Temple of Zeus

This Doric temple was built by the Eleans between 466 and 456 BC and definitely established Zeus as the main deity of Olympia, putting Hera in the second place. It was 64 m long, almost 28 m broad and its maximum height was about 15 m. It was built of local limestone , moulded with white stucco, which made it look like marble. The roof, made of white Athenian marble, was carried by 34 massive columns of more than 10 m high and 2 m thick. The beams over the architraves weighed more than 12 ton.

P086 More than 100 gargoyles in the form of lion-heads drained the water from the roof. The front was surmounted by a statue of Nike, the goddess of Victory bringing the victory crown to the winning athletes in the name of Zeus.


The sculpures in the front and back pediment and the metopes around the inner sanctuary have fallen on the ground because of an earthquake, but they were reconstructed to a large extent in the local museum. The east pediment shows Oinomaos, king of Pisa, and Pelops, just before the start of a dramatic horse race, with Zeus in the middle; the west pediment shows the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs with in the center the famous statue of Apollo. This theme clearly alludes to the Persian wars, which were at that time still fresh in people's memory. The metopes represent the twelve labours of Herakles, one of the mythical founders of the Olympic games and a role model for all athletes.

The greatest fame of the temple was Pheidias' statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

© KU Leuven, 2012