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Olympian Zeus, Olympeion, Athens - The largest temple in Greece in the past

"This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus" as it`s written on the temple of Olympian Zeus, Olympeion, on the side facing the Acropolis (west facade). The is in addition to Acropolis this temple is another strong symbol of the Greece heydays in the past. It was an enormous structure, the largest temple in Greece, even bigger than the Parthenon, a temple on the Acropolis.

Zeus temple, Athens,Greek

Photo. The Temple of Olympian Zeus,Olympeion, Athens, in July 2012.

The Work began on this vast edifice in 515 BCE during the reign of the tyrant Peisistratos, who initiated the building work to gain public favor. Although there were several attempts over many years to finish the temple, it was not completed until 132 CE by the Emperor Hadrian.

Although begun in the 6th century BC, it was not completed until the reign of the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD. In the Hellenistic and Roman periods it was the largest temple in Greece. 

The 104 columns, each 17 meters (56 feet) high, of the temple were made of Pentelic marble. Only 15 of the Corinthian columns remain standing to give a sense of the enormous size of the temple which would have been approximately 96 x 40 meters (315 x 130 feet) in size.

After the construction of the temple of Zeus, the Athenians honored Hadrian by building an arched gateway in the northwest corner of the sanctuary in 131 CE. The arch, also built of Pentelic marble, bears two inscriptions.

The one on the side facing the Acropolis (west facade) reads "This is Athens, the ancient city of Theseus" while the other, on the side facing the sanctuary and the extension of the city by Hadrian, reads "This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus".

The other side, facing the temple and the extension of the city by Hadrian, reads "This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus." This inscription refers to the founders of the new and the old city: the gate separated the old city (founded by the mythical hero Theseus) from the new city, Hadrianopolis, founded by the Roman emperor Hadrian. 

Several more buildings have been discovered during the excavations around the Olympieion, including a Roman bath from around 130 BC and several temples from the same period. 

Stein Morten Lund, 30th November 2012

Additional information
Read more about ancient wonder in Greece on our global travelguide Travel Explorations.

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