Temple of Zeus, Olympia

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Temple of Zeus
Wilhelm Lübke's illustration of the temple as it might have looked in the fifth century BC
General information
TypeGreek temple
Architectural styleAncient Greek architecture
LocationOlympia, Greece
Construction startedc. 470 BC
Completedc. 457 BC
Destroyed426 (sanctuary), 522, 551
Height68 feet (20.7 m)
Technical details
Size230 by 95 ft (70 by 29 m)
Design and construction
Other designersPaeonius, Alcamenes

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was an ancient Greek temple in Olympia, Greece, dedicated to the god Zeus. The temple, built in the second quarter of the fifth century BC, was the very model of the fully developed classical Greek temple of the Doric order.[1]


The Temple of Zeus was built on an already ancient religious site at Olympia. The Altis, an enclosure with a sacred grove, open-air altars and the tumulus of Pelops, was first formed during the tenth and ninth centuries BC,[2] Greece's "Dark Age", when the followers of Zeus had joined with the followers of Hera.[3]


The Second Temple of Hera at Paestum, which was closely modelled on the Olympian Temple of Zeus

Construction began around 470 BC and is estimated to have been completed in 457 BC. The architect was Libon of Elis, who worked in the Doric style in the Doric style.

The temple was of peripteral form, with a frontal pronaos (porch), mirrored by a similar arrangement at the back of the building, the opisthodomos. The building sat on a crepidoma (platform) of three unequal steps, the exterior columns were positioned in a six by thirteen arrangement, two rows of seven columns divided the cella (interior) into three aisles. An echo of the temple's original appearance can be seen in the Second Temple of Hera at Paestum, which closely followed its form.

Pausanias visited the site in the second century AD and states that the temple's height up to the pediment was 68 feet (20.7 m), its breadth was 95 feet (29.0 m), and its length 230 feet (70.1 m).[4] It was approached by a ramp on the east side.

Because the main structure was of a local limestone that was unattractive and of poor quality, it was coated with a thin layer of stucco to give the appearance of marble so as to match the sculptural decoration. It was roofed with tiles of Pentelic marble, cut thin enough to be translucent, so that on a summer's day, "light comparable to a conventional 20-watt bulb would have shone through each of the 1,000 tiles."[5]

From the edge of the roof projected 102 waterspouts or gargoyles in the shape of lion heads, of which 39 are extant. Incongruities in the styles of the spouts provide evidence that the roof was repaired during the Roman period.[6]

Sculpture and decorations[edit]

Detail of a metope from the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, featuring Heracles and the Cretan bull (Archaeological Museum of Olympia, Greece)

The temple featured carved metopes and triglyph friezes, topped by pediments filled with sculptures in the Severe Style, now attributed to the "Olympia Master" and his studio.[citation needed]

The Eastern pediment depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus while the Western pediment features a centauromachy with Theseus and the Lapiths. The god Apollo is featured on the western pediment pointing towards the human side in the centauromachy, indicating his favor, and towards the northern side of the temple.[7] Pausanias reports in his Description of Greece (5.10.8) that the Eastern pedimental sculpture was created by Paeonius and the Western sculpture was carved by Alcamenes. The metopes from the temple depict the twelve labours of Heracles.[citation needed]

Statue of Zeus[edit]

The temple housed the renowned statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue was approximately 13 m (43 ft) high, and was made by the sculptor Phidias in his workshop on the site at Olympia. The statue's completion took approximately 13 years (470–457 BC) and was one of Classical Greece's most revered artistic works.

The installation of the colossal statue coincided with substantial modification of the cella. The internal columns and their stylobates were dismantled and repositioned, which likely necessitated retiling the roof. The original floor, paved with large blocks of shell stone, was covered with water-resistant lime, which may have helped protect the statue's ivory against humidity.

Subsequent history[edit]

Temple of Zeus, Olympia

The Roman general Mummius dedicated twenty-one gilded shields after he sacked Corinth in 146 BC; they were fixed at the metopes of the eastern front side and the eastern half of the south side.[citation needed]

In AD 426, Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the sanctuary during the Persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire.[8]

Archaeologists have long postulated that the already ruined Temple was destroyed by the earthquakes of AD 522 and 551, known to have caused widespread damage in the Peloponnese, although a 2014 paper hypothesizes that the columns may have been "intentionally pulled down by ropes during the early Byzantine period". Flooding of the Kladeos river (Foundoulis et al., 2008), or by tsunami (Vott et al., 2011), led to abandonment of the area in the 6th century. Eventually the site was covered by alluvial deposits of up to 8 meters deep.[9]

The site of the ancient sanctuary, long forgotten under landslips 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 of the German Archaeological Institute, and has continued, with some interruptions, to the present time.[citation needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ by Temple of Zeus at Archaeopaedia, Stanford University
  2. ^ (Hellenic Ministry of Culture: The sanctuary site at Olympia, including the Temple of Zeus
  3. ^ Preceding the Temple of Zeus in the temenos at Olympia were the Iarchaic structures: "the temple of Hohepa, the Prytaneion, the Bouleuterion, the treasuries and the first stadium."
  4. ^ Pausanias. Description of Greece, 5.10.3 via Perseus Digital Library
  5. ^ Patay-Horváth, András (2015). New Approaches to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia: Proceedings of the First Olympia-Seminar, 8th-10th May, 2014. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4438-8191-3.
  6. ^ Frazer, James George. 1913. Pausanias's Description of Greece 3. 3. London: Macmillan. p. 496. OCLC 263716831
  7. ^ Neer, Richard. Greek Art and Archaeology: A New History, c. 2500-c. 150 BCE. Thames & Hudson. p. 229. ISBN 9780500288771.
  8. ^ ANTIQUITY - A Quarterly Review of Archaelogy. No. 113 MARCH 1955.
  9. ^ Alexandris, Argyris & Psycharis, Ioannis & Protopapa, Eleni. (2014). THE COLLAPSE OF THE ANCIENT TEMPLE OF ZEUS AT OLYMPIA

· Pausanius Description of Greece

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°38′16″N 21°37′48″E / 37.63778°N 21.63000°E / 37.63778; 21.63000

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