December 11, 2007

Temple of Hera (Olympia)

Doric Capital at the Temple of Hera (east side, 4th column from S corner)
Doric Capital at the Temple of Hera (east side, 4th column from S corner)

The Temple of Hera at Olympia, Greece, is an important monument of Doric architecture.

The temple was dedicated to Hera, the wife of Zeus and one of the most important female deities in Greek religion. For other temples dedicated to her, see Heraion (disambiguation).

The Heraion at Olympia, located in the north of the altis (the sacred precinct), is the oldest peripteral temple at that site, and one of the earliest doric temples in Greece. There may have been an older cult place in the same location. The temple was erected circa 600 BC, probably as a dedication by the Triphylian polis of Skillous. It is suggested that this dedication by a nearby city was originally in honour of the main patron deity at Olympia, Zeus. In that case, the temple would have rededicated to hera at a later point, perhaps after 580 BC, when control of Olympia had passed from Triphylia to Elis, or in the 5th century BC, when the famous Temple of Zeus was built. The temple of Hera was destroyed by an earthquake in the early 4th century AD. No repairs took place after that event.

The temple measures 50.01 x 18.76m at stylobate level; such elongated proportions are a common feature of early Doric architecture. It has a peripteros of 6 by 16 columns. These were originally wooden and were only gradually replaced with stone ones. As the replacements took place at widely differing periods between the Archaic and Roman periods and were carved under the influence of their respective contemporary styles, they differ considerably in proportions and detail. As late as the 2nd century AD, the travel writer Pausanias saw one wooden column in the opisthodomos. The walls had a bottom course of stone with a mudbrick superstructure, another feature typical of early Greek architecture. Holes in the protrusions at the ends of the walls (the so-called antae indicate that a wooden cladding protected them from the elements. The entablature above the columns must have been wooden, since no remains of it were found. The temple had a Laconian-style roof; its pediments were decorated with disk acroteria of 2.5m diameter, each made in one single piece (one is on display at the Olympia Museum).

Pausanias reports two cult statues inside the cella or naos, of the temple: a seated Hera and a standing Zeus. An Archaic stone head on display in Olympia museum may belong to the statue of Hera. At the time of Pausanias, the building was also used to store numerous other objects, including many further statues of deities and votive offerings. Among the few of these objects to survive is the statue generally identified as the Hermes of Praxiteles, one of the most important preserved examples of Greek sculpture. The temple also held the table on which the olive wreaths for the victors were displayed during the Olympic Games. Today, the temple is the location were the Olympic flame is lit.


The Jasmine Hill Gardens at Wetumpka, Alabama (USA) contain a full-sized replica of the (ruined) Temple of Hera.

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