The ancient temple of Zeus symbolized the might of the Greek empire in the ancient world. It was built on a sanctuary at Olympia. This sanctuary consisted of temples dedicated to Hellenic deities. Zeus' temple was located in the enclosure of Altis, which was a sacred grove in the sanctuary.
Architecture of the Temple
In ancient Greece, the Olympics were held every four years. Many athletes, under the protection of a sacred truce, traveled to the venue in Olympia. 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 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 BCE. The architect of the temple was the legendary Libon of Elis.
The overall architecture of the temple is traditional, in the style of ancient Greek architecture. It is also said that Libon took many ideas from the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus. The temple stood on an elevated rectangular platform. The enormous roof of the temple was supported by thirteen enormous carved pillars on the longer sides and six 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 Heracles. Due to these features, the ancient temple is considered an excellent example of the Doric Order of classical Greek architecture.
The basic material used for the construction of the structure was limestone. The limestone was unattractive and dull, hence, the outer structure was coated with a layer of Scutto. The sculptures on the temple were made in Parian marble. The roof tiles were made up of Pentelic marbles.
The Statue of Zeus
The temple was considered to be rather simple. Hence, Phidias, the famed sculptor, started his work on 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 said that the statue's head touched the roof. The statue was 40 feet tall and 22 feet wide, and sat on a golden throne. Some of the scholars and writers criticized the size of the statue. It was coated with a layer of ivory, and the robes were made out of gold.
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 to Constantinople by a wealthy Greek community. Sadly, the statue was destroyed in a fire in 462 CE.
The Modern Era
The temple of Zeus was discovered by French archaeologists in 1829. The excavation was carried out for five consecutive years. A German team further excavated the site in 1875.
The excavations that have taken place till date have uncovered the workshop of Phidias, 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 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 glory of the temple of Zeus, and the wonder of the world that was housed within it.