Athens: There are so many things to do. But did you know Athens is home to an ancient temple that is not only bigger than the Parthenon but also the biggest temple in Greece?
In this post, I will tell you everything you need to know about the Temple of Olympian Zeus. I’ll explain all about the history, where it is and how to get there, where to buy skip-the-line tickets online and the best guided tours, and the best places to take photos, selfies and the perfect Instagram.
So, sit back, make yourself comfortable, and let’s take a look at the biggest temple in Greece, the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens.
Where is the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Why is it called the Temple of Olympian Zeus
Also known as the Olympieion or Columns of the Olympian Zeus, it was dedicated to the Olympian Zeus, a name originating from his position as head of the Olympian gods.
When was the Temple of Olympian Zeus built
The temple’s foundations were built on an ancient outdoor sanctuary built by the tyrant Peisistratus during the era of ancient Greece, around 550 BC. After his death, the temple was demolished. His sons Hippias and Hipparchos began constructing a second, colossal temple to Zeus in 520 BC.
However, the work on the temple was abandoned when one of the sones, Hippias was expelled in 510 BC, at which point only the platform was finished.
During the Golden Age of Athenian democracy, the Greeks left the temple untouched, believing it was hubris to build on such a large scale. Aristotle even used the temple as an example of how tyrannies kept the population busy with projects to prevent them from considering rebellion.
Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Seleucid king who fancied himself Zeus-on-earth, began constructing a new temple in 174 BC. This time, the temple would be made of marble. However, when Antiochus died in 164 BC, the temple was only half finished and vulnerable to attack. In 86 BC, several columns from the unfinished temple were taken back to Rome, where they were used in the Temple of Jupiter on Capitoline Hill.
It wasn’t until Emperor Hadrian’s reign in the 2nd century AD that the project was completed. The new temple boasted two immense statues, one of Zeus and one of Hadrian, signifying his godly status and generosity.
How big is the Temple of Olympian Zeus
When you consider the Temple of Olympian Zeus was built during the time of ancient Greece, it’s sheer size of the temple is impressive – it was just over 110 metres in length and about 44 metres in width. The height of the columns is also remarkable, as they are 17.25 metres high with a diameter of 1.7 metres.
The long sides of the temple had two rows of 20 columns each, while the short side had a triple row of 8 columns, totalling 104 columns in all. Inside were gigantic gold and ivory statues of Zeus and Hadrian.
Today, even though only 15 columns are standing, and one column lies across the floor, it is still a remarkable site to behold.
When is it open
Summer (April 1st to October 31st) – Monday – Sunday 08:00 – 20:00
Winter (November 1st to March 31st) – Monday – Sunday 09:00 – 15:00
Closed – January 1st, March 25th, May 1st, Easter Sunday, December 25th and 26th
Access for those with Disabilities and Impairments
The Temple of Olympian Zeus is wheelchair accessible throughout.
It has a small wheelchair ramp at the entrance and a 5 m long ramp down (4-star flatness).
This is followed by 2 small wheelchair ramps up to the Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Best things to do and see
If you’re lucky, you might be able to catch a glimpse of the temple while it’s lit up at night.
Another must-see at the temple is the the place where the colossal statue of Zeus stood inside. It’s an impressive sight, and it’s definitely worth a visit.
There are also many other smaller statues and sculptures around the temple complex. These are all worth checking out and provide an excellent opportunity to learn about Greek mythology.
Best places for photos, selfies and the perfect Instagram
In front of the main entrance, to capture the scale and grandeur of the temple.
From inside one of the many columns, for a unique perspective.
In front of the statue of Zeus that once sat atop the temple – now located in the National Archaeological Museum.
At sunset, when the temple is illuminated in the golden hour light.
Where to buy skip-the-line tickets and tours
Although you cannot purchase a ticket online for the Temple of Olympian Zeus, I highly recommend you purchase either one of the “combo” tickets below, as this gives you skip-the-ticket-line entry to the Temple of Olympian Zeus as well as the Acropolis of Athens, the Parthenon, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, the Ancient Agora of Athens, the Roman Agora, Aristotle’s School, Hadrian’s Library, and the Kerameikos Ancient Cemetery.
There you have it, a pretty good guide to one of the best things to see in Athens; the Temple of Olympian Zeus: the biggest temple in Greece. It is a magnificent place to visit, and I highly recommend you do it.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog post. If you’re interested in learning more about other great things to do in Athens, then take a look below or for much more, just wander through my site.