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Zeus at Olympia

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Zeus at Olympia
Discover interesting facts and information about the magnificent Zeus at Olympia.  Zeus was the king of the gods and the popular cult of Zeus developed in the region of Olympia in the west of Greece. The most famous points of interest in relation to Zeus at Olympia are the magnificent Temple of Zeus and the colossal statue of Zeus which was housed in the temple.

The Olympic games were also celebrated in Ancient Greece in Olympia and were held in honor of Zeus.

The Cult of Zeus at Olympia
Zeus, the king of the gods was widely worshipped in ancient Greece with numerous shrines, temples, statues and sanctuaries built in his honor. But none were so famous, or as magnificent, as the those that were built at Olympia and revered the cult of Zeus at Olympia. Zeus was the embodiment of Greek religious beliefs and the archetypal Greek deity and as such, he was honored with one of the most popular Greek religious cults. Zeus was the ruler of Mount Olympus, the king of the gods and the god of the sky and thunder. Olympia was one of the most important religious sanctuaries in the Greek world.

Zeus at Olympia
The importance of Zeus at Olympia was reflected in the buildings, statues, rites and celebrations that were all in honor of the most revered of all ancient Greek Gods. This article provides facts and information about:

  • The Cult of Zeus at Olympia
  • The Temple of Zeus at Olympia
  • The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
  • The Olympic Games
  • The City of Olympia

The City of Olympia featured the sanctuary of Zeus, called the Altis, which housed the great Temple and Statue of Zeus and the city itself which provided the features hat were necessary for holding the Olympic games, including the stadium, a hippodrome for chariot racing and a gymnasium for the athletes.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia
The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was housed in the sanctuary of Zeus (which was called the Altis). The Temple of Zeus at Olympia measured 64 meter (210 foot) long and was designed by the architect Libon and was built around 450 BC. It was designed to honor Zeus and was located in the city of Olympia. In ancient times this city was a place of cult which contained numerous treasures, temples, monuments, altars, theaters, and beautiful statues.

Description of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia
The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was the one of the biggest temples built in Ancient Greece. The main structure of the building was built from local limestone and was coated with a thin layer of white stucco (a mixture of lime, sand, and water) which gave the Temple of Zeus an appearance of being made of marble. All the sculptural decoration on the temple was made of pure-white Parian marble. A gently peaked roof topped the building and the roof tiles were made of slabs of weather resistant Pentelic marble. The Temple of Zeus followed a design used on many large ancient Greek temples and was similar in design to the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.

  • The Temple of Zeus at Olympia housed the colossal statue of Zeus

  • The temple was 68 feet high, 95 feet wide and 235 feet long

  • The temple was built on a raised, rectangular platform.

  • The temples had a deep porch called a portico with high columns

  • 13 large Doric columns supported the roof along the long sides of the temple

  • 6 columns supported the shorter front and rear ends of the temple

  • There were 40 lion-shaped marble gargoyles on the roof

  • The Pediment, a classical architectural element consisting of the triangular section found above the horizontal structure

  • The triangular pediments were filled with sculptures

  • The portico: The portico was a porch leading to the entrance of a building with a roof structure over a walkway, supported by the columns

  • The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was divided into three separate rooms: the proanos (entrance room), the cella, also called the Naos was the inner part of a temple, the main room at the centre of the building which contained the massive statue of Zeus and the opithodomos (exit room) 

  • Under the pediments, in the metopes, were more sculptures depicting the 12 labors of Heracles. There were six metopes on either end of the temple.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia
The colossal statue of Zeus at Olympia was housed in the Temple of Zeus at Olympia in the west of Greece. The statue measured over 13m (42 ft) tall and its base was 6m (21 feet) wide and it stood for over 800 years. The following pictures are artists impressions of what the amazing statue of Zeus looked like, taken from first-hand descriptions of the statue by authors of Ancient Greece. For comprehensive facts and information refer to the Statue of Zeus at Olympia.

Zeus at Olympia - The Olympic Games
The Ancient Olympic games originated at the site of the cult of Zeus at Olympia. Athletes from all over Greece would gather in Olympia in order to compete against each other for their own honor and that of their city state. The ancient Olympic games were highly political with Greek cities competing against each other for the glory and prestige of victory. The donation of gifts were encouraged and the great cities of ancient Greece made significant offerings which were stored in the vast treasuries at Olympia, most of which were situated on the main road through to the temple of Zeus. Olympia was a magnificent city, the main hub being the great Temple of Zeus at Olympia. The Olympic games always signalled a time of peace and truce providing leaders with the opportunity to meet together unarmed and in safety. The sheer numbers of people who flocked to Olympia also helped to establish it as one of the major centres for trade.

The Cult of Zeus at Olympia - the Altis
The Greeks referred to the Sanctuary of Zeus as the Altis. The name Altis derived from the Greek word meaning grove, as the Sanctuary of Zeus, the Altis, was built adjacent to an olive grove. Sanctuaries were great centers of religious worship where the Greeks built temples, treasuries, altars, statues and other important structures that were particularly relevant to the Olympic games. The structures within the the Sanctuary of Zeus, the Altis, included:

  • The Temple of Zeus

  • The Temple of Hera

  • Treasuries

    • The Treasuries at Olympia were a series of small temple-shaped buildings located to the north side of the Altis.

    • They are called "treasuries" because they held the votive offerings made to Zeus

    • A votive offering is one or more objects deposited, without the intention of recovery or use, in a sacred place for broadly religious purposes

    • A votive offering was made to celebrate victories and give thanks to the god

    • Most of the treasuries were erected by Greek colonies, such as Selinus, Cyrene, and Byzantium, to store valuable votive offerings

  • Votive Statues - the Zanes: In front of the Treasuries  were the 'Zanes', statues of the king of the gods which were paid for by violators of the integrity of the games, such as cheaters

Gods and Deities
Greek Gods Mythology

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