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December 11, 2007

Temple of Zeus

A 1908 illustration of the temple as it might have looked in the 5th century BCE
A 1908 illustration of the temple as it might have looked in the 5th century BCE
Ruins of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
Ruins of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece
Metope showing Hercules and the Cretan Bull
Metope showing Hercules and the Cretan Bull

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia, Greece was built between 470 BC and 456 BC to commemorate the Elean defeat of the Pisatans in 470 BC and it was designed by Libon of Elis.[1]. It housed one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World — the monumental statue of Zeus by Phidias, which was added to the temple around 435 BC. The temple was destroyed by earthquake in the 5th century CE.[1]

The temple was built from limestone and covered with stucco built on a raised rectangular platform of approximately 64 by 28 metres, with thirteen 10-metre columns on each side and six at either end.[1] The temple was divided into three sections: the pronaos, naos and opisthodomos.[1] The Statue of Zeus was located towards the back of the naos.[1]

It was constructed in the doric order, with carved metopes and triglyph frieze, topped by pediments filled with sculptures in the Severe Style now attributed to the Olympia Master and his studio.

The east pediment, erroneously attributed to Paeonius by Pausanias, depicted the myth of the chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaus, with Zeus stood in the centre. The west pediment depicted a fight between the Centaurs and the Lapiths. Apollo stands in the centre, flanked by Peirithoos and Theseus.[2]

A sequence of twelve metopes – six over the pronaos and six over the opithodomos – showed the 12 labours of Herakles. Like the pediments, they were carved from Parian marble.[1]

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