The Temple of Olympian Zeus, also called Olimpeion by the Greeks, was the largest temple in Greece during the Hellenistic and Roman times. Undoubtedly, a must-see if you travel to Athens.
Do you want to know which (cheaper) ticket you should buy? Why did it take 7 centuries to build the temple? How was it destroyed? Its timetable? The myths and curiosities surrounding it?
I am a guide in Athens and in this blog I tell you EVERYTHING you need to know before visiting the Temple of Olympian Zeus and how to make the most of your visit. LET’S GET TO IT!
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History of the Temple of Zeus (of Athens)
The history of the Temple of Olympian Zeus dates back to the 6th century BC, when the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus decided to begin its construction. This project was continued by his son Hipias until the Athenians, tired of the tyranny of this family, overthrew him.
According to Aristotle, this construction and its exaggerated dimensions were part of a strategy of the tyrants to keep their people busy; especially with the aim of distracting their attention while they ruled for themselves, that is, to benefit from their status and hide their true interests from the people.
Am I the only one who finds a parallel with today’s politicians?
In any case and during the democracy, the construction of the temple of Zeus was totally paralyzed, since it was considered that there were other priorities at that time: famine, diseases, wars….
It was the king of Macedonia Antiochus IV who resumed the construction of the Olympion in 174 B.C., however this man did not have time to finish it either, since he died only 10 years later.
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After the empire of Rome conquered Greece, the Roman emperor Sulla took two columns from the still unfinished temple of Olympian Zeus to build his own temple of Jupiter (the equivalent of Zeus in Rome).
What a story, rest assured that now comes the happy ending 🙂
Luckily for the Greeks came a Roman emperor (although born in Hispania) who was very philhellenic, who decided to FINALLY finish the long-awaited temple. What’s more, this man ended up building a temple even bigger than what Pisistratus planned to do. I’m sure his name rings a bell, I’m talking about the famous Roman emperor Hadrian.
The temple of Olympian Zeus came to have an astonishing 104 columns, of which and due to an earthquake in the Middle Ages (among other looting), only the sad amount of 15 remain …
Tickets and combined entrance to the Temple of Zeus
The entrance fee to the Temple of Zeus is €6 in high season (April 1 – October 31) and €3 in low season (November 1 – March 31).
Admission is free (regardless of the season) for young people under 25 years of age, EU residents, museum workers and people with a disability of more than 67%.
While young people under 25 from outside the EU, over 65 years old, accredited journalists and teachers on study visits will pay a reduced admission fee of 50%.
In addition, admission will also be free for ALL the public on the dates below:
- March 6
- April 18th
- May 18th
- The last weekend of September
- October 28th
- The first Sunday of every month during the low season (November 1 – March 31)
Perhaps, instead of buying the individual ticket for the Temple of Zeus, you may want to purchase the combined ticket. This is an interesting option if you stay more than two days in Athens, as it will give you access to the 7 archaeological sites I mention below:
- The Library of Hadrian
- The Temple of Olympian Zeus
- The Ancient Agora
- The Roman Agora
- The Acropolis of Athens
- The university of Aristotle
- The Kerameikos Cemetery
This combined ticket costs 30 euros and is valid for 5 days, in which you will be able to enter only once to each place mentioned.
The single ticket to the Acropolis of Athens costs 20 euros, so even if you only visit two more places (making a total of three) it is worth buying the combined ticket. You can buy it at any ticket office of any archaeological site.
Please note that in low season all individual tickets cost half the price, while the combined ticket price remains at 30 euros, so DO NOT buy it if you are traveling in this season.
Opening hours of the Temple of Zeus
The opening hours of the Temple of Zeus depend on the season in which you visit, there are two possibilities:
– Low season, between November 1 and March 31:
|Every day from 8:00 to 15:00.|
– High season, between April 1st and October 31st:
|Every day from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.|
The Temple of Zeus, like all archaeological sites in Athens, is open to the public every day with the exception of the following holidays:
– January 1
– March 25th
– May 1st
– Easter Sunday (April 19 in 2020)
– December 25th
– December 26th
Architecture and characteristics of the Olymppeion
Let’s talk about the architecture and characteristics of what was once the largest temple in all of Greece. As with the Acropolis, the material used for its construction was Pentelic marble, which was extracted from Mount Penteli, about 20 km from Athens.
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The temple of Olympian Zeus measured 40 meters wide by 96 meters long, had an impressive 104 columns of Corinthian order and each one was 17 meters high.
Where do you put so many columns?
Well: 48 columns were arranged in triple rows under the pediments (triangular element on the short sides), while the other 56 were placed in double rows on the long sides.
Sadly today, of the 104 columns it once had, only 16 remain… moreover one of them is lying down, since it fell down in the 19th century during an earthquake. 🙁
I still recommend you to get close (the maximum allowed) to a column to appreciate its great size. but above all to be able to imagine the greatness that the Temple of Olympian Zeus would have originally. you’re going to feel super small compared to it!
LAST INTERESTING FACT:
The Roman emperor Hadrian also erected a huge statue of Zeus, made of gold and ivory, in the cella of the Olympic Temple. The cella, in classical architecture, is called the inner chamber of a temple. Sadly in this case neither the remains of the statue, nor anything of the interior of the temple of Zeus were found.
Where is the Temple of Olympian Zeus?
Luckily for us, this sacred precinct is located very close to the center of Athens. I am going to explain you how to get to the Temple of Zeus (on foot) from different known points:
- From Syntagma Square: Taking Amalia Street (which leads to the parliament) heading south, you will reach the temple in 8 minutes.
- From the Acropolis: If you stand at the lower entrance of the Acropolis (next to the Acropolis metro stop) and take “Dionysius Aeropagitou” street, in 3 minutes you will see Hadrian’s Arch in front of you. Behind it is the Olimpeion.
- From the Panathinaiko Olympic Stadium: Follow the street “Leof. Vasilissis Olgas” in a westerly direction, you will immediately see the Sanctuary of Zeus on the left hand side.
Where is the entrance to the Temple of Zeus?
Many people arrive at the fence of the archaeological site of the Temple of Zeus but then do not know where the entrance is, since there is no good signposting of the entrance. Now, the entrance is located in the street “Leof. Vasilissis Olgas”, so you won’t waste a minute looking for it ;).
Ancient and current images of the sanctuary of Zeus (in Athens)
As I have explained in detail in the section “history of the temple of Zeus”, this monument went from being composed of 104 columns to the sad amount of 15…
Undoubtedly its current state sometimes prevents us from imagining what the temple was like in ancient times, so I want to show you a “representation” or “model” of what was the largest temple in Greece:
In this image we can see much better how was the typical architecture of a Greek temple: the pediment (triangular pediment located at the top of the short sides), the frieze (located below the pediment, but separated by the cornice, and surrounding the entire temple), the metopes (element that is repeated within the frieze and are usually decorated by adding a relief)… and surrounding the entire temple), the metopes (element that is repeated within the frieze and are usually decorated by adding a relief)…
This image, without retouching, belongs to the temple of Olympian Zeus today. It has been taken from the same point as the previous one, however in this picture we can see the Acropolis of Athens in the background (on the left side of the image).
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What is the Olimpeion?
The “Olimpeion”, or “the house of Olympus”, is a way of calling the Temple of Olympian Zeus. This is the term most commonly used by the Greeks to refer to this sacred monument.
What were the Temples of Zeus?
Every Greek temple dedicated to the leader god of Olympus and therefore the most important of mythology, which was the official religion during ancient Greece, is considered a “Temple of Zeus”.
Where are the Temples of Zeus located in Greece?
The most visited one is located in Athens, very close to its respective Acropolis. However, the most important is the Temple of Zeus located in the ancient city of Olympia, also the site of the games that bear his name (Olympics).
Who built the Temple of Zeus in Athens?
Its construction was started by the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus in the 6th century B.C. However, after several centuries of inactivity, it was the Roman emperor Hadrian who finally finished building the Temple of Zeus in the 2nd century A.D.
How many columns does it have?
At present the Temple of Olympian Zeus (of Athens) has the sad number of 16 columns, one of which is lying on the ground due to an earthquake that took place in the eighteenth century. However, originally this Greek temple had an impressive 104 columns (of Corinthian order), being the largest in Greece.
Who destroyed the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens?
Although it is not known exactly when the temple was destroyed nor its causes, there are two quite probable theories about it: The first is that those responsible would be the Heruli, a Germanic tribe that invaded the Roman Empire in the third century (including the region of Greece). While on the other hand, it is also believed that the temple of Olympian Zeus may have been severely damaged by an earthquake during the Middle Ages (a relatively common phenomenon in Greece).
What was the temple of Zeus used for?
Like any Greek temple, this sacred precinct was used as a place of worship to the deity to whom it was consecrated: Zeus in this case. It was also used to store votive offerings to the god, but finally it should be clarified that sacrifices were NOT performed here. Saving the distances, it could be said that the temples were the churches of ancient Greece (and so they functioned until Christianity arrived).