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Temple of Hephaestus, Agora

Temple of HephaestusTemple of Hephaestus View slideshow
From the Agora an attractive footpath runs past the Tholos up the Agora Hill (Kolonos Agoraios), on which stands the Temple of Hephaistos.
The erroneous name of Theseion still stubbornly persists (and is perpetuated by the name of the nearby station on the Piraeus railroad); but the actual situation of the real Theseion, in which the remains of the Attic hero Theseus were deposited after being brought back by Kimon from the island of Skyros in 475 B.C., remains unknown.
The Hephaisteion, lying near the smiths' and craftmen's quarter of Athens, was dedicated to the divinities of the smiths and the arts, Hephaistos and Athena. It is one of the best preserved of surviving Greek temples, thanks to the conversion into a Christian church which saved it from destruction.
This Doric temple, with the classical plan of 6x13 columns, was built about the same time as the Parthenon but is considerably smaller (columns 5.71m/19ft high, Parthenon 10.43m/34ft. It has, however, certain features (e.g. Ionic friezes instead of Doric triglyphs on the facades of the pronaos and opisthodomos) which appear to be modeled on the Parthenon.
The explanation is that building began, probably under the direction of Kallikrates, before 449 B.C. but was suspended to allow concentration of effort on Pericles' great building program on the Acropolis and resumed only during the Peace of Nikias (421-415 B.C.), after Pericles' death.
This late date explains the more recent aspect of the east end, with the entrance to the temple.
Here the portico, the coffered ceiling of which is completely preserved, is three bays deep (compared with one and a half at the west end) and is tied in to the axis of the third column; the pronaos frieze is carried across to the north and south peristyles; and the metopes have carved decoration, while elsewhere they are plain. All these features are innovations which give greater emphasis to the east end, departing from the earlier principle of a balance between the two ends.
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Temple of Hephaistos - Pronaos Frieze

The damaged pronaos frieze depicts battle scenes, the west frieze fighting between Lapiths and centaurs (in the middle the invulnerable Lapith Kaineus being driven into the ground by centaurs).

Temple of Hephaistos - Cella

In spite of its small size, the cella at the Temple of Hephaistos had columns round three sides framing the cult images of Hephaistos and Athena (by Alkamenes) which were set up in the temple about 420 B.C., this also in imitation of the Parthenon. The cella walls were roughened and covered with paintings.

Temple of Hephaistos - St George's Church

When in the fifth century the temple of Hephaistos was converted into a Christian church, dedicated to St George, it became necessary to construct a chancel at the east end in place of the previous entrance. A new entrance (still preserved) was therefore broken through the west wall of the cella, and the old east entrance wall and the two columns of the pronaos were removed and replaced by an apse. At the same time the timber roof, normal in Greek temples, was replaced by the barrel-vaulting which still survives.
Scanty remains of painting, dating from the period of use as a church, can be seen on the north external wall.
When King Otto entered the new capital of Greece in 1834, a solemn service was held in St George's Church (depicted in a painting by Peter von Hess in the Neue Pinakothek, Munich). Thereafter it became a museum and continued to serve that purpose into the present century.

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