Architecture Around the World

Olympia, Greece

Olympia Sanctuary

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Hermes and Dionysos

Hermes and Dionysos

Hermes and Dionysos

Ionic column

Corinthian column (Roman)

Corinthian column (Roman) - alternate view

Corinthian column (Roman) - alternate view

Long jump weights and photo of long jumper on vase

Vase - detail. The long jumper held the weights while he jumped. The proper form with the weights in front of the body woiuld popel the jumper forward.

Poster of an ancient Greek warrior with his defensive armor.

Boar's teeth Trojan War helmet.

Bronze "Corinthian" helmets

Bronze "Corinthian" helmet.

Bronze "Corinthian" helmet. With the passing of time, the shape came to follow the contours of the skull more and more closely so that they were a better fit on the warrior's head.



Bronze breastplate

Angular part of the painted terracotta pediment of the Gelan treasury.

Restoration of part of the entablature with the pediment from the Megarian treasury.

Marble Statue of Zeus , a free copy of an original, probably in bronze, which would have dated to around 450 B.C. The competent but unimaginative working of the marble shows that it was made under the first Antonine emperors.

Detail of marble Statue of Zeus

Part of a terra-cotta sima with lion head spouts, from the Leonidaion, the large hospice built by the Naxian architect Leonidas at his own expense in the third quarter of the 4th century B.C.



The east pediment from the temple of Zeus - The chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaus.

The east pediment from the temple of Zeus - Sterope and a quadrigas of the contestants with their servants.

The east pediment from the temple of Zeus - from left: Sterope, Zeus, Pelops, and (partially) Hippodameia

Soothsayer from the east pediment of the temple of Zeus

The battle of the drunken centaurs and the Lapiths from the west pediment of the temple of Zeus

Two female figures in the left corner of the west pediment of the temple of Zeus.

Eurytion, king of the Centaurs, who had grabbed the young nymph Deidameia with hands and feet, from the west pediment of the temple of Zeus

The upper part of the statue of Apollo from the west pediment frofom the temple of Zeus

A Centaur from the west pediment of the temple of Zeus.

Centaur and Lapith from the west pediment of the temple of Zeus -

The west pediment from the temple of Zeus -

One of twelve metopes from the Temple of Zeus showing the Labors of Heracles

Another of the twelve metopes from the Temple of Zeus showing the Labors of Heracles from the temple of Zeus


Archaic Period - 700-5OO B.C. In the 7th c. B.C. the Greek World began to produce its first full size statues, strange rigid figures with ecstatic expressions made of wood inspired by Asiatic, particularly Egyptian, models.

In the 6th c. two well-known and distinctive types of statue were produced: the kouros, a naked young man, and the kore, a young woman dressed in a tunic. The figures, which were life size or larger, were sometimes made of bronz, but more often of limestone (poros) or marble and then painted with vivid colors.

The high reliefs, carved in stone and also painted, mostly come from pediments and are impressive for their realistic and expressive appearance; the bronze sculptures are more stylised.

Examples typical of Archaic art are the marble frieze from the Siphnian Treasury and two kouroi representing Cleobis and Biton (Delphi Museum).

Classical Period - 5OO-300 B.C. There was a transition period, marked by the Charioteer from Delphi (475 BC), where the figure turns slightly to the right and takes his weight on one hip.

Classical statuary then freed itself from the rigid frontal stance passing through two distinct phases. In the "idealistic" phase (5th c. B.C.), Greek sculpture reached its height in the work of Polykleitos and Pheidias. The former established a standard model, the "canon." Pheidias created an ideal standard of beauty composed of strength, majesty and serenity in the delicately carved lines of his marble figures. His genius is expressed in the Parthenon sculptures (Acropolis Museum, British Museum, Louvre); unfortunately the famous chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statue of Zeus at Olympia has been destroyed.

During the "naturalist'' phase (4C) majesty gave way to grace and the female nude made its appearance. Artists began to compose from nature giving their figures ex pressive faces; the best known are Skopas. Lysippos and Praxiteles who produced tall figures such as the Hermes of Olympia.

Hellenistic Period - 300 100 BC. Sculpture began to be influenced by expressionism and orientalism. A realism, sometimes excessive, was used to express not only pain but also movement as in the Laocoon (Vatican) and the Victory of Samothrace (Louvre); at the same time it could produce the beautiful serenity of the Melos Aphrodite (Venus de Milo). Artists took delight in representing old people and children. such as the bronze jockey from Artemision in the Athens Museum.


Herakles is of as much importance at Olympia as Pelops. While the latter is shown as the founder of the Pelopid dynasty and represents the Mycenaean phase of the sanctuary, in mythology Herakles is the founder of the athletic contests in the Altis and is associated with the ancient cults which represent its Dorian phase. It was therefore natural that the Labours of Herakles, which stirred every Greek, should form one of the temple's decorative themes. They, together with the chariot race of Pelops and Oinomaos and the Centauromachy, made up an expressive trilogy, an inspiration to those competitors at the sacred site of Olympia.

The Temple of Hera

The temple of Hera is a Doric temple built c. 650 B.C.

The temple, which is long and narrow and has heavy proportions, is one of the earliest examples of monumental temple construction in Greece. The lower part of the temple is made of the local shelly-limestone, while the upper part of the walls were of unbaked bricks, and the entablature of wood, with terra-cotta tiles on the roof. The columns were originally made of wood, being gradually replaced by stone ones over a period of some centuries. Each column was replaced by another, one in the style of the period in question, so that the columns reflect the complete development of the Doric column, and especially the capital, from the Archaic period to Roman times. Inside the cella is preserved the base on which the stone statues of Zeus and Hera stood. The colossal head of a goddess found during the excavations belongs very probably to this statue of Hera.

The Stadium

The Stadium (actually rebuilt twice) can be dated to the early 5th century B.C.

From that time, the Games, too, began to change their nature, and gradually became merely a spectacle for entertainment. The track in this new stadium is 212.54 m. long, and ca. 28.50 m. wide, while the starting and finishing lines are 192.28 m. apart.. The embankments surrounding the stadium on all four sides did not have stone seats. Apart from a very few stone seats reserved for important persons, such as the judges, on the south embankment of the stadium, opposite the Altar of Demeter Chamyne, the 45.000 spectators that the stadium could hold sat on the ground.

Temple of Zeus

Built around 456 B.C. The temple originally had 34 stocky Doric columns. Inside stood enormous gold-and-ivory staue of Zeus seated on an ebony-and-ivory throne. Considered one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Sculptor: Phidias.

Construction of the temple of Zeus commenced in ca. 470 B.C., immediately after the reorganization of the state, and was completed in 456 B.C. This Doric peripteral temple was the work of the Elean architect Libon.

The largest in the Peloponnese, it was considered the perfect expression of the Doric temple.

The twelve metopes portrayed the twelve labors of Herakles. These sculptures, now partially restored and displayed in the Olympia Museum, are the most representative examples of Greek art of the "Severe style."

On the east pediment was a gilded Nike (Victory), the work of Paionios, the same artist who sculpted the marble Nike which stood on the high triangular pedestal in front of the east facade of the temple of Zeus.

A chryselephantine statue of Zeus seated on a throne, sculpted by Pheidias, was set up inside the cella in about 430 B.C. This magnificent work is described in detail by Pausanias, but only inferior reproduction of it survives, mainly on Elean coins. The gigantic figure of the god held a Nike - also made of gold and ivory - in his right hand and his scepter in his left. The throne and base of the statue were decorated with mythical scenes featuring gods, demons and heroes, in gold, ebony and precious stones.


On the east pediment, Zeus, the guardian and sovereign of the temple, occupied the center of the composition; his original height was about 3,15 m. (he now stands at 2.91 m.). In his left hand he held a thunderbolt, which has not been preserved. On either side stood the two heroes of the myth, Oinomaos king of Pisa (about 2.85 m. high) and Pelops (height 2.77 m.). The latter, the legitimate son of Tantalus, came from distant Lydia to challenge Oinomaos for possession of his daughter, Hippodameia. It was a fight to the death since Oinomaos, informed by an oracle that he would be killed by his daughter's husband, would only give her in marriage to the man who, granted a head start, succeeded in outriding his own unbeaten horses, a gift from his natural father Ares.

Thirteen brave youths had already lost their lives before Pelops took up the challenge with the divine horses bestowed on him by his natural father Poseidon. Oinomaos was defeated; Pelops married Hippodameia and their offspring were the first of the Pelopid dynasty from which the entire peninsula, until then called Apia, took the name Peloponnese, the isle of Pelops.

The young Hippodameia stands at Pelops' side, clothed as for a wedding in an austere Doric peplos. Her left arm, lifting the peplos, is a gesture associated with marriage, and when it occurs in wedding scenes it is known as the "unveiling".

To balance this, Sterope, wife of Oinomaos, stands by his side, her peplos loosely draped and hands crossed on her breast, the left perhaps straying towards her chin, betraying the anxiety welling up inside her. Next to the heroines are the chariots of the two rivals with their servants and, seated on the ground, the soothsayers, possibly Iamos and Amythaon (some say Klytios), the mythical forebears of the two priestly families, which traditionally supplied Olympia with its priesthood - a hereditary- office. Finally, the semi-reclining figures in the corners of the pediment are, according to Pausanias (5.10.6 ff.), the two rivers which watered the plain where the sanctuary stood, the Alpheios and the Kladeos. Following the practice of the time, they were shown in human form, since man and nature were still regarded as an integral whole.


The west pediment shows the drunken Centaurs, invited to the wedding of Peirithous, king of the Lapiths, violating the sacred law of hospitality by attempting to abduct the beautiful Lapith women. In the ensuing clash the combatants are shown in groups of twos and threes. At the center of the composition Apollo (about 3.15 m. high), god of reason and order in the world, intervenes to punish the offenders, his bow in his left hand (only the sockets which held it survive). To the right of the god Peirithous falls on Eurytion, king of the Centaurs, who had grabbed the young nymph Deidameia with hands and feet, to the left Theseus (pres. height 2.51 m.), friend of Peirithous, is about to inflict a mortal wound on another Centaur to free a Lapith from his violent embrace.

Similarly dramatic clashes occupy the whole pediment, while in each corner, reclining on the ground two Lapiths, follow the struggle anxiously. Of these four figures, only the first from the right is contemporary with the other sculptures of the pediment, though her right arm, originally of Parian marble has been replaced in Pentelic, possibly after earthquake damage. The three other figures are also in Pentelic marble; the first on the left must have been made in the 4th century B.C. while the other two show stylistic traits of the 1st century B.C. They replaced originals damaged by one of the earthquakes recorded in literary sources and reflected in the evidence of excavations.

The outcome of the battle between Lapiths and Centaurs has been settled since Apollo's right hand rests protectively in Peirithous' shoulder. "Epidexios Apollo", the god who extends his right hand - as the ancients dubbed him - was viewed as a benevolent deity who always intervened on the side of the innocent.

... on the west pediment the battle is raging and nears its climax. The outlines of the opponents locked in turbulent struggle cross and re-cross in an unending pattern of oblique and wavy lines which start from one corner of the pediment, reach a peak in the center and fade out in the opposite corner, from which they sweep back in a ceaseless tide. The huge powerful contenders echo the epic struggle of man, represented by the Lapiths, against the unreasoning, chaotic and untamable forces of nature, represented in the ancient myth by the Centaurs.


Very early in Greek art the goddess Nike personified the victorious outcome of a struggle. From the earliest times to late antiquity there are countless examples of her depiction in ancient painting, in sculpture and in small scale works.

This Nike, in Pentelic marble (height 2.11 m.), was sculpted by Paionios from Mende in Chalkidike. It stood at the southeast corner of the temple of Zeus on a triangular base, 8.81 m. high, so that the combined height of the statue and base was 10.92 m. The face, large parts of the body, and a large portion of the wings, as well as the wings of the eagle which she trod underfoot are missing.

The statue was a thank-offering from the Messenians and the Naupactians for their victory against the Spartans in the Archidamean war, probably in 421 B.C. The inscription reads: "The Messenians and the Naupactians dedicated to Olympian Zeus a tithe of the booty taken from their enemies"; a little lower down one reads: "Paionios of Mende made this as well as the acroteria above the temple for which he won a prize." Here is another example of the competitive spirit and the thirst for acclaim which had permeated art and life so deeply.

This Nike, the oldest known example of monumental dimensions, marks a decisive stage in the history of Greek sculpture. While an older convention depicted her with her legs flexed, and only the wings on the shoulders and on the sandals to identify her, here, the goddess is depicted in flight, descending from Olympus to proclaim the victory of the Messenians and Naupactians over the Spartans, the best-drilled army of antiquity. Nike's headlong descent from the azure sky -the natural background of the statue - made the thin chiton cling to her body exposing its perfect modelling, while the himation billows out in the rush of wind like the sail of a ship. The figure leans boldly forward, and the weight of the marble seems to rest on her left foot, as it stands on the plinth. Nevertheless, the stability and balance are ensured by the mass of stone at the back, though this is not apparent, since the lower part is fashioned into an eagle and much of the upper part is integrated into the folds of the himation. The eagle - whose head is easily discerned - describes a curve below the feet of the goddess, was the symbol both of Zeus and of the element air, and completes the impression that this astonishing creation is in flight.

Hermes and Dionysos

In his description of the sanctuary of Olympia, Pausanias mentions, among the offerings at the temple of Hera, the statue of Hermes "holding the infant Dionysos" adding that it was the work of Praxiteles (Pausanias 5.17.3.). In 1877 the German excavators were fortunate enough to uncover this splendid work, which has since become one of the most famous statues of antiquity (about 330 B.C.).

The statue, 2.13 m. high, was preserved virtually undamaged, protected, until the moment of its discovery, by the fallen unbaked brick walls of the cella of the temple which was destroyed by an earthquake in the 3rd century A.D. The god, naked, holds the young Dionysos on his left arm which rests on a tree trunk. The newborn god impatiently stretches to grasp something which Hermes held in his right hand. It has not survived, but it may well have been a bunch of grapes, the attribute of the god of divine drunkenness, as this is known from other statues of Hermes and Dionysos and from Pompeian wall painting.

Some parts of the statue have been restored in plaster of Paris - Hermes' left leg from the knee downwards, his right calf and the lower part of the tree trunk. Hermes, the messenger of the gods, almost certainly held his metal caduceus, for the fingers of his left hand are now clenched round an empty rod-like space.

The aesthetic impact of the statue was completed by color; traces of deep red and of gilt paint can be seen on the sandal of the surviving original foot and on the hair. Praxiteles was renowned for his blending of sculpture and paint; he even collaborated with the greatest contemporary painter, Nicias.

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Photos and their arrangement © 2001 Chuck LaChiusa
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