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Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens Gets a Makeover

Temple of Olympian Zeus
Maintenance work has begun at the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, not far from the Acropolis. Credit: Ministry of Culture

The Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens is getting a makeover in what is seen as the single most difficult and important maintenance project in recent years in the Greek capital.

The first 17-meter (55.7 foot) tall column at the western end of the Temple was placed within a protective scaffold earlier in the week. The rest of the 16 surviving columns will follow suit.

The aim of the restoration project, carried out by the Ephorate of Antiquities of Athens, is to carry on maintenance work at the monument which has suffered serious damage over the centuries.

“This is a project with many difficulties and problems,” commented Culture Minister Lina Mendoni on Thursday as she visited the monument to inspect the work.

Damage that has occurred over the centuries at the Temple of Olympian Zeus can be clearly seen. Credit: Ministry of Culture

Archaeologists and engineers are trying to create a comprehensive picture of the magnitude of structural problems along the entire length of the columns.

According to initial estimates, scaffolding, which is unfortunately necessary to carry out the maintenance work, will be placed around nine columns by April. The rest will follow later.

History of the Temple

The Temple was dedicated to “Olympian” Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods.

Construction began in the 6th century BC during the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who envisaged building the greatest temple in the ancient world, but it was not completed until the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century AD, some 638 years after the project had begun.

During the Roman period the temple, which included 104 colossal columns, was renowned as the largest temple in Greece and housed one of the largest cult statues in the ancient world.

The temple’s glory was short-lived, as it fell into disuse after being pillaged during a barbarian invasion in 267 AD, just about a century after its completion.

It was probably never repaired and was reduced to ruins thereafter. In the centuries after the fall of the Roman Empire, it was extensively quarried for building materials to supply building projects elsewhere in the city.

Despite that, a substantial part of the temple remains today, notably sixteen of the original gigantic columns, and it continues to be part of a very important archaeological site of Greece.

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