Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece
The Temple of Hera, also known as the Heraion or Heraeum, is an ancient Greek temple located in Olympia, Greece.
Below, World History Edu presents some key facts about this historical site:
Dedication to Hera
It is situated in the sanctuary of Olympia, in the western part of the Peloponnese peninsula. Olympia was renowned in ancient times for hosting the Olympic Games, which were held to honor Zeus and Hera.
Architectural Style of the temple
The temple is an excellent example of the Doric architectural style, characterized by its simple and sturdy design. It features Doric columns and a peripteral colonnade, which means that columns surround the entire exterior of the temple.
The Temple of Hera is believed to have been constructed in 6th century BC (circa 590-580 BC) during the Archaic period. It is one of the oldest temples at the site.
What was the purpose of the temple?
The temple served as the main center of worship for Hera in Olympia. It housed a cult statue of the goddess and was a place for religious ceremonies and offerings.
Dimensions of the Temple of Hera
The temple measures approximately 50.01 meters (164 feet) in length and 18.76 meters (61.6 feet) in width.
How Pausanias describes the Temple of Hera
The renowned Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias, who visited Olympia in the 2nd century CE, provided a detailed description of the Temple of Hera. He noted that it was made of wood, except for the roof tiles, which were made of terracotta.
The temple underwent several renovations and repairs over the centuries, as evidenced by archaeological findings. It is believed to have been destroyed by fire and rebuilt at least twice during its existence.
Importance of Olympia
Olympia, including the Temple of Hera, was a significant religious and cultural center in ancient Greece. In addition to the Olympic Games, it hosted various festivals and events dedicated to the gods.
Today, the ruins of the Temple of Hera can be explored as part of the archaeological site of Olympia, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The site includes various ancient structures and remnants related to the Olympic Games and religious rituals.
Questions and answers
Where is Olympia?
Olympia is an ancient archaeological site located in the western part of the Peloponnese peninsula in Greece. It is situated in the region of Elis, near the Alfeios River. Olympia is renowned for its historical significance as the site of the ancient Olympic Games, which were held in honor of the Greek god Zeus and, later, his wife Hera. The archaeological remains of Olympia, including various temples and athletic facilities, continue to be of great cultural and historical importance.
READ MORE: History and Major Facts about Olympia
Where exactly is the temple located?
The temple is situated in the northern part of the sacred precinct, which is known as the Altis (i.e. Olympia).
What makes the Temple of Hera significant?
This temple is one of the oldest temples at the site of Olympia and holds great historical and religious significance. Olympia was renowned for hosting the Olympic Games, which were held in honor of Zeus and Hera.
When was it built?
The temple was built around 590 BC during the Archaic period of ancient Greece. It is a prime example of the Doric architectural style, known for its simplicity and sturdy design.
What columns were used?
The temple was designed with Doric columns surrounding its exterior, forming a peripteral colonnade. The temple is oriented east-west, and its altar played a crucial role in the ancient Olympic Games.
What is the link between the Temple of Hera and the Olympic Flame?
The altar of the Temple of Hera is where the Olympic flame is traditionally lit. The flame symbolizes the purity and continuity of the Olympic spirit. It is kindled using the sun’s rays and then carried to the site of the modern Olympic Games.
When did the temple fall into ruin?
Over the centuries, the temple underwent several renovations and repairs. However, in the early 4th century AD, it was severely damaged by an earthquake and eventually fell into ruin.
What were some of the major things found in the temple?
The opisthodomos (i.e. the rear room of an ancient Greek temple) served as a storage area for various items, including numerous statues of gods and offerings dedicated to Zeus and Hera. Among these objects, only a few have survived to this day. Notably, there was a statue of Hermes holding baby Dionysos, often identified as the Hermes of Praxiteles, a significant and well-preserved example of Greek sculpture.
Pausanias also noted the presence of a small ivory-clad couch, believed to have once belonged to Hippodameia, as well as the bronze disc of Iphitus of Elis, commemorating the legendary truce that founded the Olympic Games.
Additionally, there was a table where the olive wreaths awarded to victors during the Olympic Games were displayed. The table, created by Colotes, displayed intricate ivory and gold depictions of deities like Hera, Rhea, Apollo, Hermes, Zeus, and Artemis at the Games. One side featured Asclepius, Aceso, Ares, and the spirit of contest, Agon, while the other portrayed Pluto, Dionysos, Persephone, and a number of nymphs.
The temple at Olympia housed a special cedar chest known as “kypsele” in Ancient Greek. According to legend, this chest played a role in the story of Cypselus, the tyrant of Corinth. Cypselus was said to have been hidden in this chest by his mother, and the chest was later dedicated to the gods at Olympia as an expression of gratitude. This dedication is said to have given Cypselus his name.
According to the Greek orator and philosopher Dio Chrysostom in the 1st century AD, the chest was discovered in the opisthodomos (a room at the rear of the temple). The chest was adorned with various mythological figures, which were created using ivory, gold, or wood from the chest itself. These figures often had inscriptions in Corinthian (Doric) script, indicating their identities. Some of these inscriptions were written in a boustrophedon style, meaning they alternated direction like a plow turning at the end of a row. This chest and its inscriptions provide valuable insights into the art and culture of ancient Greece.
What is the significance of the temple today?
Despite the temple’s state of ruin, its ruins continue to play a vital role in the modern Olympic Games. The torch of the Olympic flame is still lit at its altar during the torch lighting ceremony, connecting the modern games to their ancient origins.
Major Facts about the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece
- The temple was initially dedicated jointly to Hera and Zeus, the chief of the Greek gods. Later, Zeus received a separate temple, and the Heraion became solely dedicated to Hera.
- During the Archaic Greek period, the temple served as a repository for significant cultural items and offerings from the people.
- The Temple of Hera was featured on the reverse side of the Greek 1000 drachmae banknote issued from 1987 to 2001.
- A complete replica of the Temple of Hera, albeit in a state of ruin, could be found in the Jasmine Hill Gardens located in Wetumpka, Alabama, United States.
- Separated from the temple’s eastern side is the Altar of Hera, where the Olympic flame has been ignited since 1936, utilizing a parabolic mirror to focus the sun’s rays.