Also known as the Olympieion, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was a Greco-Roman creation placed at the center of Athens. The temple was positioned southeast of the Acropolis. In this article, you will learn more about this temple and what is still left for tourists to see.
The construction for the temple started in the 6th century BC and was not finished until the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. At that time, it was considered the largest temple in Greece.
The tyrant Pisistratus was responsible for the laying down the foundation of the temple in 515 BC. The work was intended for an earlier temple, but the idea was abandoned after Pisistratus’s son, Hippias, was overthrown in 510 BC. The following years of Greek democracy saw the temple ignored and unfinished because the new line of Greeks believed large temples were not needed during the classical period. Aristotle made a statement that associated the temple with tyranny.
In the 3rd century BC, work continued on the temple during the period of Macedonian domination of Greece , thanks to the Hellenistic king Antiochus IV of Syria. He hired a Roman architect to design the largest temple in the known world. The death of Antoichus in 164 BC once again delayed the process of the construction.
In 86 BC, the general Sulla extracted two columns from the unfinished temple and brought them to Rome after Greek cities became part of the country’s rule. He used the columns to decorate the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. It was these columns that became an influence on the advancement of the Corinthian style of architecture in Rome. Hadrian liked Greek culture a great deal and during the 2nd century AD, the temple caught his attention. He ordered the completion of the structure in 129 or 131.
An earthquake most likely destroyed the temple during the medieval period. The remaining material was most likely disassembled to create other structures.
The first excavation of the temple took place between 1889 and 1896 when Francis Penrose of the British School in Athens became involved in the restoration of the Parthenon. More work was completed in 1922 by a German archaeologist named Gabriel Welter. During the 1960s, Greek archaeologists worked on the temple as well. Nowadays, people come to view the surrounding ruins of other ancient attractions.
From the Acropolis, the ruins of the Temple of the Olympian Zeus are in clear view. Floodlights illuminate the attraction at night. In its original state of fine marble, the temple measured 96 meters long and 40 meters wide. In the cella, Hadrian had erected a huge status of Zeus made out of gold and ivory. One of an equally large size of the ruler was placed next to Zeus. To the day, these features are no longer in existence. The details of the interior of the temple are also long gone.