Sunday, August 8, 2010

Wonder of Olympia - Statue of Zeus

       The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was the most famous artistic work in all of Greece and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, made by the Greek sculptor Phidias, between 470 and 460 B.C. This tremendous temple was designed by the great architect named Libon. The Statue of Zeus was located about 150 km west of Athens, on the western coast of modern Greece, in the ancient town of Greece. In ancient times the Greeks held one of their most important festivals, The Olympic Games, in honor of the King of their gods, Zeus.

According to accounts, the statue was located at the western end of the temple. It was 22 feet wide and more than 40 feet tall. The figure of Zeus was seated on an elaborate throne. His head nearly grazed the roof. The Zeus was a chryselephantine sculpture, made of ivory and gold-plated bronze. The figure's skin was composed of ivory and the beard, hair and robe of gold. In Zeus' right hand there was a small statue of crowned Nike, goddess of victory, also chryselephantine, and in his left hand, a sceptre inlaid with gold, on which an eagle perched.

According to Greeks ruling over the gods from his exalted throne atop Mount Olympus, Zeus saw everything, rewarded good conduct, punished evil, and governed all. He was the bringer of thunder and lightning, rain, and winds, and his weapon was the thunderbolt. He was the protector of cities, the home, strangers and supplicants.

 Like our modern Olympics, athletes traveled from distant lands, including Asia Minor, Syria, Egypt and Sicily, to compete in the games. The Olympics were first started in 776 B.C. and held at a shrine to Zeus located on the western coast of Greece in a region called Peloponnesus. The games, held every four years, helped to unify the Greek city-states. Sacred truce was declared during the games and wars were stopped. Safe passage was given to all traveling to the site, called Olympia, for the season of the games. The site consisted of a stadium (for the games) and a sacred grove, or Altis, where temples were located. The shrine to Zeus was simple in the early years, but as time went by and the games increased in importance, it became obvious that a new, larger temple, one worthy of the King of the gods, was needed. So, Temple of Zeus, built in 460 BC in a sacred grove between two rivers at Olympia.

This masterpiece lived on, though, at the temple in Olympia until 392 A.D. when the Olympics were abolished by Emperor Theodosius I of Rome, a Christian who saw the games as a pagan rite. After that the statue was moved by wealthy Greeks to the city of Constantinople where it survived until destroyed by fire in 462 A.D..


Chryselephantine statues were built around a wooden frame, with thin carved slabs of ivory attached, representing the flesh, and sheets of gold leaf representing the garments, armour, hair, and other details. In some cases, glass paste, glass, and precious and semi-precious stones were used for detail such as eyes, jewellery, and weaponry that enjoyed high status in Ancient Greece.
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