As it is one of the most ancient monumental temples in Greece, and one of the most instrumental in the Games, it is sometimes difficult to separate myth from fact when it comes to its history. Built at the foot of Kronios hill, within the sacred enclosure, it was dedicated to the sanctuary of Olympia by the inhabitants of the nearby polis of Skillous.
According to Pausanias, it was built eight years after the legendary Oxylus became king at Elis, which means sometime around 1096 BC; however, the dating of the actual remains indicates a later period around 600 BC. Unlike other complexes in the site and despite later conversions, what visitors can see of the temple today largely corresponds to its original form. What changed during the Roman Era was its use, as it was transformed to a sort of museum housing the most precious artefacts of the sanctuary, including the glorious statue of Hermes crafted by Praxiteles.
The building owed its quite peculiar and imposing character to its great length (with 16 Doric columns at each side), as opposed to a much smaller width (6 columns) and height. Due to the gradual replacement of the original wooden columns with stone ones, the temple became a showcase of the various developments in Doric columns and capitals; it is quite telling that, in the 2nd century AD, one of the old oak columns had yet to be replaced. Cavities on the columns indicated the spaces where female athletes who won at the Heraea could have their painted portraits placed.
As mentioned above, the Temple of Hera was instrumental to both athletic organisations. The statues of Zeus, standing, and Hera, seated on a throne next to him, stood on a high pedestal inside the temple. Every four years, sixteen noble Eleian women charged with organising the Heraean Games wove a new veil for the goddess (cf. the veil for Athena in the Panathenaea) and laid it before her statue. Significant artefacts related to the Olympics and kept at the temple included: the Disc of Iphitos, on which the Sacred Truce was inscribed; the chryselephantine Chest of Kypselos, the Corinthian tyrant who was famous for his lavish dedications to the sanctuary; last but not least, the chryselephantine table crafted by the sculptor Kolotes, on which the olive wreaths for the Olympic victors were put on display.