Historical and Architectural Facts of Temple of Hephaestus, Athens
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
Type of structure: Doric peripteral temple.
Location: north-west side of the Agora of Athens, on top of the Agoraios Kolonos hill
Construction dates: 449 BC - 415 BC
Named after: Athenian hero Theseus
It is one of the best-preserved ancient temples, partly because it was transformed into a Christian church.
Dimensions: 13.71 m x 31.78 m
History of the Temple 📑
It was dedicated to Hephaestus, the ancient god of fire and Athena, goddess of pottery and crafts.
After the battle of Plataea, the Greeks swore never to rebuild their sanctuaries destroyed by the Persians during their invasion of Greece, but to leave them in ruins, as a perpetual reminder of the war.
The Athenians directed their funds towards rebuilding their economy and strengthening their influence in the Delian League. When Pericles came to power, he envisioned a grand plan for transforming Athens into the centre of Greek power and culture.
Around AD 700, the temple was turned into a Christian church, dedicated to Saint George. Exactly when the temple was converted to a Christian church remains unknown. There are assumptions however that this possibly occurred in the 7th century.
When Athens became the official capital of Greece in 1834, the publication of the relevant royal edict was made in this temple that was the place of the last public turnout of the Athenians.
In 1834, the first King of Greece, Otto I, was officially welcomed there. Otto ordered the building to be used as a museum, in which capacity it remained until 1934 when it reverted to its status of an ancient monument and extensive archaeological research was allowed.
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A bit about Theseus
Theseus was the mythical king and founder-hero of Athens. Like Perseus, Cadmus, or Heracles, Theseus battled and overcame foes that were identified with an archaic religious and social order. His role in history has been called "a major cultural transition, like the making of the new Olympia by Hercules".
The Athenians regarded Theseus as a great reformer; his name comes from the same root as θεσμός (thesmos), Greek for "rule" or "precept". The myths surrounding Theseus—his journeys, exploits, and friends—have provided material for fiction throughout the ages.
Theseus was responsible for the synoikismos ('dwelling together')—the political unification of Attica under Athens—represented emblematically in his journey of labours, subduing ogres and monstrous beasts.
The dimensions of the temple are 13.71 m north to south and 31.78 m east to west, with six columns on the short east and west sides and thirteen columns along the longer north and south sides (with each of the four corner columns being counted twice).
The building has a pronaos, a cella housing cult images at the centre of the structure, and an opisthodomos. The alignment of the antae of the pronaos with the third flank columns of the peristyle is a design element unique middle of the 5th century BC. There is also an inner Doric colonnade with five columns on the north and south side and three across the end (with the corner columns counting twice).