Temple of Olympian Zeus

<Location> Athens, Attica, Greece

The Temple of Olympian Zeus is the largest of the ancient temples now stand in Greece. In this site, there are the temple, Roman bath, part of the wall of Themistokles, and just outside is the arch of the Hadrian.

The Zeus cult in this place is quite old, and a Doric temple between 590 and 560 BCE was found underneath the present temple.

It was the dynasty of Peisistratos who started the construction of a huge temple, and it was around 520 BCE. The new temple was double in size of the old one, and double colonnade was adopted. It was evidently inspired by the other gigantic temples in Ephesos, Samos and Didyma near Miletos, but while these were Ionic, the Athenian temple was Doric. The work was interrupted by the collapse of the tyranny (510 BCE), and part of the building material was used in the fortification of Themistokles at the beginning of the fifth century BCE.

The work restarted in the classical period, and the clepidoma (temple base) and sekos (temple structure behind the colonnade) belong to the fifth and fourth century.

Antiochus IV the Epiphanes, king of the Seleucid Syria (175-164 BCE), decided to construct a new temple using the same base, and Roman architect, Decimus Cossutius was hired. The temple of Antiochus had the same plan as the temple of the Peisistratids, but while the latter was Doric and made of Poros stones, the former was Corinthian and made of Pentelikon marble. When the king died, the temple was not yet completed, but must have been close, as all but one extant columns belong to this period.

The temple was about 110 long, 43 wide. There are 3 rows of 8 columns in front and behind, and 2 rows of 20 columns on both sides; the number of the columns was 104 in sum. The height of the façade was calculated to be about 27.4 metres.

Augustus and his client-kings continued the work, and the one extant column seems to belong to this period.

The work was terminated by the emperor Hadrian, and the temple was dedicated in the winter of 131. It became also the centre of the imperial cult in Athens, as an altar to the emperor was installed.

According to a recent research, the parts made in the imperial period were only the precinct, surrounding wall, gate way and the chryselephantine statue of Zeus. This means that the temple in itself is almost completely Hellenistic. The name "Olympian Zeus" came from the chryselephantine cult statue of Zeus made by Hadrian was a copy of the statue of Zeus in Olympia.