside area must have looked like thousands of years ago. Located around the edges and north of the main platform, look for the following:

  • The Doric Temple of Apollo Delphinios
  • The Delphinion Court, a spacious courtyard and the outline of the rooms dating back to 500 BC. This court was where the Athenians tried murders that they considered “just.”
  • The gates of the Themistoclean Wall, named for an Athenian statesman and built to defend against the Persians at war in the 5th century BC. C.
  • Hadrian’s Arch, a monumental double arch, nearly 60 feet high, dedicated to Hadrian and Theseus, the mythical hero and founder of Athens. The arch is just outside the walls of the temple precinct in the northwest corner of the site.

Take the path through the trees along the eastern edge of the temple site to find the riparian area and sacred groves. Among the trees, fallen stones and foundations include:

  • A small temple dedicated to Kronos and Rhea, Greek titans who were gods in their creation story and parents of Zeus.
  • A rocky slope dedicated to Gaia or Earth.
  • The remains of some of the Parilissia sanctuaries, so named because they were next to the Ilissos River. Here the ancient Athenians came to contemplate and worship the gods of the river and perhaps offer sacrifices to the gods of the underworld.
  • At the extreme southwest of the site, look for the Church of Aghia Fotini. Almost hidden behind him, in deep shadow and shrouded in subtropical plants, there is a vertical rock face where you can make out an image of Pan. You may even, inadvertently, stumble upon a small stretch of the Ilissos that still flows.

Things to know

  • How to find it in Athens: Guides like to say that you cannot miss this monument because it is right in the middle of Athens. That may be true, but so are several parks surrounding impressive ruins. Head to the main entrance in Leof. Vasilissis Olgas on the north side of the site. There is a small parking area and a path between the Athens Tennis Club and the entrance and ticket office of the site. It is about 200 meters from the tourist bus stop near Hadrian’s Gate in Leof. Andrea Siggrou, on the west side of the park. Don’t bother looking for a path anywhere else on the site, as it is fenced off or walled on all sides.
  • Hours: every day from 8 am to 3 pm from October to April, and from 8 am to 8 pm from May to September. Closed on January 1, March 25, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day (December 26).
  • Tickets: Full price tickets cost € 6. If you plan to visit various monuments and museums in Athens, it is probably worth investing in the Special Ticket Package for € 30. It’s good for five days and includes the Acropolis, the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Agora, the north and south slopes of the Acropolis, and various other sites around Athens.
  • Tip: Wear a hat and bring a bottle of water as the only shade is around the edges of the site, away from the ruins.

History of the Temple of Olympian Zeus

Look from the Temple of Olympian Zeus to the Parthenon, dedicated to Athena, high above him on the Acropolis and you will quickly realize that Athens was a city where Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, didn’t really rate much. . For that reason, the temple, when it was started, was simply dedicated to Zeus without the “Olympian nickname.” This is probably also why it took several tries, and almost 650 years to finish.

Built on a site that had been a place of worship and sacrifice for the gods of the underworld and later an open-air sanctuary for Zeus, the temple was started by an Athenian tyrant, Peisistratus, around 550 BC. The objective was to build it in sandstone with relatively simple Doric columns. When the tyrant died, around 527 BC. C., the project was abandoned and demolished.

It was taken up again by his son Hippias, also a tyrant, who planned something bigger and much more elaborate. But when he was overthrown and expelled from Athens in 510 BC. C., the construction project was again abandoned. It remained practically intact for the next 300 years.

As an interesting cultural aside, it seems that the Athenians were not enthusiastic about building grandiose monuments. Aristotle himself cited it as a tyrant’s tactic to involve people in big projects without leaving them time, energy, or funds to rebel.

The temple was briefly occupied hundreds of years later by King Antiochus IV, a Hellenic Greek who was a Roman puppet and, incidentally, the main villain in Jewish Hanukkah history.

Eventually the Romans were left to finish the job. Emperor Hadrian completed the temple, now in marble with intricate Corinthian capitals, adding “Olympian” to the title of Zeus, in 125 A, D (he liked to build very big things; consider Hadrian’s Wall, the wall he built from coast to coast. coastline across northern England.) It was the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest religious statues in the world.

It just didn’t last long. In 100 years, the barbarians invaded, looting the ivory and gold statue and wreaking havoc everywhere. It was never repaired and the ruins were used to build materials around the city.

What to see nearby

Within walking distance you can also visit:

  • The Acropolis: a little over a mile on foot
  • The Acropolis Museum: about 800 meters, or 10 minutes on foot.
  • Monastiraki flea market: one mile away
  • Syntagma Square: the governmental, ceremonial and tourist center of Athens
  • The Plaka – Almost across the street, heading west from Hadrian’s Arch

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