A guide to the Temple of Hephaestus
This magnificent Greek temple stands on the top of the low hill of Agoras Kolonos in Athens and is just north-west of the famous Agora. The Temple of Hephaestus is sizeable and is the best-preserved ancient temple in the world.
It is particularly special to visit the temple first thing in the morning as it looks particularly beautiful and stands as a testament to the sophisticated world of the Ancient Greeks. The reason why the temple has been so well preserved for centuries is that from the 7th century BC until 1834 it was used as a place of worship.
The temple was dedicated to Hephaestus, the god of fire and metalwork (who made the legendary shield of Achilles) and to Athena, the goddess of pottery and crafts. Interestingly, archaeologists discovered the remains of a number of small pottery and metal workshops surrounding the temple.
Work began on the construction of the temple in 445 BC when Pericles was in power. He was keen to make Athens the focus of Greek culture. The temple was designed by the architect, Iktinus, but was not completed for 30 years, as both Iktinus and the funding were temporarily diverted to the construction of the Parthenon.
The temple measures 31.78 meters from east to west and 13.71 meters from north to south. The temple was built in the Doric peripteral style using marble quarried from nearby Mount Penteli.
The eastern side of the temple was completed in 445- 440 BC and the western side, slightly later in 435-430 BC. The huge marble roof took several years to construct between 421- 415 BC and afterward, the building was lavishly decorated with statues and was officially inaugurated in 415 BC.
There are six columns at each of the shorter ends of the temple (north and south) and 13 columns along each of the longer sides (east and west). There was also an inner Doric colonnade with more columns in a Π shape.
At the end of the colonnade stood a large pedestal with two sizeable bronze statues of Hephaestus and Athena. There were many other statues throughout the temple and archaeologists have found that they were made from both Pantelic and Paran marble (from the island of Paros).
The temple walls were also richly decorated. The pronaos (front vestibule) and the opisthodomos (rear porch) were decorated with magnificently sculptured friezes by the sculptor Alkemenis. The frieze of the pronaos depicted the labors of Hercules and scenes from the battle of Theseus, with the Pallentides (who were the 50 children of Pallas).
The frieze of the opisthodomos portrayed the battle of the centaurs and Lapiths and the fall of Troy. Outside, a garden of pomegranate, myrtle, and laurel trees were planted around the temple. It is believed that the friezes depicting Theseus could be seen from the Agora and that this gave the temple its nickname – ‘Thision.’
In the 7th century AD, the temple was converted into the Christian church of Ayios Yeoryios Akamatus (St George of Akamatus- after Archbishop Akamatus of Athens). During the Ottoman era, the temple was only used once for a religious service once a year on Saint George’s Day (23 April). The final divine liturgy took place in the temple on12 February 1833.
Athens became the capital of the newly independent Greece in 1834 and the publication of the Royal Edit was made in the temple. The first king of Greece, Otto I was welcomed at the temple shortly afterwards, for his first official reception.
The king declared that the temple should be maintained as a museum. For the next 100 years, the temple was a museum but was also used as the burial ground for eminent non-Orthodox Europeans.
In 1934, it was declared an ancient monument and extensive archaeological excavations took place. Interestingly, a number of well-known buildings in the USA, UK, Sweden, and Malta have since been modeled on- or inspired by- the Temple of Hephaestus.
Key information for visiting the Temple of Hephaestus
- The Temple of Hephaestus is situated on the north-west side of the Agora and other ruins.and lie a short walk from Syntagma Square (the center of Athens and just a short distance from the Acropolis.
- The nearest Metro stations are Thissio (Line 1) and Monastiraki (Line 1 & 3)
- A visit to the Temple of Hephaestus can be easily combined with a visit to the Acropolis, Acropolis Museum, Hadrian’s Gate, and the Botanical Gardens.
- Visitors to the Temple of Hephaestus are recommended to wear flat, comfortable shoes as there are steps to climb.