The Temple of Hephaestos as seen from Adrianou Street.
Temple of Hephaestos ΝΑΟΣ ΤΟΥ ΗΦΑΙΣΤΟΥ
On top of Agoraios Kolonos hill, which is delimiting the Ancient Agora of Athens, and to the west, stands the temple of the Olympian God Hephaestos, formerly thought to be a temple of Thesseus, thus known as "Thesseion". It is one of the best preserved ancient temples. According to the traveler and geographer Pausanias two deities were jointly worshiped in the temple: Hephaestos, protector of all metallurgists, and Athena Ergani, protecting all potters and the cottage industries. The identification of this temple as Hephaesteion (location of worship of the god Hephaestus) was ascertained by the excavations and investigations that brought to light metallurgy workshops on the wider area of the hill, thus outshining earlier opinions presuming that Thesseus, Hercules or Ares (Mars) were the deities worshiped there. The temple was probably erected between 460 and 420 BC by a yet unknown architect, to whom, however, other temples of similar structure in the Attica region are attributed.
The temple disposed of a pronaos (anteroom) and an opisthodomos (back section), both distyle (two-columned) in antis. On the exterior it was surrounded by a Doric colonnade having six columns on the narrow sides and thirteen columns on the longer sides. The entire building, from the crepis (stone base) to the roof, was made of marble produced in the quarries of Mt. Penteli in Attica, while the architectural sculptures that adorned the temple were of marble produced in the quarries on the island of Paros. On the interior of the cella was a two-part colonnade forming the letter Π and at the far end was a pedestal, that supported the bronze ceremonial statues of Hephaestus and Athena, created by the sculptor Alkamenis; according to the traveler and geographer Pausanias, they were probably created between 421 and 415 BC. The lavish sculptural decoration of the temple featured highly interesting metopes that adorned the east and the west side of the external colonnade. The east side numbered ten metopes that were visible from the Agora: they depicted nine of the feats of Hercules.
Furthermore, on the north and the south side are depicted four of the feats of Theseus, which probably were the reason why the people named this temple "Thession". The frieze does not run across all four sides of the cella, but only the across the pronaos and the opisthodomos. The pronaos features the victorious struggle of Thesseus against the claimers of the throne, who were the fifty sons of Pallas; six gods also participate into the fight. The opisthodomos depicts the fight of the Centaurs narrated on the wall which is against the cella. Notable sculptural representations also adorned the pediments of the temple. The west pediment depicted the fight of the Centaurs and the east pediment the reception of Hercules on Mt. Olympus or the birth of goddess Athena. Several among these sculptures inspired statues that were found in the surroundings of the temple.
Floor plan of the Temple of Hephaestus.
During the Hellenistic period, bushes or small trees in parallel order were planted into flowerpots around the temple; these pots came to light during excavation. In the 7th c. AD, the temple was conversed into a church dedicated to Agios George Akamas, and thus stayed in use until the liberation of Greece from the Turkish occupation.
During the 18th c., many eminent Protestants, who died in Athens, were interred in the edifice, while in 1834 it hosted the ceremony of the first reception of King Othon. From that time onward the temple was used as an archaeological museum, until 1930, the time when the American School for Classical Studies in Athens started excavations in the Ancient Agora.
This fine monument, almost intact in all its parts, presents the visitor with an admirable example of a doric peripheral hexastyle temple of the most glorious era of Athens. It is rising on a stylobate with three steps.
The length of the temple is 31 m (104 ft) by 13 m (45 1/2") and its height is 10 m (34 ft). From a distance it looks larger than it actually is, with its curves and inclination of the columns towards the center and with its splendid patina of the weather-stained marble from the quarries of Mt. Penteli.
Peter von Hess, "King Othon Received by the Greek Patriarch at the Theseum (Hephaesteion) on January 13th, 1835".
View of the Temple of Hephaestus, Jean Jacques Barthelemy, 1832.
Hephaestos, or Vulcan, is the son of Zeus and Hera, or Zeus alone. He is the Master blacksmith, the armorer and craftsman of the gods; the god of fire and the forge. He is the only god portrayed to be physically ugly. He is also lame and accounts as to how he became lame vary. Some say that Hera, upset by having an ugly child, flung him from Mt. Olympus into the sea, breaking his legs. Others that he took Hera's side in an argument with Zeus, and Zeus flung him off Mt. Olympus. He is the patron god of both smiths and weavers. He is kind and peace loving. His wife is Aphrodite. Unlike most divine husbands, he was rarely ever licentious. Symbols include fire, anvil, ax, donkey, hammer, tongs, and quail. His Latin name, Vulcan, gave us the word "volcano," since Hephaestos used a volcano as his forge.