Iconic Temple of Olympian Zeus in central Athens to get structural makeover

Α Decrease font Enlarge font
Iconic Temple of Olympian Zeus in central Athens to get structural makeoverThe monument has several structural restoration problems. There had been no progress on the issue until now because it had to be inducted into some sort of National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) programme

The colossal Temple of Olympian Zeus or 'Olympeion' in central Athens, one of the landmark monuments of the Greek capital, is to undergo a complete structural repair and restoration. The green light for the plans was given by Greece's Central Archaeological Council in a recent session.

"The monument has several structural restoration problems. There had been no progress on the issue until now because it had to be inducted into some sort of National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF) programme," the chief of the Athens Antiquities Ephorate Eleni Banou told the Athens-Macedonian News Agency on Tuesday.

The restoration had to be attempted, Banou stressed, "because as I said to the CAC, if we don't we will be answerable to history."

There is currently extensive structural damage to the colossal monument, she underlined, especially to the columns, which make it urgent to mount a "rescue operation" to stop the causes for its continued wear and to reinforce its structural stability. The proposed plans envisage the repair of damaged architectural elements and work to maintain the marble surfaces.

The last recorded major damage to the monument was in 1944, during the Greek civil war, where the marks of the bullets were still visible on the columns, Banou noted. Prior to that, the bulk of the damage was done in the Byzantine era when most of its 104 pillars were ground down to make first-class lime or looted for use as building materials.

Currently, only 16 pillars of the massive temple still survive and were re-erected in their present form in 1835, while the last work to structurally support the monument was carried out in the late 1960s.

Construction of the Olympeion commenced in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until 638 years after later, by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. During Roman times it was renowned as the largest temple in Greece.

History of the Temple

The monument was dedicated to Olympian Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods. 

The temple's glory was short-lived, as it fell into disuse after being pillaged during a barbarian invasion in the 3rd century AD, just about a century after its completion. It was probably never repaired and was reduced to ruins thereafter. In the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was extensively quarried for building materials to supply building projects elsewhere in the city. Despite this, a substantial part of the temple remains today, notably sixteen of the original gigantic columns, and it continues to be part of a very important archaeological site of Greece.

The temple is located approximately 1640 feet south-east of the Acropolis, and about 700 m (2,300 feet) south of the center of Athens, Syntagma Square. Its foundations were laid on the site of an ancient outdoor sanctuary dedicated to Zeus. An earlier temple had stood there, constructed by the tyrant Peisistratus around 550 BC. The building was demolished after the death of Peisistratos and the construction of a colossal new Temple of Olympian Zeus was begun around 520 BC by his sons, Hippias and Hipparchos. They sought to surpass two famous contemporary temples, the Heraion of Samos and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Designed by the architects Antistates, Callaeschrus, Antimachides and Pornius, the Temple of Olympian Zeus was intended to be built of local limestone in the Doric style on a colossal platform measuring 41 m (134.5 feet) by 108 m (353.5 feet). It was to be flanked by a double colonnade of eight columns across the front and back and twenty-one on the flanks, surrounding the cella.

The work was abandoned when the tyranny was overthrown and Hippias was expelled in 510 BC. Only the platform and some elements of the columns had been completed by this point, and the temple remained in this state for 336 years. The temple was left unfinished during the years of Athenian democracy, apparently because the Greeks thought it was hubris to build on such a scale. In the treatise Politics, Aristotle cited the temple as an example of how tyrannies engaged the populace in great works for the state (like a white elephant) and left them no time, energy or means to rebel.

It was not until 174 BC that the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who presented himself as the earthly embodiment of Zeus, revived the project and placed the Roman architect Decimus Cossutius in charge. The design was changed to have three rows of eight columns across the front and back of the temple and a double row of twenty on the flanks, for a total of 104 columns. The columns would stand 17 m (55.5 feet) high and 2 m (6.5 ft) in diameter. The building material was changed to the expensive but high-quality Pentelic marble and the order was changed from Doric to Corinthian, marking the first time that this order had been used on the exterior of a major temple. However, the project ground to a halt again in 164 BC with the death of Antiochus. The temple was still only half-finished by this stage.

Serious damage was inflicted on the partly built temple by Lucius Cornelius Sulla's sack of Athens in 86 BC. While looting the city, Sulla seized some of the incomplete columns and transported them back to Rome, where they were re-used in the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill. A half-hearted attempt was made to complete the temple during Augustus' reign as the first Roman emperor, but it was not until the accession of Hadrian in the 2nd century AD that the project was finally completed around 638 years after it had begun.

In 124-125 AD, when the strongly Philhellene Hadrian visited Athens, a massive building programme was begun that included the completion of the Temple of Olympian Zeus. A walled marble-paved precinct was constructed around the temple, making it a central focus of the ancient city. Cossutius's design was used with few changes and the temple was formally dedicated by Hadrian in 132, who took the title of "Panhellenios" in commemoration of the occasion. The temple and the surrounding precinct were adorned with numerous statues depicting Hadrian, the gods and personifications of the Roman provinces. A colossal statue of Hadrian was raised behind the building by the people of Athens in honour of the emperor's generosity. An equally colossal chryselephantine statue of Zeus occupied the cella of the temple. The statue's form of construction was unusual, as the use of chryselephantine was by this time regarded as archaic. It has been suggested that Hadrian was deliberately imitating Phidias' famous statue of Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon, seeking to draw attention to the temple and himself by doing so.

The Temple of Olympian Zeus was badly damaged during the Herulian sack of Athens in 267. It is unlikely to have been repaired, given the extent of the damage to the rest of the city. Assuming that it was not abandoned it would certainly have been closed down in 425 by the Christian emperor Theodosius II when he prohibited the worship of the old Roman and Greek gods. Material from the (presumably now ruined) building was incorporated into a basilica constructed nearby during the 5th or 6th century.

Medieval and Modern periods

Over the following centuries, the temple was systematically quarried to provide building materials and material for the houses and churches of medieval Athens. By the end of the Byzantine period, it had been almost totally destroyed; when Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli (Cyriacus of Ancona) visited Athens in 1436 he found only 21 of the original 104 columns still standing. The fate of one of the columns is recorded by a Greek inscription on one of the surviving columns, which states that "on 27 April 1759 he pulled down the column". This refers to the Turkish governor of Athens, Tzisdarakis, who is recorded by a chronicler as having "destroyed one of Hadrian's columns with gunpowder" in order to re-use the marble to make plaster for the mosque that he was building in the Monastiraki district of the city. During the Ottoman period the temple was known to the Greeks as the Palace of Hadrian, while the Turks called it the Palace of Belkis, from a Turkish legend that the temple had been the residence of Solomon's wife.

Fifteen columns remain standing today and a sixteenth column lies on the ground where it fell during a storm in 1852. Nothing remains of the cella or the great statue that it once housed.

The temple was excavated in 1889-1896 by Francis Penrose of the British School in Athens (who also played a leading role in the restoration of the Parthenon), in 1922 by the German archaeologist Gabriel Welter and in the 1960s by Greek archaeologists led by Ioannes Travlos. The temple, along with the surrounding ruins of other ancient structures, is a historical precinct administered by Ephorate of Antiquites of the Greek Interior Ministry.

On 21 January 2007, a group of Greek pagans held a ceremony honoring Zeus on the grounds of the temple. The event was organized by Ellinais, an organization which won a court battle to obtain recognition for Ancient Greek religious practices in the fall of 2006.

RELATED TOPICS: GreeceGreek tourism newsTourism in GreeceGreek islandsHotels in GreeceTravel to GreeceGreek destinations Greek travel marketGreek tourism statisticsGreek tourism report

Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons Copyright: A.Savin License: CC-BY-SA

 

 

Tornos
  1. 16/11 19:00

    Athens-listed Fourlis Group to launch property investment company in Greece

  2. 16/11 18:54

    Ermou street in Athens among the world’s most expensive thanks to tourism

  3. 16/11 18:48

    Piraeus Bank to manage agricultural products guarantee account in Greece

  4. 16/11 18:32

    112 approved investment plans for Greek aquaculture units reach €93.1 million

  5. 16/11 18:23

    Greek Tourism Minister voices support to Antetokounmpo brothers

  6. 16/11 16:43

    Jazz for kids: The story of a rhythm at Gloria theater in central Athens

  7. 16/11 16:37

    Changes to Athens museums opening hours due to Polytechnic celebrations

  8. 16/11 14:56

    Greek and international grand cru wines at Athens event on Sunday

  9. 16/11 14:04

    Brexit: Theresa May to face no confidence vote after Tory MPs reach 48 letters

  10. 16/11 12:44

    Greek airports announce record breaking arrivals in first 10-months of 2018

  11. 16/11 11:27

    SRB chief: Greek banking system has significantly improved

  12. 16/11 10:51

    Hollande visits Athens to congratulate Greece for its success after years of austerity

  13. 15/11 21:33

    Brexit negotiations: What is in the withdrawal agreement and the proposals on travel

  14. 15/11 21:12

    MSCI relegation for three Greek banks impacts Athens Stock exchange

  15. 15/11 21:05

    Three Athens metro stations close on Saturday due to Polytechnic uprising feast

  16. 15/11 20:58

    Prince Charles' favorite food is ‘Groussaka’ a special version of Moussaka

  17. 15/11 20:52

    MIG negotiations with Fortress fund over Attica Group sale close without deal

  18. 15/11 20:47

    Euro Working Group approves measure to leave Greek pensions uncut

  19. 15/11 20:19

    EU Brexit divorce agreement in peril after two UK cabinet ministers quit

  20. 15/11 20:02

    Greek PM dons Antetokounmpo shirt in support against racist slur

  21. 15/11 19:38

    Greek Court of Audit greenlights Athens Airport concession extension by 20 years

  22. 15/11 18:31

    US companies seeking to explore synergies and investments in Greece

  23. 15/11 16:08

    Pallas Theater in central Athens now caters to non-Greek speakers

  24. 15/11 15:55

    Greece expected to receive its first snow of the season on Friday

  25. 15/11 13:49

    Cyprus Airways connects Athens with Larnaca daily during the winter of 2018-19

  26. 15/11 12:39

    UNWTO and Municipality of León develop first shopping tourism project in Mexico

  27. 15/11 11:28

    Statues of Chinese artist Xu Hongfei to decorate the Greek port of Thessaloniki

  28. 15/11 10:14

    Roman amphorae found at ancient port of Akrotiri-Dreamers Bay in Cyprus

  29. 15/11 09:18

    Travelodge announces weirdest requests from British hotel guests in 2018

  30. 15/11 01:12

    ΑΒΤΑ: Five key principles for selling travel products to the over 50s

  31. 15/11 01:09

    UNWTO: Communities needed in Cultural Tourism’s digital transformation

  32. 15/11 00:57

    IATA: "Spirit of change" needed from governments to boost European competitiveness

  33. 14/11 23:02

    Religious Tourism: Greek Holy church in Turkey abandoned to ruin

  34. 14/11 22:51

    Traffic diversions along Athens-Thessaloniki motorway for maintenance works

  35. 14/11 20:40

    Wedding tourism: Greek island of Santorini among the world's top destinations for 2019

  36. 14/11 18:35

    Outbound tourism from India to double by 2022

  37. 14/11 18:28

    Tourists in Cyprus drive beer deliveries up by 3.6% in first 10 months of 2018

  38. 14/11 15:20

    Social media channel: The 14 most beautiful nationalities in the world (video)

  39. 14/11 14:12

    No ferry service in Greece on November 28 as seamen join general strike

  40. 14/11 12:05

    Greek National Tourism Organization clip wins world’s “Best Tourism Film” award (video)

  41. 14/11 10:56

    Ancient city of Tenea unearthed in Greece - its prosperity to Roman times confirmed

  42. 14/11 00:08

    Research: New ranking method could help hotels to maximise their revenue

  43. 13/11 21:52

    The cherished flavors of Tselementes, Greece’s original ‘Masterchef’

  44. 13/11 21:38

    Survey: Greek CFOs most optimistic in Europe for Autumn 2018

  45. 13/11 21:26

    Greek museums and sites record rise in visitors and revenue in first seven months of 2018

  46. 13/11 20:12

    Original winter swimming race across Vouliagmeni Bay in Athens on December 2

  47. 13/11 19:13

    Disabled 14-year-old girl captures Greek hearts at Athens Marathon (video)

  48. 13/11 19:05

    Greek government to lessen social security contributions for professionals

  49. 13/11 19:01

    Lower property tax to boost consumption and real estate in Greece

  50. 13/11 18:53

    Bank of Greece drafts plan for slashing NPLs by €40 billion

  51. 13/11 18:13

    ASTA International Showcase conference on island of Rhodes in Spring 2019

  52. 13/11 14:43

    British Tourism: Hard Brexit's impact on the Greek economy

  53. 13/11 14:37

    More than 2,000 investors visit Greek pavilion at Web Summit 2018

  54. 13/11 13:25

    Survey: Lower labour costs in hotels and restaurants in Cyprus

  55. 13/11 11:04

    Greek and Italian PMs discuss cooperation in investments and energy

  56. 13/11 10:17

    Lake Antinioti: In the footsteps of the Durrells at Corfu's otter lagoon

  57. 13/11 01:55

    First Greek supermarket opens in Germany

  58. 13/11 01:51

    5786 Turks have sought asylum in Greece following the failed coup in 2017

  59. 13/11 01:46

    Greek exports to surpass 33 billion euros by end of 2018

  60. 13/11 01:41

    Bank of Greece points to higher residential property prices in Q3 2018

  61. 13/11 01:29

    International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas held in Greece

  62. 13/11 01:20

    Culture Tourism: The Platonic Academy of Athens, the world’s first university

  63. 13/11 01:13

    Campaign to save Hellenique Fondation "Greek House" in Paris

  64. 13/11 01:05

    Lemnos Gallipoli Committee commemorates Armistice Day 1918 on Mudros Bay

  65. 12/11 23:55

    Antique musical instruments at Ancient Nikopolis Museum in Greece

  66. 12/11 21:50

    The superb health benefits of Greek honey

  67. 12/11 21:43

    Vote for the Greek island of Corfu in EUFCN Location Award competition

  68. 12/11 19:25

    Nike honors of Greek Olympic legend Louis with new Air Zoom Spiridon

  69. 12/11 16:20

    UAE investment firm Mubadala invites Greek firms for cooperation

  70. 12/11 15:06

    Sports Tourism: Greek girl wins karate world championship (video)

  71. 12/11 13:01

    China expresses strong interest in Greek products and services

  72. 12/11 11:55

    EBRD-funded programs for Greek small and medium-sized enterprises

  73. 11/11 20:58

    Voice of Greece renewed program beginning on Monday, November 12th

  74. 11/11 20:46

    Brimin Kipkorir Misoi from Kenya wins 36th Authentic Athens Marathon (video)

  75. 11/11 20:29

    Educational programs for kids at the Museum of Cycladic Art in Athens

  76. 11/11 18:53

    APRA welcomes European Court of Auditors’ special report on passengers’ rights

  77. 11/11 16:42

    Direct metro connection to Athens airport resumes operations on Saturday

  78. 11/11 12:35

    UNWTO: Outbound tourism spending from the Gulf 6 times the global average

  79. 11/11 10:11

    Russian archaeologists unearthed ancient Greek settlement in Crimea peninsula

  80. 10/11 14:08

    Saffron 'the red gold of the Greek land' to reach Chinese shops by 2019

  81. 10/11 13:59

    Greek industrial output grows by 2% year-on-year in September

  82. 10/11 13:55

    Cyprus building permits significantly grow between January – August 2018

  83. 10/11 13:47

    Photo of flight attendant breastfeeding passenger’s baby goes viral

  84. 10/11 13:35

    Education Tourism: First school reader in demotic Greek turns 100

  85. 10/11 13:22

    Medical Tourism: Onassis Foundation head notes new era for transplants in Greece

  86. 10/11 12:31

    IMF more optimistic on Greek economy that European Union

  87. 10/11 11:16

    The Times 2018 spotlight on Cyprus: Opportunity knocks for investors...

  88. 09/11 21:23

    Religious Tourism: How Arkadi became symbol of self sacrifice for freedom

  89. 09/11 21:23

    NGTO and Aegean launch new campaign to promote Athens and Thessaloniki

  90. 09/11 21:07

    Power supply restored on the Greek island of Rhodes

  91. 09/11 19:53

    History Tourism: Phryne, the Ancient Greek model who stripped for her freedom

  92. 09/11 19:36

    Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria gets nod of the European Commission

  93. 09/11 19:19

    Russian tycoon Rybolovlev released but remains still under investigation

  94. 09/11 19:10

    Archaeological Museum on Greek island of Corfu to reopen after six years

  95. 09/11 18:43

    Greece extends Golden Visas for affluent foreign investors

  96. 09/11 16:41

    New Victoria Hislop book inspired by the Greek island of Makronisos

  97. 09/11 14:58

    16 Greek enterprises participate in business mission to Nigeria

  98. 09/11 14:47

    Record 415 exhibitors in Philoxenia and another 200 in Hotelia

  99. 09/11 12:49

    Greek Cultural Day marks Greek migration in Sydney of Australia

  100. 09/11 12:42

    Evgenios Vassilikos: November established as Month of Marathon for Athens tourism