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The Temple of Zeus and Hadrians Arch

Temple of Zeus
The Temple of Zeus with the Acropolis in the background.

Temple of Zeus

The Temple of Zeus is part of a massive archaeological site in the centre of Athens, south east of the Acropolis. The temple is also known as the Olympian as the full title of the monument is Temple of the Olympian Zeus, and at the time was the largest temple in Greece. Construction of the temple began in 515 BC by a tyrant called Pisistratus but was completed over 600 years later in 131 AD by the Roman emperor Hadrian. Hadrian's Arch was built by the Athenian people to thank the Emperor Hadrian for his generosity towards Athens, the ach is at the entrance of the site just off Amalias Avenue.

The temple was built on the site of an earlier sanctuary dedicated to Zeus the king of the Olympian gods, the remaining 15 columns of the temple gives the visitor an idea of just how massive the final structure was. The dimensions of the Temple of Zeus are 96 by 40 metres with 104 columns all 17 metres high, originally the temple contained a huge statue of Zeus and one of the Emperor Hadrian behind the temple. The marble used to build the temple was from mount Pentelus near Athens (Pentelic marble).

History of the Temple of Zeus

The site of the Temple of Zeus was originally an outdoor sanctuary dedicated to the God and in around 515 BC the Tyrants Hippias and Hipparchos (their father, Pisistratus, had already built one on the site in 550 BC but had been demolished) decided to build a massive temple on the site that would match some of the greatest buildings of the time. Unfortunately for the Temple, not Athens, the Tyrants were deposed and work on the Temple of Zeus ceased with only the platform and a few columns being erected.

Temple of Zeus
Corinthian Columns on the Temple of Zeus.

The temple wasn't touched during the years of Athenian Democracy, they believed it was an affront to the Gods something so massive and showy. It was next worked on by king Antiochus IV Epiphanes,(a Seleucid king) 336 years later in 174 BC, the architect was a Roman called Decimus Cossutius and it was his design that we see today although he never actually completed it. Antiochus died in 164 BC and the Temple of Zeus project stopped again, this time half finished.

In 86 BC Athens was sacked by the Romans under Sulla and some of the columns were taken to Rome and used on the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline. It was another Roman, the Emperor Hadrian who finally completed the temple in 131 AD, 638 years after it was started. Hadrian was a known Philhelene and after a visit to Athens in 124-125 AD he began a huge building program in the city which included the Temple of Olympian Zeus. The temple would hold a massive ivory statue of Zeus, whilst behind it the people of Athens built a similar statue of Hadrian as thanks to the Emperor.

Like many ancient monuments the Temple of Zeus fell into decline after the end of the Roman empire, it was badly damaged during the Herulian sack of Athens (the Herulians were a Germanic tribe from southern Scandinavia) in 267 BC. Under the Christian Byzantine Empire the site fell into ruins with material from the temple being used to build churches nearby, under Theodosius II it was outlawed to worship the Olympian gods. throughout the years that followed the temple was plundered for construction materials for houses and buildings of medieval Athens. By 1436 only 21 columns remained from the original 104.

Temple of Zeus

During Turkish occupation some of the columns were destroyed by the Turkish govornor to be made into plaster to build a mosque in nearby Monastiraki. The last damage to the temple happened in 1852 when a storm toppled a column leaving only 15 standing, the fallen column can still be seen today where it fell.

Temple of Zeus
Hadrians Arch in front of the Temple of Zeus.

Hadrians Arch

Hadrian's Arch is a huge archway or gate (very similar to a Roman triumphal arch) in front of and entrance to the site of the Temple of Olympian Zeus just of Amalias Avenue. It was built by the people of Athens to commemorate the visit and generosity of the Emperor Hadrian who started many building projects in Athens. The monument was built out of Pentelic marble and is 18 metres high and 13.5 metres wide with a depth of 2.3 metres. Hadrian's Arch isn't exactly inline the Temple of Zeus and is believed to be inline an ancient road that would now go straight through Plaka.

It is believed that the gateway was a boundary marker showing where ancient Greek Athens stopped and the new Roman Athens began, how true is unclear. There is even two inscriptions on either side of the Arch. The side that faces the Acropolis says "This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus." and on the other side, that faces towards the Temple of Zeus, or its general direction says "This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus.".

The Temple of Zeus and Hadrians Arch

During ancient times the Temple of Zeus was the largest temple in Greece.

Hadrians Arch was built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, and it was to show the border from the new modern Roman Athens to the old Greek Athens.

Location: The main entrance is on Vasilissis Olgas but most of the site and Hadrians arch can be seen from Leoforos Vasilissis Amalias.

Nearest Metro Station: Acropolis.

Entrance Fee: 2 euros, but this and other sites are free if you buy the entrance ticket to the Acropolis and is valid for 7 days. Hadrians Arch is free.

Opening hours: (summer) Tue - Sun 08:00 - 19:00. Monday - 11:00 - 19:00. (Winter) Tue - Sun 08:30 - 14:30. Monday - 11:00 -14:30. Closed on all public holidays. Hadrians Arch is always open as it is on the main road.