The Olympieion is the ruins of a colossal temple at the centre of Athens that was built over the course of centuries. Dedicated to Zeus, construction began in the sixth century BCE under the rule of the Athenian tyrants, who intended it to be the greatest temple in all the world.
Unfortunately about ten years into the project (ca. 520 BCE) the tyranny was overthrown, and the temple was left unfinished with only the foundation and some elements for the columns completed.
For over three hundred years it would lie in this state, as the Athenian democracy that had taken the place of the tyranny believed it hubristic to build on such a scale. Aristotle even specifically cites the temple in the Politics as an example of public works used by tyrannies to leave the populace without the time or energy to engage in rebellion.
Construction wouldn’t start again until 174 BCE with the reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. However with the king’s demise the project ground to a halt, leaving it again unfinished.
During the looting of Lucius Cornelius Sulla’s sack of Athens in 86 BCE the Olympieion would be seriously damaged with some of the columns even being transported back to Rome to be used in the building of the Temple of Jupiter on the Capitoline Hill.
It wouldn’t be until Emperor Hadrian in the second century CE that the temple would see completion.
In 124 CE he undertook a massive public works program which included the Olympieion. A short eight years later it was formally dedicated with the surrounding precinct being adorned with numerous statues depicting Hadrian, the gods, and personifications of the Roman provinces.
Renowned as the largest temple in all of Greece, the temple unfortunately fell into disuse not long thereafter being pillaged during the Herulian sack of Athens in 267 CE. It was likely never repaired given the extent of damage to it and the rest of the city, and deteriorated into ruins as the fall of the Roman Empire saw the temple turned into a quarry for building materials in the construction of projects elsewhere in the city, and was even used in the building of a mosque during Ottoman rule.
The precinct in present days is administered by the Ephorate of Antiquites of the Ministry of Culture, and comprises the temple, the Arch of Hadrian – believed to have been built in honour of Hadrian for his many benefactions to the city when the temple was being dedicated, and the Ilissos River Sanctuaries.
Tip: Like most ruins you visit the ground is extremely uneven, remember to go with comfortable shoes that have a good hiking tread.