Olympieion – Arch of Hadrian

The Olympieion

Emperor Hadrian visited Athens in 130-131 CE and stayed for several months. His arrival was combined with a brilliant fact: ηe inaugurated the Temple of Zeus Olympios the construction of which he financed. Thus, the temple was finally completed with a delay of approximately 600 years. At the same period, the Athenians in order to honour the arrival of the emperor, they erected next to the Olympieion an arch, today known as the Arch of Hadrian. The Roman emperor also built more sanctuaries south of the Olympieion. The most important of these was the sanctuary of Zeus Panhellenios.


Κάτοψη του Ολυμπιείου και των νοτίων ιερών. Σημειώνονται με τους αριθμούς: 1) Ρωμαϊκό βαλανείο 130μ.Χ., 2) Πύλη Αδριανού 131μ.Χ. 3) Ναός Ολυμπίου Διός (131μ.Χ.) 4) Ναός του Δελφινίου Απόλλωνος 450 π.Χ. 5) Το Επί Δελφινίω Δικαστήριο 500 π.Χ. 6) Ναός του Κρόνου και της Ρέας 150μ.Χ. 7) Ναός του Πανελληνίου Διός.

Top view of the Olympieion and the outhern sanctuaries: 1) The roman bath 130 CE. 2) Arch of Hadrian 131 CE. 3) Temple of Olympian Zeus 131 CE. 4) Temple of Apollo Delphinios 450 BCE. 5) Epi Delphinio low court 6) Temple of Cronos and Rea 150 CE. 7) Sanctuary of Zeus Panhellenios 131 CE.

Olympieon (124-131 CE)  

The construction of the Temple of Zeus Olympios began in the archaic period by Peisistratos and his descendants (520 BCE). It was designed to look like the huge temples of Asia Minor. It would be a Doric temple with a foundation size of 41m x 108m. It would have eight columns in two rows in the narrow sides and 21 in the long ones. However, with the arrival of  Democracy, it was considered as a symbol of tyranny and the construction stopped.

In the Hellenistic years, the king of the Seleykid Empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, ordered in 174 BCE the reconstruction of temple. The assigned architect was the Roman Cossutius who modified the initial plan of the building. The temple would now be of Corinthian order. In the narrow sides it would have three rows of 8 columns each, while in the long ones, there would be two rows of 20. It would have 104 columns in total. However, the works stopped again after the death of Antiochus, in 164 BCE. In 86 BCE, when the Romans besieged Athens, general Sylla took two columns of the unfinished temple to decorate the temple of Jupiter in Campidoglio, in Rome. A third effort for the completion of the temple made by Augustus, was unsuccessful.

Finally, the emperor Hadrian accomplished the project in 131 CE. He respected the initial plan of Cossutius even keeping some of his columns which still stood. The columns were 17 metres high and had a diameter of 2m. A wall was built around the temple along which, dozens of his portraits were placed as offerings by all the cities of Greece. In the interior of temple there was one gold and ivory statue of Zeus and one of Hadrian himself.

The temple was deserted after suffering serious damage from their Heruli invasion in 267 CE. Afterwards it was used as a quarry, as the marble was used to manufacture lime. In 1436, only 21 columns had remained of the 104. On 27 April 1759 the Turkish governor of Athens Tsisdarakis blew up one column in order to he prepare lime for the mosque that he was building. Today only 16 columns exist. One of them fell during a storm in 1852.

Arch of Hadrian (131-132 CE)

Hadrian founded the eastern part of Athens, around the area of Olympieion. It was a new district that was named after him: Hadrianoupolis. When the emperor reached Athens in AD 131, the residents of the city dedicated to him an arch in the borders of the old city and the new one.

This arch is still preserved in excellent condition. It is of Corinthian order and it’s height is 18 metres, the width 13,5m and the depth 2,3m. It is made of Pentelic marble. The arch in the middle has a span of 6,5 metres. Above this, two inscriptions can be found on both sides. The west one reads:  ΑΙΔ’ ΕΙΣ’ ΑΘΗΝΑΙ ΘΗΣΕΩΣ Η ΠΡΙΝ ΠΟΛΙΣ  (This is Athens, the old city of Theseus) while East one reads: ΑΙΔ’ ΕΙΣ’ ΑΔΡΙΑΝΟΥ Κ’ΟΥΧΙ ΘΗΣΕΩΣ ΠΟΛΙΣ (This is the city of Hadrian and not of Theseus).

Other buildings

Several sanctuaries existed since the archaic times in the area south of the Olympieion. The most important of them was dedicated to Apollo Delphinios. Next to it was one of the city’s courts, the Epi Delphinio. During the roman times, the sanctuary of Panhellenios Zeus (131 CE) was built along with the temple of Cronos and Rea (150 CE).

Finally, east of the Arch of Hadrian a bath was built in 131 that is today known as the Bath of the Olympieion.

For other monuments of Roman Athens click below: