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Temple of Hephaestus, Athens

Photo © Ben Freeman. View all images in our Temple of Hephaestus Photo Gallery.
Photo © Ben Freeman.
Photo © Ben Freeman.
Photo © Alan Grant.
Photo © caribb.
Photo © caribb.
Photo © caribb.

Built just two years before the Parthenon, the Temple of Hephaestus (also spelled Hephaistos) is a beautifully preserved Greek temple overlooking the Agora of Athens.

History

The Temple of Hephaestus and Athena was begun in 449 BC, just two years before the Parthenon. The project was sponsored by the Athenian politician Pericles and designed by an unknown architect whose handiwork can be seen throughout Attica. This temple was the first in Athens to be made of marble.

The temple has sometimes been called the Theseum due to a belief that it was a hero shrine dedicated to Theseus. This was based on the depictions of Theseus that occupy the metopes, but cult statues of Athena and Hephaestus (carved 421-15 BC) discovered in the temple have shown the designation to be incorrect.

In the 7th century, the temple was converted to the Church of St. George Akamas. The east end was given a semi-circular apse and walled in to form a modest square building. In the early 19th century, this temple-turned-church became a burial place for many Protestants and those who died in the Greek War of Independence in 1821.

The church remained in use through 1834, then became a museum until the 1930s. It has since been restored to its original Greek appearance.

Myth and Mystery

Hephaestus, Greek god of volcanoes and metalworking, was the only one of the Olympian gods who was physically imperfect - he was lame - and who had to perform manual labor. He worked as a blacksmith and was responsible for crafting the armor with a fatal weakness worn by Achilles in The Iliad.

The temple is also dedicated to Athena Ergane, a form of the city's patron goddess responsible for pottery and other crafts.

What to See

Located on Kolonos Agoraios hill overlooking the Agora, the Temple of Hephaestus stands on an elevated platform measuring 104 feet long and 45 feet wide. A Doric peripteral temple with some Ionic elements, the temple consists of a rectangular enclosure surrounded by an outer colonnade on all four sides.

The building is constructed of Pentelic marble and decorated with sculpture in Parian marble. The ceiling is wooden, the roof tiles are made of terracotta, and there is a limestone step at the bottom of the platform.

Inside, the space is divided into a pronaos (foretemple), a cella (inner shrine, with an interior colonnade) and an opisthonaos (rear temple). The east end of the enclosure is open, allowing the rising sun to illuminate the altar at the west end of the cella. Colossal bronze statues of Hephaestus and Athena flanked the altar.

The friezes on the east metopes (facing the Agora) are the finest, depicting the Labors of Hercules. The four easternmost metopes on the north and south sides depict the Labors of Theseus. The frieze over the pronaos shows a scene from the Battle of Theseus and the Pallantids, with the gods looking on, while the frieze over the opisthonaos depicts the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs.

Little of the pediment sculpture has survived, but some fragments are on display in the Stoa of Attalus. The east pediment depicted the deification of Hercules and the west had another scene from the Battle of the Lapiths and Centaurs.


Quick Facts on the Temple of Hephaestus

Site Information
Names:Temple of Hephaestus; Temple of Hephaestus, Athens
City:Athens
State:Attica
Country:Greece
Categories:Temples
Faiths:Ancient Greek
Styles:Greek
Dates:c.460-15 BCE
Status:ruins
Visitor and Contact Information
Location:Athens, Greece
Coordinates:37.975589° N, 23.721435° E  (view on Google Maps)
Lodging:View hotels near this location
Note: This information was accurate when first published and we do our best to keep it updated, but details such as opening hours can change without notice. To avoid disappointment, please check with the site directly before making a special trip.

Map of the Temple of Hephaestus

Below is a location map and aerial view of the Temple of Hephaestus. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.

References

  1. Informational sign at the temple
  2. Janina K. Darling, Temple of Hephaestus, Athens. Architecture of Greece, 191-94.

More Information

Article Info

Title:Temple of Hephaestus, Athens
Author:Holly Hayes
Last updated:01/19/2010
Permalink:www.sacred-destinations.com/greece/athens-temple-of-hephaestus/greece/athens
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