Come visit the Olympieion in Athens, home of none less than one of the seven wonders of the world! Right next to the Acropolis of Athens, come and discover this historical jewel
The Olympieon is a temple dedicated to the god of all gods, Zeus. It is also called the Olympian temple of Zeus. It first had a Doric design and then became Corinthian when the project was restarted by the roman Emperor Hadrian. He decided to finance the whole project after he came to visit Athens. To honor this gesture, the Greeks also created an arch to symbolize his visit of the Olympieion, the Arch of Hadrian, and also built a huge statue of him within the Olympieion. Although the first constructions started in 600 BC, the temple was only completed six hundred years after. At its heart used to be one of the most beautiful sculptures ever made : the statue of Zeus on his throne, made out of gold and ivory.
It was filled with other intricate and majestic statues that gave a very luxurious aspect in order to honor the deity. It was the largest monument in the city at the time. Even though today it is not as majestic as it used to be, and is far from the state of conversation that you might experience in the Valley of Temples in Agrigento for example, visit the Olympieion to get a sense of true history ; of giving importance to what is invisible now but used to be something amazing.
There are different reasons why construction took so long. The first construction started in 600 BC by the family of Pisistratos, and had a Doric austere style. Not long after the construction started, there were protests and it had to be stopped as the building was considered a symbol of tyranny in the new born democracy. Aristotle himself cited the temple as an example of how tyrannies engaged the populace in humongous works to subdue them ; like for the Great Pyramids in Cairo. Leaving the population no time, energy or means to rebel, the project seemed like too arrogant and disrespectful to the gods and was set aside. The project was eventually restarted in the 3rd century BC, during the period of Macedonian occupation of Greece : the architect Cossutius was hired to design, but when Antiochus, the king who had hired him, died in 164 BC the work was delayed again.
In 174BC, the emperor Hadrian decided to restart the project but it then stopped yet again when Athens was besieged by Rome. Parts of the temple were used to decorate the temple of Jupiter in Rome, the roman version of Zeus. The emperor Hadrian finally ensured the finishing of the project in 134BC. It then suffered from serious damage from the Heruli invasions in 267 CE, and from the Ottoman occupation. During the medieval age, an earthquake destroyed parts of it, leaving it to be used as only resource for other projects once again.
It had over a hundred and four columns, a huge gold and ivory statue of Zeus and one of Hadrian. This mix of materials is called the chryséléphantine technique. The statue is considered as one of the seven wonders of the world but it was supposedly destroyed. Its existence has been proven though, unlike the Hanging Gardens of Babylone, by the presence of tools and materials used in the workshop where it was made. The statue was made by the famous artist Phidias. The whole temple was described by the ancient historian Pausanias in 436 BC, and by many other contemporary authors. People who would visit the Olympieion said it was one of the most beautiful monuments of the city, if not the most beautiful. The statue is still a source of inspiration in literature and cinema even though it was never photographed. It is represented subjectively rather than objectively, as some details concerning the exact posture of the hands of Zeus for example remain unknown.
What to do and see at the temple?
Today, if you visit the Olympieion you will only see sixteen columns out of the hundred and four that used to be there. They are seventeen meters high which is a pretty impressive height. Through the years, the temple was used as resource to build other monuments across the world as it had colossal dimensions and large amounts of marble. The monument is still decorated with frescoes of Hercules’s twelve labors, one of the sons of Zeus.
Even though the temple remains in ruins, the mystery surrounding the disappearance of the statues in the temple remains intact. With just a little imagination, you can get how monstrous this monument was when it was fully built. The initial structure was Doric style but is now Corinthian, a style characterized by what is called Corinthian capitals ; columns that include a lower and upper part of acanthus leaves and volutes. On each face of the capital, you can see a flower that partly overlaps the abacus above. This style was developed in Peloponnese, the southern region of Greece that is also full of historical sites and is worth a visit.
During your visit to the Olympieion , you will enter by Hadrian’s arch which is perfectly preserved. After a two minute walk you can admire the ruins in a pleasant large park with olive trees where you can walk around and admire a beautiful view on the Acropolis of Athens, have a rest from the agitated city in the heart of it. The place isn’t as crowded as the other monuments so if you are searching a calm space while you visit Athens and feel overwhelmed, don’t miss it. On the opposite sides of the monument you will see two interesting inscriptions that reveals how the temple was disputed through history : “This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus,” and, on the opposite side, “This is the city of Hadrian, and not of Theseus”.
On site, you will not find a lot of information to complement your visit. To get more information about the history of the site, you can get an audio tour or research information beforehand. Even though the site is small, most people are surprised by how much they enjoyed their visit of the Olympieion. The site is oddly underrated for a monument that played such an important role in Greek history and for such an impressive feat of architecture. From up close the columns are quite remarkable and will help you grasp the massive scale of the Olympieion, especially considering when it was built.
How to get to the Olympieion?
There are different ways to visit the Olympieion :
- Walking : Getting there is a short walk from Syntagma Square or Plaka
The exact adress is : Vasilissis Olgas & Vasilissis Amalias Avenue, Athens
Tickets, rates and opening hours
Admission is accepted until thirty minutes before closing.
- Normal ticket : 6€
- Reduced ticket (EU students and seniors) : 3€
- Free for minors
Tickets to visit the Olympieion are included with the Acropolis combo ticket which includes six other sites and has to be used within five days for a cost of 30€.
Daily throughout the year with exceptions below.
- During spring-summer (1st of April-30th September) : Mon- Sun: 8:00am-7:00pm
- During autumn-winter (1st October-31st March) : 8:30am-4:00pm
- Closed on: 1 January, 25 March, Easter Sunday, 1 May, 25 & 26 December
GOOD TO KNOW
– The site is still used today as a place of worship by a group of Greek pagans to worship Zeus. They are part of the association Ellinais that is now recognized as an organization that spreads ancient Greek religion practices which includes the belief in the Greek polytheist system.
– There is no shade near the temple so be sure to protect yourself from the sun.
– Photography is permitted on site.
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