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Notes on the Geography of Greece: Theaters and the Temple of Olympian Zeus

Two theaters--one Greek, the other Roman--sit at the southern base of the Acropolis; a few blocks to the east are the surviving columns of the biggest temple of classical Greece, designed--naturally--by a Roman.

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Looking down from the Acropolis to the remains of the Theater of Dionysus, where plays by Sophocles premiered. In the distance (just before the forested hill) are the surviving columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus, exceeded in size only by temples at Ephesus and Selinus.

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The theater, built between 342 and 326 by Lycurgus, was entirely hidden by trash until the German architect Strack unearthed it in 1862. The theater accommodated 15,000 people in 64 tiers. Twenty remain.

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Nearly adjoining the Theater of Dionysus and on its west, this is the Odeion of Tiberius Claudius Herodes Atticus, a philanthropic Roman who built it in memory of his wife, Appia Annia Regilla. She died about 160 AD. The theater seated 5,000 and was roofed in cedar. The site was excavated in 1857-8 and partially restored in the 1950s.

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The arch leading now to the Temple of Olympian Zeus once marked the division between old and new Athens--which is to say, between the Greek and Roman Athens.

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The arch against the backdrop of the Acropolis.

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The temple, begun in about 520 B.C., had a platform measuring 134 by 353 feet. It was to be wrapped in a double colonnade on the unusual formula of 7 by 21 columns. Work stopped in 510, however, and was not resumed until 300 years later, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes hired a Roman architect, Decimus Cossutius. Work resumed in 174 on a revised plan with then-stylish Corinthian columns in triple rows, all in marble instead of the limestone originally planned. Work was again halted in 164 at the death of Antiochus, and some of the columns were shipped to Rome. Work resumed for the last time in the 2nd century A.D., and the emperor Hadrian came for the temple's grand opening.

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The columns are 55 feet high. Damaged in A.D. 267, the temple was then used as a stone quarry. Only 15 of 104 columns remain.

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Detail of column base.

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Capital and architrave.

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Lone survivors, with drums of a column that fell during a storm in the 19th century.


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