ATHENS: The Temple of Zeus

The erection of this enormous temple was begun by Peisistratos - grandson of the tyrant  Deucalion - in 515 BC on the site of an earlier temple. However, the design and construction of the Temple of Zeus is credited to the architect Libon, with carved metopes and triglyph friezes, topped by pediments filled with sculptures in the Severe Style.

It was also one of the largest Temples of the ancient world, comprising of 20 columns on the sides and three rows of columns at the end. Overall it measured 110 meters long and 44 meters wide

The Temple of Zeus also housed the renowned statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Chryselephantine statue was approximately 13 m (43 ft) high and was made by the sculptor Phidias in his workshop on the site at Olympia. He took about twelve years to complete it.

On his head was a sculpted wreath of olive sprays. In his right hand he held a figure of Nike, the goddess of victory, also made from ivory and gold, and in his left hand, a scepter made with many kinds of metal, with an eagle perched on the top. His sandals were made of gold and so was his robe. His garments were carved with animals and with lilies. The throne was decorated with gold, precious stones, ebony, and ivory. In its day, this statue was the most famous artistic work in the whole of Greece!

The main structure of the building was of a local limestone that was unattractive and of poor quality, and so it was coated with a thin layer of stucco to give it an appearance of marble. All the sculptural decoration on the temple was made of Parian marble, and the roof tiles were of the same Pentelic marble used to build the Parthenon at Athens.

In 426 CE, Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the sanctuary, and earthquakes in 522 and 551 devastated the ruins and left the Temple of Zeus partially buried. The site of the ancient sanctuary, long forgotten under landslides and flood siltation, was identified in 1766. In 1829 a French team partially excavated the Temple of Zeus, taking several fragments of the pediments to the Musée du Louvre. Systematic excavation began in 1875, under the direction the German Archaeological Institute, and has continued, with some interruptions, to the present time.

Of the original 104 columns only 16 managed to survive intact. That was until 1852 when a terrible storm toppled one over where it has remained on this incredible site till this day. Luckily, early engravings exist which show all 16 columns still in place.

For related articles click onto the following links:
ATHENS: The Caryatids
ATHENS: The Temple of Zeus
ATHENS: Tower of the Winds

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