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The Temple of Olympian Zeus

The Temple of Olympian Zeus (41)

The Columns of the Olympian Zeus or the Olympieion, as it is also known, is a clear example of the works of colossal magnitudes for which the ancient civilizations were responsible that seemed to communicate the contemporary idea of "less is more". This colossal temple, of which only a few columns remain standing, was also the largest in Greece when it was finally completed in 130 AD, surpassing even the Parthenon.

The road to its completion was neither easy nor short. If you think the works in your street seem endless, just think that the Temple of Olympian Zeus took about 650 years to build. Yours does not seem so bad now does it?

It was in the time of Pisistratos, towards 550 BC, when the tyrant commanded the erection of this temple in honour of Zeus, the god of all gods, in an attempt to earn the appreciation of the Athenians. Its dimensions, at that time, were about thirty to sixty metres. His sons, Hipparchus and Hippias, inherited the project. The ambition to build a spectacular construction led to a double colonnade, but the project was once again left incomplete when Hippias was ousted from power in late 6th century BC. 

This break did not mean a brief pause in construction; more than three centuries passed by until 175 BC when, in a period of Macedonian domination, the 4th Syrian king Antiochus came and looked for an architect to complete the project. The name chosen was that of Cossitius, who was commissioned to build the largest known temple in the world. 

Again, on the death of King Antiochus IV, the works were paralysed for an extraordinary length of time, and it was the Roman Emperor Hadrian, an admirer of Greece and all she meant, who resumed and definitely finished works in the 2nd century AD, consecrating the temple to Olympian Zeus during the Panhellenic Festival of 132 AD. 

Adriano up a colossal statue of Zeus inlaid with gold and marble and, at his side, lifted his statue equivalent. Unfortunately, neither of the latter managed to complete to fruition over the years. 

The 104 Doric columns of 17 metres high of the Olimpeion Hadrian were spread distributed over the 96 metres long by 40 metres wide construction. Forty years later a Roman architect completed them with Corinthian capitals. 

The temples columns are spoken of in past tense, because today only 15 remain standing. However, its monumentality provides an idea of how extraordinarily giant the Temple of Olympian Zeus must have been. 

In 1852, during a storm, one of the columns still standing collapsed dramatically, without affecting the others. Since then, this column, number 16 of the remaining, remains in place. 

It is well worth visiting at dawn, as the sun angle over the columns is a truly stunning image. British landscape painter Turner fell in love with this image, which inspired some of his works. This temple speaks for itself: art inspires art. Do not miss it.

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