The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens is one of the Greek capital’s most iconic landmarks. It has been a part of the city skyline for centuries and, despite the fact that it is often overshadowed by the Acropolis, it is one of the most important Greek temples in the world.
The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens
The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens sits on a small rocky bluff in the heart of the Ancient Agora complex in central Athens. It is the best preserved Doric temple in the world today.
The temple was actually built around the same time as the magnificent Parthenon (circa 450BC). It is special because it was the very first temple in the world to be made entirely out of marble.
(Just like the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens is the only stadium in the world that has been made entirely from marble!) The only exceptions are the foundation and the lowest stylobate step, which are made of Piraic stone.
Multiple architects worked on its construction, most notably Iktinus, who also worked on the Parthenon. As the name suggests, this temple was built in honor of Hephaestus, the Greek God of fire, as well as Athena Ergane, Goddess of pottery and crafts.
Interestingly though, for a period, Archeologists wrongly believed that the temple was built in honor of Theseus, the mythical son of Poseidon and founder of Athens. It is for that reason that they decided to name the surrounding neighborhood Thiseon or Thissio (Θησείο in Greek). When they later realized their mistake and discovered that the temple was indeed dedicated to Hephaestus, it was too late to change the name of the Athenian neighborhood!
Notable features of the Temple of Hephaestus
This Doric temple features a pronaos (front annex), a cella (rectangular body), and an opisthodomos (rear porch). It has 13 columns along its length on either side and 6 columns along its width.
Many of the sculptures here were made from Paran marble, sourced from the island of Poros. The sculptor Alkemenis carved Intricate friezes into the front and back of the temple.
These depict the fall of Troy, the labors of Heracles, and the adventures of Theseus. It is the latter friezes that led to the temple receiving its nickname “Theseum” and being wrongly believed to be dedicated to Theseus.
Former uses of the Temple of Hephaestus
The Temple of Hephaestus is not a building that was built in Ancient times for the worship of a Greek God and then forgotten about. For centuries, it served religious purposes.
From the 7th century, it operated as The Church of St. George. After the Greek War of Independence, the grounds around it were used as a burial place for those who lost their lives in the struggles against Turkey.
When King Otto of Bavaria became the King of Greece in 1832, his official welcoming ceremony was hosted here. Finally, the temple was converted into the tourist site it is today.
Visiting the Temple of Hephaestus today
The Temple of Hephaestus is located within the Ancient Agora complex. In both Ancient and Modern Greek, Agora means “marketplace”, although this particular area was mostly used for civil purposes.
Once upon a time, Greek Philosophers like Socrates and Aristotle would walk barefoot along the Panathenaic Way and give lectures and speeches to anyone that would listen. Today, it is incredible to walk around the Ancient Agora and along the pathways beside the Temple of Hephaestus and think about all of the notable Athenians who have trodden the same paths.
Visiting The Temple of Hephaestus requires purchasing an entrance ticket to the Ancient Agora. However, rest assured, this is a highlight of any trip to Athens and is well worth a visit.
When you enter the complex, you cannot miss the Temple of Hephaestus on your right-hand side. To your left, you will see a grand colonnaded building.
This is the Stoa of Attalos. It was built by King Attalos II of Pergamon (159–138 B.C.) as a gift to the Athenians and functioned as a kind of ancient shopping mall filled with dozens of stores selling everything from produce and groceries to clothing.
Unfortunately, the building was largely destroyed and then later rebuilt in the 1950s. However, today it houses the fascinating Agora Museum.
This is one of the most important museums in Athens and it gives additional information and context to all of the structures within the Agora complex (including the Temple of Hephaestus). It also contains various sculptures and artifacts that were recovered from the region.
Admission to the Ancient Agora complex costs €10. Concessions apply to children, students, and the elderly (you may need to display your ID). Concessionary rates are €5.
If you plan on visiting other notable Athens sites, it may be worth purchasing an Athens combination ticket. These tickets cost 30 and include admission to the most notable historic sites in the Greek capital.
The tickets are valid for a five-day period. They allow you entrance to the following attractions and work out much cheaper than purchasing multiple individual entrance tickets.
- Acropolis of Athens and Museum
- Ancient Agora of Athens and Museum
- Archaeological Museum of Kerameikos
- Hadrian’s Library
- Lykeion Archaeological Site
- North Slope of the Acropolis
- Olympieio (Temple of Olympian Zeus)
- Roman Agora of Athens
- South Slope of Acropolis
Have you visited The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens? What did you think?