The inhabitants of Eleia built it after their victory against the allied forces of the region of Triphylia, and dedicated it to Zeus. Construction works took almost fourteen years to complete (470-456 BC). The sheer size of the temple is easily understood, if one bears in mind that each of the thirteen columns which comprised its sides was 10.43 meters high and 2.25 metres in diameter. Outside the main structure, a hexagonal space paved with marble was where victorious athletes were crowned. Apart from the great aesthetic value of the building proper, however, one should not forget that it also housed on of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the chryselephantine statue of Zeus, crafted c. 430 BC by Pheidias, perhaps the most important sculptor of Greek antiquity.
The colossal statue believed to have exceeded 12 metres in height wasplaced at the far end of the temple; Zeus was represented seated in a golden throne decorated with mythological scenes in relief. In his right hand, he held a sceptre the symbol of kingly power while in his left stood a winged Victory, the typical statue commemorating a victorious battle and indicating the lasting glory of the polis.The undraped parts of the statue were made of ivory, while the drape and accessories were of gold.
Time has not been kind to either the temple or the statue. The former was set on fire by order of the Emperor TheodosiusII in 426 AD, then easily succumbed to successive earthquakes in 551 and 552 AD; the latter was sent to Constantinople after the abolition of the Games, where it was burnt in 475 AD.