Taking a Guided Tour of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, AthensRoman Temples | March 31, 2010
Located in the heart of Athens towards the southeast of the Acropolis, the Temple of Olympian Zeus is a Greco-Roman temple also known as the Olympieion. Its construction period ranged from 6th century B.C. until the 2nd century A.D, after which it was regarded as the largest temple in Greece.
Interestingly, I was on a guided tour to this temple when I visited Athens. The guide first told us about its delayed construction by narrating the following brief.
With the construction work of the Temple of Olympian Zeus that started in the 6th century by Peisistratos, decreasing wealth and dethrone of the Pisistratus’s son, Hippias 510 B.C was enough to stop it. It took some 700 years to complete the work that happened during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in 131 AD. The main reason behind this delay was that the Classical Greeks who inhabited in between were of the opinion that it really quite vast and it represented the egotism to be equal to the Gods. However, in the 2nd century B.C during the reign of Macedonians, the left work was started again by Antiochus the IV of Syria who had an aim to have the largest temple on the planet. Alas! Even he died leaving his dream unfulfilled.
Exploring the Temple
Once this temple was the home of 104 Corinthian columns of 17 m high that were made from the Pentelic marble. But today, only 15 of them can be seen. Certainly, you can imagine the expanse of the temple complex from only its columns. The guide told us that some two columns during its construction were taken away to Rome for the Temple of Jupiter by the Roman General Sulla in 86 B.C.
Close to the temple is the Arch of Hadrian built in 132 A.D. to commemorate the Emperor Hadrian soon after the building work of the Temple of Olympian Zeus was over. It is an arched doorway at the northwest corner of the complex that acted as a gate amid the ancient Athens and the Roman Athens. Made from the Pentelic marble, it has two inscriptions. At the side looking towards the Acropolis (west) says, “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus”, whereas on the contrary, the other facing the complex says, “This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus”.
The guide then told us that the emperor had built a massive gold and ivory statue of Zeus along with his own within the temple, but now have disappeared. All thanks to the loot of the big egoists and selfish people to did not honor the temple and took all its treasures to build their own buildings. And nevertheless, the natural calamities have never shown its mercy even to the sacred places too. He said, some people say that the Temple of Olympian Zeus was buried down due to an earthquake, but no one knows the real reason for its turning into ruins.
He then spoke about the dwelling of the ascetics who used to live for many days on the pillars’ and columns’ atop in 1880s. They were known as stylite, the term that is derived from the Greek stylos for column. All this is evident from the early paintings and drawings.