The Temple of Hephaestus

The Temple of Hephaestus June 27, 2012
The Temple of Hephaestus, viewed from the rear

Hephaestus is a god of fire, volcanoes and smithcraft – especially blacksmithing. He’s the son of Zeus and Hera, though various sources say one of them threw him off Olympus either because they were upset over his imperfection (Hephaestus is “the lame god”) or because he sided with the other during one of their many quarrels. Lame or not, he’s a good god to know. He made armor and weapons for gods and heroes, including Athena’s shield and Zeus’ lightning bolts.

The Temple of Hephaestus is located in the Agora of Athens, about a mile from the Acropolis. According to Wikipedia and other sources, construction began in 449 BCE and was finished in 415. It was turned into a Christian church around 700 CE and remained in use until 1833. After Greece won their independence from the Ottoman Empire, the temple was converted from a church to a museum. In 1934 it was declared an ancient monument.

The Temple of Hephaestus is much smaller than the better known Parthenon and the massive Temple of Zeus (I’ll have reports on those sites in the next couple of weeks). The structure is 104 feet long by 45 feet wide, and it is supposedly the best-preserved of all the ancient temples in Greece. All of the columns and exterior walls are still in place, as is most of the roof. The statues (of Athena as well as Hephaestus) were removed in antiquity, but some of the pediment friezes remain.

some of the remaining friezes

We entered the Agora from the Plaka, a large collection of shops and restaurants. The same ticket that got us into the Acropolis also got us into the Agora. But if you go, go early – the Agora complex closes at 3:00 PM.

a statue in the Agora

The Agora, the center of ancient Athens, has been extensively excavated. We only had a short time there and didn’t venture too far from the entrance. The Temple of Hephaestus is a short walk up a hill.

The Temple of Hephaestus, viewed from the Agora

Most experts on ancient sites believe they should be preserved as they are and not restored to their original state. Restoration is extremely expensive and original materials frequently aren’t available. Many ancient sites had multiple uses and multiple configurations over the centuries – if you tried to restore Stonehenge, which alignment would you recreate? And a lot of people would rather see “authentic” ruins than restorations with new materials and methods.

But the Temple of Hephaestus is mostly intact. It would not take much (relatively speaking) to restore it to something close to its original condition. Even if it was considered a monument and not a sacred temple (something the still-influential Greek Orthodox Church would never permit), it would be wonderful to be able to go inside, see the statues, admire the artwork, and experience something along the lines of what the ancient Athenians experienced (at least those who were allowed inside the temples).

And if someone occasionally poured a libation to Hephaestus and Athena, that would be pretty nice too.

the interior of the temple, seen from the front

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