The Hephaisteion, or the Temple of Hephaestus and Athena Ergane, is the best preserved Greek temple in the world. Here is detailed information on this beautiful structure.
According to the Greek mythology, Hephaestus is the god of fire and volcanoes. He is also the god of all craftsmen and smiths. He is equivalent to Vulcan (the Roman god of fire) and Agni (the Hindu god of fire). The hammer, anvil, and tongs are his symbols. He was worshiped by all craftsmen in Athens. Hephaestus is the only Greek god to have a grotesque appearance; he was lame and crippled because of misshapen feet. Some portraits also depict him walking with a stick.
Hephaestus is the son of Zeus and Hera. There are many stories related to the cause of his disability. Once, during an argument between Zeus and Hera, he took Hera’s side. This infuriated Zeus, and he threw him off Mt. Olympus. According to the mythology, he was falling for 9 days and 9 nights, and finally, he landed in the sea where he was brought up.
Another story states that Hephaestus was born to Hera by parthenogenesis. Hera was horrified to find her son lame and crippled, and hence, she threw him off Mt. Olympus. Hephaestus, later took revenge by entrapping her and making her a prisoner.
There are also many stories regarding his marriage. In some legends, Aphrodite is portrayed as his wife, while in others, it is said to be Aglaia. It is also believed that Hephaestus created the first woman, Pandora, at Zeus’s command. As he was a skilled craftsman, he crafted many magnificent weapons and equipment for Greek gods. He is the creator of Achilles’s armor, Aphrodite’s girdle, Helios’s chariot, and the scepter of Zeus. It is said that he discovered the technique of making various equipment with metals.
Temple of Greek God Hephaestus
The temple of Hephaestus, or Hephaisteion, situated on a hill overlooking the ancient Agora in Greece, is one of the classic Greek temples. Although, built in 449 BC, it is almost fully intact even today. The columns, roof, and pediments are nearly unscathed. As it was believed that Theseus (a hero and king of Athens) was buried in the temple, it is also known as Theseion. However, the remains of Theseus were found in some other part near Acropolis. It is also believed that the temple was dedicated to Theseus. Numerous smiths and craftsmen worked in the temple’s vicinity. Therefore, Hephaestus, the god of craftsmen, and Athena Ergane, goddess of pottery and arts, were worshiped here.
The temple is believed to be designed by the architect of the Parthenon (temple of Athena). It is a peripteral temple having Doric style of architecture. The east and west sides of the temple are shorter, having six columns, whereas, the north and south sides are longer, having 13 columns (the columns in the corner are counted twice). Marble is extensively used in the temple. Its sculptures are made of Parian marble.
On the eastern front of the temple, on the frieze, there are sculptures depicting the Labors of Hercules. There is also a frieze depicting a battle of Theseus with the Pallantides. On the west, there are sculptures showing the fall of Troy (in the Trojan war). Only few of the metopes (square spaces between the triglyphs in Doric friezes) of the temple were sculptured, while most of them were painted.
In the 7th century, the temple was converted into a church and was known as the Church of St. George. It was also a burial place of the people who laid down their lives for the Greek War of Independence.
In 1834, King Otto of Greece declared the temple to be made into a museum. It remained so for nearly 100 years. In 1934, it was reinstated to its original status as an ancient monument. Various archaeological researches are conducted here. The beautiful Hephaestus temple, giving us an insight of the Greek culture, is the best preserved building of ancient Athens.