Temple of ZeusTemple of Zeus - There is often some confusion over this landmark on the Greek mainland. Many think the temple itself was one of the ancient wonders. Technically, it was not. It was the statue of Zeus housed within. That doesn't mean the temple wasn't a marvel in its own right. Designed by an architect named Libon, it was amongst the finest examples of Greek architecture of the Doric order (as was the Parthenon). Along with the Oracle of Delphi, the land on which it sat was considered the most sacred site (called the Altis) in Greece. Dedicated to the Pan-Hellenic gods long before the temple was built, it had already been the site of the Olympics for centuries. Construction of the temple began in 470 B.C. and was completed in 456. But, of course, the real attraction was the statue of Zeus inside. Built by the great sculptor, Phidias (see Phidias), it was a Chryselephantine statue, using both ivory and gold as a medium. Typically, the body would be carved from ivory (supported by a wooden frame) and the clothing (or armor), hair and jewelry would be made out sheets of gold leaf.


The statue towered 43 ft (13m) in the air, and depicted the deity sitting on his throne. It took Phidias 12 years to complete and was erected several years after the temple was built. In his left hand, Zeus grasped his sceptre, the symbol of his authority and in his right, rested a statue of the goddess Nike (it would have been roughly the size of an actual human). Greeks were so awed by the statue that Phidias was asked if he climbed Olympus and saw the face of Zeus himself. He answered that he drew inspiration from Homer's description of the god in Book I of the Iliad. In 475 A.D., the temple was sacked and the statue moved to Constantinople where it was eventually destroyed by a fire. The building was destroyed by an earthquake in 552 A.D..