The Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus symbolized the might of the Greek empire in the ancient world. The Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus was built in the sanctuary at Olympia. This sanctuary consisted of temples dedicated to the Pan-Hellinic deities. The temple was located in the enclosure of Altis which was a sacred groove in the sanctuary.
Zeus – the King of Gods
In the ancient Greece, Zeus was the king of all Gods and the ruler of Mount Olympus. Zeus is the god of sky and thunder. In the Greek culture, Zeus is considered as the ‘gatherer of the monsoon clouds’. There are also parallel deities in different cultures like Indra in the Vedic mythologies. There are many stories of the erotic escapades of Zeus. Zeus also appears in many Greek mythologies like the stories of the Trojan War. The people of the Greek civilization paid honor to the King of Gods in the ancient Greek Temple of Zeus.
Architecture of the Temple
In the Greek culture the Olympics were held every four years. Many athletes under the protection of a sacred truce traveled to the venue in Olympus. The venue of the sacred games consisted of the stadium, the Altis and the altar of Zeus to whom the games were dedicated. The architecture of the venue in the initial decades was simple. However, the Greeks started realizing the importance of having a more majestic and larger venue and a bigger temple for Zeus that would depict the might of the King of Gods and the Greek Civilization. Hence the construction of a new temple commenced around the year 470 B.C. The architect and civil engineer of the Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus was the legendary Libon of Elis.
The over all architecture of the temple is parallel to the ancient Greek architecture. It is also said that Libon of Elis took many ideas from Temple of Parthenon, Athens and the Temple of Artemis, Ephesus. The Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus stood on an elevated rectangular platform. The enormous roof of the temple was supported by thirteen enormous carved pillars on two longer sides and six pillars supported it on the shorter sides. The roof of the temple slopes downward. The carvings on the pediments were remarkably beautiful. The carvings depicted the twelve labors of Hercules. The twelve labors of Hercules were tasks or duties fulfilled by Hercules to restore his self-respect during his self-imposed exile. Due to these features, the Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus is considered an excellent example of Doric Order of the classical ancient Greek architecture.
The basic material used for the construction of the structure was limestone from the local resources. The limestone was unattractive and dull. Hence the outer structure was coated with a layer of Scutto. The sculptures on the temple were made by using Parian marble as the medium. The roof tiles were made up of Pentelic marbles.
The Statue of Zeus
The temple was considered to be rather simple upon the completion of construction. Hence Phidias, the famed sculptor, started his work of one of the wonders of the ancient world – the statue of Zeus. This statue was located at the western end of the temple. It is described that the top of the statue’s head touched the roof. The statue was 40 feet tall and 22 feet in width and it sat majestically on a golden throne. Some of the scholars and writers criticized the size of the statue. The statue was coated with a layer of ivory and the robes were made out of gold. The statue was so magnificent that the Greeks believed that every person should see it at least once in a life time.
Floods, wars and the Roman invasion bought about the downfall of the great complex of the temple. The legendary statue lived on, even after the games were banned by the Roman emperor, Theodosius I. The statue was shipped off to Constantinople by a wealthy Greek community. Sadly, the statue was destroyed in a fire, in the year 462 A.D.
Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus in the modern era
The Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus was discovered by French archaeologists in 1829 A.D. The work of excavation was carried out for five consecutive years. A German team further excavated the site in the year 1875 A.D.
The excavations that have taken place till date have uncovered the workshop of Phedias, remains of a pool of oil that was used to maintain the statue and a few pillars. The French team was also successful in uncovering the fragments of the carvings of the Labors of Hercules.
Architecture and civil engineering have progressed and evolved as the time has flown by. However, it is impossible to reconstruct the Ancient Greek Temple of Zeus.