Although the Greek gods lived at the peak of Mount Olympus, they also descended to earth to participate in the lives of mortal beings. Temples were the places where humans tried to come into direct contact with the divine, so they took great care to construct magnificent buildings that could last forever. This article presents the profiles of the twelve gods of Olympus and some of the most important temples dedicated to them.
Important Temples of the Greek Gods
Temples of Aphrodite
Aphrodite was the goddess of love, beauty, passion and pleasure. Her main cult centers were in Cythera, Corinth and Cyprus, while her main festival was the Aphrodisia, which was celebrated annually in midsummer.
Acropolis of Corinth
Aphrodite was considered the protector deity of the city of Corinth since at least three sanctuaries were dedicated to her in the city: the temple of Aphrodite at the Acrocorinth, the temple of Aphrodite II, and the Temple of Aphrodite Kraneion. The Temple of Acrocorinth was the most famous and important one, built in the 5th century BC, at the peak of the Acropolis of Corinth. It contained a famous statue of Armed Aphrodite, dressed in armor and holding a shield before herself as a mirror. You can easily reach Corinth from Athens by car, train or bus.
Sanctuary of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias
The first Sanctuary of Aphrodite of Aphrodisias is dated to the late 7th century. The temple inside formed the center of the city and was the center of the city’s prosperity, is also decorated with beautiful statues crafted by the local sculptors. The building is believed to have been dismantled in c. 481-484 by order of Emperor Zeno, due to his opposition to the pagan religion. The archaeological site of Aphrodisias is located at the southwest coast of Asia Minor, in modern-day Turkey, about 30 km west of Denizli.
Temples of Zeus
Zeus was considered the father of the gods, the god of the sky and thunder, who ruled over in Mount Olympus. He was the child of the Titan Cronos and Rhea, and brother to the gods Poseidon and Hades. Zeus was also infamous for his erotic escapades, which resulted in many divine and heroic offsprings.
Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens
Also known as the Olympieion, the temple of Olympian Zeus is a former colossal temple whose ruins stand tall at the center of Athens. This building was the largest temple in the whole of Greece, with its construction lasting around 638 years. It presents architectural characteristics of both Doric and Corinthian orders, while it also housed an enormous chryselephantine statue of Zeus. The temple is located south-east of Athens’ acropolis near the River Ilissos.
Temple of Zeus at Olympia
Of peripheral form and built in the second quarter of the fifth century BC, The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was an ancient Greek temple in Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games. The temple housed the renowned statue of Zeus, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue was approximately 13 m (43 ft) high and was made by the sculptor Phidias. By bus, you can reach Olympia from Athens via Pyrgos, the capital of the region, in 3 and a half hours.
Temples of Hera
Hera was the husband of Zeus, and the goddess of women, marriage and family. One of Hera’s defining characteristics was her jealous and vengeful nature against Zeus’ numerous lovers and illegitimate offspring, as well as the mortals who dared to cross her.
Temple of Hera in Olympia
Also known as Heraion, the temple of Hera is an ancient Greek temple in Olympia, built during the Archaic period. It was the oldest temple at the site and one of the most famous in all Greece. Its construction was based on the Doric architecture, while at the altar of the temple, oriented east-west, the Olympic flame is lit still to this day and carried all around the world.
Temple of Hera in Samos
The Heraion of Samos was the first gigantic Ionic temple built during the late Archaic period on the island of Samos. Designed by the famous architect Polykrates, it is considered one of the largest Greek temples ever built. It was an octastyle, dipteral temple with a triple row of columns framed the short sides, and despite its religious significance, it belonged exclusively to Samos. The site is situated 6 km southwest of the ancient city (present-day Pythagoreion).
Temple of Hera Lacinia in Sicily
The Temple of Hera Lacinia or Juno Lacinia was a Greek temple built in the Valle Dei Templi, next to the ancient city of Agrigentum. Constructed in the 5th century BC, it was a peripteric Doric temple, with six columns on the short sides (hexastyle) and thirteen on the long sides. The building is being restored using anastylosis since the eighteenth century. You can reach the Valley of the Temples by a two-hour car drive from Palermo.
Temples of Poseidon
Poseidon was the brother of Zeus and Hades, and the god of the sea, storms and earthquakes. He was also regarded the tamer or father of horses, and he was venerated as a chief deity at Pylos and Thebes.
Temple of Poseidon in Sounion
Considered one of the most important monuments of the Golden Age of Athens, the temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion was built at the edge of the cape, at a height of 60 meters. A peripteral temple of Doric order, it was made of marble and decorated with high-quality sculptures. Today, 13 columns and a part of the frieze still survives. You can reach the archaeological site of Sounion from Athens by car or bus, with the trip lasting about one hour.
Temples of Hades
The last of the three prime gods, Hades was the god and ruler of the Underworld. Also known as Pluto, his mission was to guard the souls of the dead from leaving. Cerberus, a three-headed dog that lived with him, guarded the gates of the Underworld.
Nekromanteion of Acherontas
On the banks of the river Acherontas, which was thought to be one of the entrances to the Underworld, a Necromanteion was built. This was a temple dedicated to Hades and Persephone, where people went in order to seek advice concerning the afterlife or to meet the souls of the dead. It is believed that the temple consisted of two levels, with the underground one relating to mystical practices, also famous for its acoustics. The Necromanteion is one hour drive south of the city of Ioannina.
Temples of Demeter
Demeter was known as the Olympian goddess of harvest and agriculture, who protected the grains and the fertility of the Earth. She also presided over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death, while she and her daughter Persephone were the central figures of the Eleusinian Mysteries.
Temple of Demeter in Naxos
Built around 530 BC on the island of Naxos, the temple of Demeter is considered a prime example of Ionic architecture and was built entirely from white Naxian marble of the finest quality. It is one of the few religious monuments built in the Ionic order on the Aegean islands, which also can be reconstructed in detail. The temple is situated in the south part of the island, just 25 minutes drive from the town of Naxos.
Temple of Demeter in Eleusis
The sanctuary of Demeter is located within the city walls of Eleusis, a city situated 22 km west of Athens, on a ridge above the bay of Eleusis. The sanctuary was composed of a sacred well (the Kallichorono, the cave of Pluto adjacent to a triangular court and the Telesterion of Demeter, an almost square building that could seat 3000 people. This was the place where the secret initiation rites were taking place, which according to tradition, began during the Mycenaean period.
Temples of Athena
Athena was the goddess of wisdom, handicraft and warfare, and the patron and protector of various cities across Greece, most notably of the city of Athens. In artistic representations, she is generally depicted wearing a helmet and holding a spear.
Widely considered the most important surviving classical temple in Greece, the Parthenon was dedicated to the patron deity of the city, Athena. A Doric peripteral temple was built during the city’s glory days after the Persian wars. Iktinos and Kallikrates were the architects, while Pheidias supervised the entire building program and conceived the temple’s sculptural decoration and a chryselephantine statue of the goddess. The Parthenon is situated on the sacred hill of the Acropolis, at the center of Athens.
Temple of Athena Lindia in Rhodes
Situated at the acropolis in the city of Lindos on the island of Rhodes, the temple of Athena was a famous sanctuary of Panhellenic character. Constructed around the 6th century BC, it was built in the Doric style and it houses a cult statue of the goddess, a standing figure of Athena carrying a shield, but wearing a polos rather than a helmet. The temple is located approximately 3 kilometers from the center of the city of Rhodes.
Temples of Apollo
Known as the most beautiful of all the gods, Apollo was the god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, and more. He was considered the national divinity of the Greeks and the most Greek of all the gods.
Temple of Apollo in Delphi
Situated at the center of the Panhellenic Sanctuary of Delphi, the temple of Apollo was completed around 510 BC. Famous for the Pythia, the oracle that provided the visitors with signs, the temple was of Doric style, while the structure that survives today is the third one built in the same place. Delphi is located 180 km northwest of Athens, and you can reach the place by car or bus.
Temple of Apollo in Delos
Also known as the Great Temple or the Delian Temple of Apollo, the temple of Apollo was part of the Sanctuary of Apollo on the island of Delos. Construction started around 476 BC, although the finishing touches were never completed. It was a peripteral temple, while the famous Colossus of the Naxians stood in the adjacent courtyard. You can reach Delos by a quick ferry ride from Mykonos.
Temples of Artemis
The daughter of Zeus and Leto, Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals, the Moon, and chastity. She was also the patron and protector of young girls, and in general, one of the most widely venerated of the ancient Greek deities.
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Located at the western coast of Asia Minor, this temple of Artemis was constructed in the 6th century BC. Being of gigantic size, with double the dimensions of other Greek temples, it came to be regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. Of Ionic architectural style, the temple was ruined by 401 AD, and today only some foundations and fragments survive. The site of Ephesus is situated 80 km south of the city of Izmir, Turkey, or about an hour’s drive.
Temples of Ares
Ares was the god of war. He represented the violent aspect of warfare and was considered the personification of sheer brutality and bloodlust, in contrast with his brother, Athena, who represented military strategy and generalship.
Temple of Ares in Athens
Located in the northern part of the ancient Agora of Athens, the temple of Ares was a sanctuary dedicated to the god of war and it is dated around the 5th century BC. Based on the ruins, it is believed that this was a Doric peripteral temple.
Marks on the remaining stones suggest that it may have been originally constructed elsewhere and was dismantled, moved, and reconstructed on the Roman base – a practice common during the Roman occupation of Greece.
This is the best example of a phenomenon known as “wandering temples,” of which there are several similar examples in the Agora, dating to the early years of the Roman Empire.
Temples of Hephaestus
The god of metalworking, craftsmen, artisans, and blacksmiths, Hephaistos was either the son of Zeus and Hera or he was Hera’s parthenogenic child. He constructed all the weapons of the Olympian gods. His cult was based in Lemnos, and he was also worshipped in the manufacturing and industrial centers of Greece, particularly Athens.
Temple of Hephaistos in Athens
Dedicated to the blacksmith of the gods, this temple is considered the best preserved ancient temple in Greece. A peripteral temple of Doric style, it was built around 450 BC at the north-west site of the Agora of Athens. Iktinus, one of the architects of the Parthenon, designed this temple, which was built from Pentellic marble and decorated with rich sculptures. The temple’s well-preservation is due to its history of varied uses as a church and museum.
Temples of Dionysus
Also known as Bakkhos, Dionysus was the god of wine, fertility, theatre, ritual madness and religious ecstasy. As Eleutherios (“the liberator”), his wine, music and ecstatic dance release his followers from the bounds of self-consciousness, and subvert the oppressive restraints of the powerful. Those who partake of his mysteries are believed to become possessed and empowered by the god himself.
Temples of Dionysus next to the theatre in Athens
The sanctuary of Dionysus is situated next to the theatre of the god in Athens, built on the south slope of the Acropolis hill. According to the ancient travel writer Pausanias, at this location two temples existed, one dedicated to Dionysos the God of Eleuthera (Dionysos Eleutherios), and the other housed the chryselephantine – made gold and ivory – the statue of the god, made by famous sculptor Alkamenes.
The first temple was constructed in the later 5th or 4th century BC, while the second one, dated back to the 6th century, during the reign of the tyrant Peisistratus, and it is considered the first temple to this deity in Athens.
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