One of the most impressive archaeological monuments of Greece, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, is located in the heart of the Greek capital. It is surrounded by modern streets and drowns in the noise of constantly hurrying cars. Gigantic marble columns testify to the grandeur and monumentality of one of the most majestic temples of the Olympian supreme god.
Located near the Acropolis and known as the Olympieion, initially, the Temple of Olympian Zeus consisted of 104 Corinthian columns. Nowadays, only 16 of them have survived — 15 are standing upright, and the 16th is lying on the ground as a result of a storm in 1852.
During the Roman period, the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens became famous as the largest one in Greece. In addition, one of the biggest cult statues of the ancient world was located there. It was a giant gold and ivory statue of Zeus, which was installed by Hadrian. And a sculpture of Hadrian himself had the same size and was erected not far from there.
In the early 1800s, the home of a stylite (these were ascetics who had chosen the solitude on columns, pillars and other high structures) was located at the top of one of the columns — this is evidenced by paintings and drawings of those times.
The construction of the temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens was started by Pisistratus in 515 BC, and was aimed at erecting the greatest temple in the ancient world. The fall of tyranny prevented the completion of the work. By that time, only the platform and some elements of the columns had been made.
During the next 4 centuries, the temple remained unfinished and it was not of much interest to the Athenian democracy — apparently, the Greeks considered such a large-scale construction to be a manifestation of pride. The Athenian statesman Themistocles even used its elements to build a defensive wall that connected Athens with Piraeus.
In 174 BC, the construction continued due to the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. It was then that the original design of the structure changed, so that the temple was to consist of 104 columns with a height of 17 metres and a diameter of 2 metres. The construction material was changed from local limestone to pentelic marble, and the style was changed from the Doric order to the Corinthian one. The construction activities were stopped in 164 BC because of Antiochus’s death, and the structure remained half-finished. And almost 100 years later, the Roman emperor Sulla used two capitals from the columns of the Temple of Zeus in Athens to build a Roman one, similar to it — the temple of Capitoline Jove, which later influenced the development of the Corinthian style in Rome.
The construction of the Temple of Olympian Zeus was completed only in 131 AD almost 650 years later, under the emperor Hadrian, who was a connoisseur of Greek culture. The structure became the centre of an ancient city. A colossal statue of Zeus was erected in the Celle of the temple, and the temple itself and its surroundings were decorated with statues of the gods and of Hadrian himself. Behind the building, in honour of the emperor's generosity, the Athenians erected a statue of Hadrian.
In 267, during the invasion of the Heruls, the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens was severely hurt and could not be thoroughly repaired, considering the extent of damage to the rest of the city. In addition, in 425, emperor Theodosius II banned the worship of ancient Roman and Greek gods.
During the Middle Ages, the materials of the Temple of Zeus were used for the construction of churches and houses, and by the end of the Byzantine period, it was almost destroyed.
One of the columns was literally blown up by the Turkish governor of Athens, Cistarakis, in order to use its marble to plaster The Cistarakis mosque, which was built in the area of Monastiraki. By the way, during the Ottoman Empire, the Greeks called the temple the Palace of Hadrian, and the Turks called it the Palace of Belkiye.
Today, the Temple of Olympian Zeus, as well as the surrounding ruins of other ancient structures, belongs to the archaeological monuments of Athens and is controlled by the Ephorate of antiquities of the Ministry of Internal affairs of Greece.
Considering that the Temple of Olympian Zeus is located right in the centre of the capital, you can get to it by metro, tram or bus, or by private car. The Temple of Olympian Zeus is located in close proximity to Zappeion and the popular area of the city — Plaka.