Location: On the hill of Agoraios Kolonos, west of the Agora square. No 5 in the Agora plan of the Guide: Μc Camp II, J., The Athenian Agora. A Short Guide to the Excavations, Excavations of the Athenian Agora, Picture Book no 16, American School of Classical Studies (Princeton 2003), p. 2 and pp. 24-25.
Date of construction: 446-442 BC. There is an alternative suggestion, dating its construction to 460 BC, but this view is not particularly compelling.
Periods of Use: Classical, Hellenistic, Roman. In the Late Roman period it was converted to a church dedicated to St George. After 1833 it was used as a museum.
The Temple of Hephaestus on the hill of Agoraios Kolonos (=Market Hill), known as the ‘Theseion’, is the best preserved example of a Doric order temple in Greece, and one of the most important monuments of the Pericleian Building Programme. Erected shortly after 450 BC, it was dedicated to Hephaestus and Athena Ergane, on the hillock overlooking the Agora square. The temple was richly adorned with sculptures; it comprised metopes at its east side and the east corners of the north and south sides, an Ionic frieze above the peristasis in the pronaos and pediments which survive in a poor condition. It survived the raid of the Heruli and that of the Goths; it was converted to a Christian church of St George in the 7th cent., and continued to be used a place of Christian worship until 1833. Since then it was used as a museum, until 1950 when excavations were conducted in its interior. 
The Building’s Identification
The Temple of Hephaestus on the hill of Agoraios Kolonos is mentioned by Pausanias when describing his visit to the Athenian Agora. Its identification is relatively secure, though Pausanias employs a rather complicated scheme in his narrative, which has particularly perplexed modern scholars: more specifically, he refers to the Hephaisteion having already described the monuments up to and outside the limits of the Agora square, ending with the Eleusinion. He then proceeds to describe the Shrine of Aphrodite Ourania. 

Based on the itinerary described by Pausanias this altar was identified with the one in the Shrine of Aphrodite. The identification is further strengthened by the discovery of traces from the famous garden of the Hephaisteion, but also by the concentration of metalworking workshops installations around the temple. In his Lexicon, Harpokration (see under the entry “kolōneta”) mentions that the Temple of Hephaestus was located, together with the Eurysakeion, on the hill of Agoraios Kolonos. The site of the Eurysakeion has been identified thanks to the in situ discovery of inscriptions in and around the abovementioned hill, south of the temple. 
Excavations on the site of the temple have revealed earlier remnants including Mycenaean, Geometric and Archaic finds; these do not, however, necessarily indicate the presence of an earlier worship in this site prior to the erection of the temple. 
Some other theories have been put forward at various times. Originally, it was believed that this was the Theseion. An alternative view identifies the structure as the temple dedicated to Artemis Eukleia. E. B. Harrison, basing her view on the study of the devotional statues and the temple’s sculptural decoration, has disputed its identification as the Hephaisteion.
Building’s description
The Hephaisteion is the most impressive monument in the Athenian Agora and the most richly adorned. Indeed, in terms of the wealth and quality of its sculptural decoration it is surpassed only by the Parthenon.
The temple is preserved in an excellent condition, having survived the earthquakes and the disasters that have struck this side of the Athenian Agora, but also the much more serious threat of quarrying for the extraction of building material. The reason for this was its conversion to a Christian church.
Its building materials are varied: the lower step of the crepidoma comprises poros slabs, while the two upper steps and the superstructure are made up of Pentelic marble. On the contrary, the sculptural decoration and certain sections of the roof were made up of Parian marble.
The building’s design is earlier than that of the Parthenon: the plan is rather conservative, a peripteral with pronaos and opisthodomos both distyle in antis; there are 6 columns on the façade and 13 on its long sides. The compelling theory has been put forth that its architect, seeing the design Iktinos and Kallikrates employed in the Parthenon (its construction commenced in 447 BC), added the interior two-storey Pi-shaped colonnade (ditone colonnade), very few traces of which survive. It is also thought that the Ionic frieze above the pronaos and the opisthodomos had been influenced by the corresponding bold application of this Ionic order feature in a Doric order building inaugurated in the Parthenon.
The pronaos was deeper than the opisthodomos, due to the particularities of its sculptural decoration. The metopes measured 0.83m in height.
The roof
The ceiling in the interior of the cella was made up of wood, while the pteron was roofed by interlocking marble beams and coffered slabs. This intricate roofing is one of the most complex examples of its type, and for this reason it has been studied exhaustively. The coffers were largely carved on the lower part of the slabs, in order to reduce the carried weight. Although this practice is common in many buildings, in this case it has been executed in a unique way: the sunken part of each coffer was separately carved and could be removed. Furthermore, each sunken part interlocked precisely only with its own coffer.  
Dating the construction
W. B. Dinsmoor’s view that the temple is one of the four monuments that should be attributed to same architect and were built almost successively within a relatively small period of time (in the third quarter of the 5th cent. BC), is today the most widely accepted theory. More specifically, the so-called ‘architect of the Hephaisteion’, first built the Hephaisteion (449-444 BC), then the Temple of Poseidon in Sounion (444-436 BC), the Temple of Ares, which in fact is the Temple of Athena in Pallene (436-432 BC), and the Temple of Nemesis in Rhamnous. 
It is almost certain that during its construction the architect made adaptations to the temple’s design, influenced by the design employed in the Parthenon, which served as a point of reference and a source of inspiration. This also indicates a certain tardiness in the completion of the temple. Indeed, it is thought that the superstructure was not completed before 420 BC.
Other views, among which the theory put forth by Boersma (also adopted by the Italian archaeologists Cruciani and Fiorini) date the construction of the temple (or, simply, the conception of its design and its sculptural decoration) to the period of Cimon’s ascendancy, that is around 460 BC.
The devotional statue
Pausanias dedicates a significant part of his description to the cult statues of Hephaestus and Athena housed inside the temple. These statues were creations of the eminent Athenian sculptor Alkamenes and were probably crafted between 421 and 415 BC, when the Peace of Nicias allowed, until the period of the expedition in Sicily, the recovery of the Athenian economy and the resumption of the city’s building projects. Nothing remains of these, although there are several theories concerning their form and appearance.
Pausanias’ interest is concentrated on Athena’s azure eyes, which he correlates with a Libyan tradition purporting that the goddess was a daughter of Poseidon. Valerius Maximus mentions the miraculous manner in which the Alkamenes concealed Hephaestus’ most notable physical feature, his lameness, under his garments without, however, suppressing it altogether. 
Sculptural decoration
The Hephaisteion is decorated by exceptionally intricate and rich in symbolism sculptures. This decoration, as Morgan has argued rather convincingly, dates to the period after 421 BC. The preservation state of most of the metopes is rather poor, because after the temple was converted to a Christian church, zealots systematically destroyed the heads of most of the figures. Only the figures deemed to symbolize the forces of Evil and portrayed at their downfall (e.g. the Minotaur) escaped this fate, as these were identified with Satan and his punishment.
The east side metopes today survive in a very dilapidated state, as their heads were chiselled off by Christians, and portray the Labours of Hercules. The side of the temple most visible was that facing the Agora square. Its 10 metopes depicted: the hero struggling with the Nemean Lion, the slaying of the Hydra, the capture of the Cerynean Hind, the capture of the Eurymanthian Boar, the seizure of Diomedes' mares, the hero carrying Cerberus from the Underworld, Hercules struggling with the queen of the Amazons, killing Geryones and seizing his oxen (in two metopes) and well as the same hero taking the Golden Apples of the Hesperides.
Theseus’ labours are depicted in the metopes of the north and south, long, side, around the east façade until the third column. More specifically, the north side features four labours: the struggle against Crommyonian sow, the extermination of Sciron, Cercyon and Procrustes. In the south side we have the killing of Periphetes, Sinis the Pityocamptes (=pine-bender), the capture of the Marathonian Bull and the slaying of the Minotaur, this last being the most illustrious and recognisable deed of the Athenian hero.
The presence of Theseus led to the mistaken identification of the temple as the Theseion; this inaccuracy took hold and was perpetuated – eventually the modern district within which the monument is situated was called ‘Theseio’. A continuous Ionic frieze decorated the epistyle above the columns and the pronaos’ pilasters, in the interior of the pteron. The theme of the frieze is Theseus battle against the Pallades, a family which also asserted their rights to Aegaeus' throne, Theseus' father and king of Athens. The six divinities which participate or witness the battle are depicted in two groups: Athena, Hera and Zeus on the left, Hephaestus, Hippodameia and Poseidon on the right side. The hero stands in the middle, battling against his opponents who are hurling rocks at him. In this way, a rectangle was formed, decorated by sculptures and defined by the east side over the southeast and northeast corners and the pronaos. An Ionic frieze, finally, decorated the area above the opisthodomos. It depicted, in a continuous narrative arrangement, Theseus’ and Peirithous’ famous fight against the Centaurs of Mt Pelion, the legendary Thessalian Centauromachy. The centre of the frieze was dominated by a composition featuring two Centaurs beating Kaeneus -the invincible to weapons hero- into the ground, notwithstanding Theseus’ effort to come to his rescue.
The friezes survive in a rather fragmentary state. Their existence is indicated by the presence of openings on the lower part of the pediments for inserting and affixing the sculptures. It is thought that certain sculpture fragments, discovered in the nearby area and kept today in the Agora Museum housed in the Stoa of Attalos, could belong to these pediments. They are made up of Parian marble, like the metopes and the Ionic friezes: the best preserved fragment depicts a girl figure carrying another girl on her back, a game known as ephedrismos. Other sculptures, like the torso of a female figure clad in a rather diaphanous tunic, are thought to originate from the temple’s akroteria. 
Hephaestus, the protector of metalworking, and Athena Ergane, the protector of all the city’s artisans, were worshipped in this temple. The main festival in honour of Hephaestus was the Hephaisteia, the exact date of which in the Athenian calendar remains unknown. E. Simon, however, argues that the festival took place during the last springtime month, during the Mounychion. Our main source on the festival is a fragmentary inscription dated to 422 BC, relating to its reformation.
The most important events connected with this festival were the dithyrambic choruses in honour of the god, a torch race and a procession to the temple, culminating with the sacrifice of large number of goats. The place of this competitive ceremony is warranted by Hephaestus' role as a divinity connected with fire. The torch race is a favourite theme of vase painters; given, though, that this type of ceremony also features in other festivals (the Panathenaea and celebrations in honour of Prometheus, Pan and the Thracian divinity Bendis) it is difficult to judge when a particular torch race depiction represents the one in honour of Hephaestus. 
The garden
The garden surrounding the Hephaisteion was an important sight on its own, as attested in Pausanias account, who describes it in some detail. On the basis of the excavational evidence resulting from D. Thompson’s extensive investigations, the garden was created in the 3rd cent. BC. Large clay flowerpots were excavated spaced out at regular intervals; shrubs and saplings were planted in these in two rows along the south and north side, and in three rows along the west side of the temple. Pomegranates are planted today in the spots closest to the temple and myrtles in the more remote ones, while the flowerpots are kept in the Agora Museum in the Stoa of Attalos.
The building’s later history
The building's later history is rather interesting. This is one of the few monuments not to have been damaged during the two disastrous raids in the history of Late Antique Athens: that of the Heruli in 267 AD and of the Goths in the late 4th cent. AD. In the 7th century it was converted into a church, dedicated to St George, and this explains the systematic destruction of the metopes, as well as the excellent preservation state of most of the temple’s superstructure – except its roof. The temple was re-orientated: the main entrance was now shifted to its opisthodomos, while the pronaos was replaced by an apse. Two entrances were opened in its long sides, while a cupola was constructed over the cella. The stone roofing that can be seen today was probably installed during the Medieval period, replacing the original wooden roof.
Several burials were placed inside the temple during the Late Byzantine and the Ottoman periods. A number of eminent protestant visitors who had passed away in Athens were buried in the building, especially those who participated in the Greek Revolution of 1821-1828. When king Otto first arrived to his new capital in 1834, a service was held in his honour in the church of St George. The church was later converted into a museum, where the finds from the area of Athens were kept, until 1937, when the antiquities were relocated and excavations were conducted within and around the temple. 

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