The History of the Temple of Greek Goddess Hera

Remains of the Temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece
••• Linda Garrison

More than just the wife of Zeus, Hera was a prominent, beautiful and powerful goddess in early Greek history and prehistory. Hera is considered equivalent to Juno in Roman mythology, though Hera is known to be much more jealous than Juno. Hera was described as being a young, beautiful woman. In fact, she was said to be the most beautiful of all goddesses, even beating out legendary Aphrodite. Hera's symbol, fittingly, was the showy peacock.

Today, the Olympic torch relay is not the only fire lit for the Olympic Games. In fact, there’s a much older tradition, dating back to Ancient Greece and the temple of Greek goddess Hera. Read on to learn more about Hera and why she is honored at the start of modern Olympics.

Temple of Hera in Olympia

The temple of Hera in Olympia, Greece is the famous site of the original Olympic flame and a popular site to see when traveling to Greece. The temple was built around 600 BC and is considered the oldest preserved structure in Olympia, as well as one of the oldest temples still standing in the country.

Every four years in honor of the Olympics, a fire is lit on the Altar of Hera, which stands inside the beautiful goddess’s temple. This tradition began in more than 80 years ago, but it has ancient roots. The “Olympic flame” represents the Greek myth of Prometheus stealing fire from Zeus. By comparison, the torch relay has no ties to ancient history. That flame also begins in Greece but then travels to different locations for the competition.

This is not the only major site special to Hera. The goddess's birthsite is said to be either Argos or Samos. The island of Samos was also said to be where Zeus and Hera spent the first secret three hundred years of their marriage—the longest honeymoon on record.

Hera and Zeus

Hera was a determined defender of the sanctity of marriage and monogamy, but she was married to Zeus, who not known for his monogamy. As the legend goes, Hera was very relationship-oriented and spent much of her time driving off Zeus's innumerable nymphs, mistresses, and other dalliances. She also sometimes tormented the offspring of those unions, as seen in the tale of Hercules.

When Hera was especially fed up, she wandered off by herself, always hoping Zeus would miss her and seek her, but then usually eventually relenting and returning without being so sought. Hera truly loved Zeus and suffered over his inattention, though it also frustrated her and drove her to drastic actions, usually at the expense of one nymph or another.

Hera's Connection to Nauplia

Hera is said to restore her virginity each year by bathing in Kanathos, a sacred spring near Nauplia in the Argolid region of Greece. The waters are supposed to be so purifying that any carnal transgression is simply washed away. 

Did she need "sins" washed off? One tale suggests Hera used magic to force Zeus into marrying her in a secret ceremony. Other tales have Zeus seducing her, in the form of a damp cuckoo bird seeking refuge in her lap during a storm. The message here is that you should be careful about taking in whatever the wind blows into your lap.