This statue was built in honour of the Greek supreme God, Zeus. Before the statue was built, the Greeks had been honouring Zeus through various ways. They had introduced Olympics, a major sporting event, in 776 B.C., honouring their king of gods. As time passed by, the competition grew with more number of participants from all around the world and more games were also introduced. With the growing popularity and the craze that was building up, the Greeks decided to build a temple for their God. Then in 470 B.C., construction of the Temple of Zeus designed by Greek architect named Libon from a small district called Elis was started and finished by 450 B.C. According to the visitors, the temple was lacking something and it looked hollow and incomplete. At the same time, the construction of the Greek Goddess Athena’s statue was making rounds all over the Greece. It was the first of its kind – a masterpiece; a statue that stood 12 metres above the ground. The news reached Olympia and it ignited the desire in the people over there to install a statue of their god, Zeus, inside the temple.
The Statue of Zeus was built inside the Temple of Zeus located in the west coast of Greece in a place known as Peloponnese near Olympia. The temple had a rectangular platform which was 64 metres long and 28 metres wide. Also, there were 11 columns on each side and 6 columns each on the other two ends. Inside the temple, the statue was built occupying the entire height of the temple upto the roof and the width of the temple’s isle occupying the back end of the temple.
The inspiration of building the statue of Zeus had its origin from the Statue of Athena which stood for 12 metres, built by an Athenian architect Phidias. He was the man behind the marvellous work of genius of designing and constructing the statue of goddess Athena, which stood inside the Temple of Parthenon. Though he created a big name for Athens, he had to leave Athens because he could not provide an account of the gold used in the statue and he was accused for misusing the government property. He left Athens and moved to Olympia. It was then that he was approached for designing and building a statue of the Greek’s supreme God, Zeus. Thus, Phidias started building one of the seven wonders of the ancient world in 435 B.C.
The Statue of Zeus had a huge, marvellous structure that touched almost the roof of the temple inside which it was built. It occupied the entire width and height of the back end of the temple. The statue had a wooden base which had a width of 7 metres and it was 1 metre tall. The statue had Zeus sitting on a throne made of cedarwood which is embedded with ivory, gold, ebony and other precious stones. The throne also had the carvings of the Sphinx, Greek gods and animals. The structure of the god, Zeus, was seated on the throne holding a sceptre, which had an eagle sitting on the top, in his left hand and a small statue of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, in his right hand. The head of Zeus’ statue was also decorated with a wreath of olive leaves. It also wore a robe and sandals made of fine gold and had the carvings of animals and lilies. The structure, though seated, stood for a massive 12 metres. It looked like, if the statue stood up it would break through the roof of the temple.
Architect Phidias built the statue with ivory however, it was impossible to carve the entire structure from a solid piece of ivory. He used a very unusual technique, known as chryselephantine, to build this statue. He melted ivory and made segments or plates as per the shape he required and joined them into a complete structure. He used wooden frames for the segments then overlaid it with molten ivory for the flesh part of the statue and with gold and bronze for the decorations. They were then constantly treated with olive oil which was stored in a reservoir under the floor of the temple. This helped in avoiding cracks on the plates that could be caused due to the damp weather and humidity in Olympia. Despite the techniques, because of its enormous size and Phidias’ desire to perfect it, the completion of the construction took a long 12 years.
The Statue of Zeus was famous all over the world for its artistic wonder and the size that stood with no comparison. It was then, that the Roman Emperor Caligula ordered in the 40 A.D. to move the statue from Greece and bring it to Rome. He expressed his desired to cut the head of Zeus off the statue and put his sculpted head, instead. When his army were trying to take the statue off the place, an earthquake broke out and the scaffolding used by the army collapsed. The earthquake had also destroyed the temple partially burying parts of the temple under the earth.
Later, in 475 A.D., a Greek art collector known as Lausus took the statue to Constantinople to be a part of his art collection. Unfortunately, after he shifted the statue in his art museum, a fire broke out in the city of Constantinople and it burned down the masterpiece of the ancient world. The fire left no remains of the statue and the Statue of Zeus remained just a name in the history, though it remained as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
There are no remains of the Statue of Zeus that exist in today’s time and the site at Olympia where the Temple of Zeus stood has barely any remains. Even the temple was destroyed so only few rocks are found scattered around with just one column that still is standing. The lone column at the site is just an evidence of the temple but it is also not of the exact dimensions since parts of it were damaged.
Despite of it being extinct, the Statue of Zeus is still a mysterious work of genius and is still considered to be one of the most extravagant works of art.