The temple of Hephaestus in the central part of Athens is located on the hill of Agoraios Kolonos and in the west it borders the Ancient Agora of Athens. This temple is known to the world as the best-preserved ancient Greek temple. At the same time, for some unknown reason, it is less popular than the neighbouring Parthenon. Historians note that the temple had two names — Hephaesteum and Theseus — because of a belief that existed in Byzantine times. It had it that the bones of the legendary Greek hero Theseus were buried there. In fact, the bones, which supposedly had been belonging to Theseus, were buried in another place that was closer to the Acropolis in the 5th century BC.
In the temple, two deities were worshiped together: the god Hephaestus, the defender of metallurgists, and the goddess Athena Ergana, who protected potters and artisans. In the course of excavations, it was found that this temple was the "Hephaesteion", that was a place of worshipping the god Hephaestus.
Today, the temple of Hephaestus in Greece is protected as an archaeological monument. It is supervised by the Ephorate of antiquities of the country’s Ministry of internal affairs. The temple itself has a small fence, but visitors can get much closer to it than it can be done in the Parthenon or in the most of other ancient buildings in Greece. The temple is now surrounded by an ornamental garden.
The temple was built around 449 BC. Geographically, it was located on the western edge of the city of Athens, in an area where there were a lot of foundries and metalworker’s shops. That was why it was dedicated to the god of smiths and metallurgy, Hephaestus. The Hephaestus temple’ architect was Ictinus, one of the architects who worked at the Parthenon. In ancient times, the temple of Hephaestus had a beautiful view of the Agora, due to its location on a small hill.
In the 3rd century BC, a small garden with pomegranate, myrtle, bay trees and shrubs was set out around the temple. They were planted in flower pots in parallel rows. These pots were discovered during the excavations.
In the 7th century AD, the temple was turned into a church dedicated to Saint George Akamas. During the centuries of the Ottoman rule in Greece, the temple was the main Greek Orthodox church in Athens. Thus, the temple remained in operation until the liberation of Greece from the Turkish occupation.
It was used as a burial place for non-Orthodox Europeans in the 19th century. There were many philhellenes among them who gave their lives during the Greek war of independence (1821-1830).
During the 18th century, many prominent protestants who died in Athens were buried within the temple territory. The last Divine Liturgy in the church was held on February 21, 1833, during the celebration of the arrival of the first king of independent Greece — Otto. The service welcomed the king in his new capital. Otto ordered to use the building as an archaeological museum. It had served as a museum until 1934, when it returned to its status of an ancient monument. At that time, the American school of classical studies in Athens began to excavate the Ancient Agora.
It is difficult to find really well preserved ancient Greek temples built in the Doric order. As you can see in the photos, the temple of Hephaestus in Athens is one of them. In addition, it is the first marble temple built in this city. This gives the humankind an opportunity to appreciate some of the first examples of architecture in the western tradition.
The temple consisted of an annex in front of the entrance and the back-end. Outside, the temple was surrounded by a Doric colonnade with six columns in width and thirteen columns in length. The entire building, from the stone base to the roof, was made of marble quarried from mount Penteli’ open-casts in Attica. While the architectural sculptures that were decorating the temple were made of marble quarried on the island of Paros.
On the inner side of the cella (the part of the temple where the image of the deity was set in a niche), there was a colonnade consisting of two parts and forming the letter "П". And at the far end there was a pedestal, which was supporting the ceremonial statues of Hephaestus and Athena, created of bronze by the sculptor Alkamenes. According to Pausanias, who was a traveler and geographer, they had probably been created between 421 and 415 BC.
Very riveting metopes were present in the magnificent sculptural decoration of the temple. They were decorating the eastern and the western sides of the outer colonnade. On the eastern side, there were ten metopes, which were visible from the Agora: the nine labours of Hercules were depicted on them. In addition, the northern and the southern sides reflect the four labours of Theseus that probably caused people to call this temple "Thisio". The frieze is not decorating all four sides of the cella, but only the extension in front of the entrance to the temple and the back of it. On the extension, there is an image of the scene of Theseus’ victorious struggle against the pretenders to the throne, which were the fifty sons of Pallas; six gods were also participating in the struggle. The frieze at the back of the temple, on the wall against the cella, shows the struggle of the centaurs.
The attics of the temple were also decorated with the famous sculptural images. On the western attic, the battle of the centaurs was depicted, and on the eastern one — the acceptance of Hercules on mount Olympus and the birth of the goddess Athena.
The temple is located about 500 m to the Northwest from the Acropolis and about 1 km to the West of the modern centre of Athens, the Syntagma square. That is why it is easy to get to it.
In the area of the Temple of Hephaestus, wheelchair access is possible through the entrance to the Theseion square (the Apostle Paul street). Please let the manager know about your upcoming visit by phone: +30210 3214824 or +30210 3210180.
In addition, the website, which presents archaeological sites that have received the status of European heritage, is available for the blind people and for weak-sighted people.