The temple was made of a local limestone and coated with a thin layer of stucco to give it marble-like appearance in order to replicate the sculptural decorations inside. The temple of Zeus is considered to be the most perfect example of Doric architecture in the Peloponnesus. Construction began c. 470 BC from the spoils of the Triphylian War, and completed before 456 BC in commemoration to the Spartan victory at Tanagra. The architect was Libon of Elis. The east pediment shows the chariot race of Pelops and Oinomaos, while the west pediment sculptures show the battle between the Lapiths and Centaurs.
The temple was comprised of a pronaos, cella and opisthodomos; both were distyle in antis. On the floor of the pronaos are the remains of a Hellenistic mosaic with representations of tritons. In front of the pronaos is a small rectangular space paved with hexagonal marble slabs where the victors were crowned. The cella was divided into three naves comprised of two double rows of seven columns. At the far end stood the chryselephantine statue of Zeus created by Pheidias and identified as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The statue was believed to have been over twelve meters high and described by Pausanias (V, 11) as being enthroned, holding a scepter in his left hand and a winged Victory in his right. The undraped parts of the statue were of ivory, while the robe and throne were of gold. After the abolition of the Olympic Games, the statue was carried off to Constantinople where it perished in a fire c. AD 475. The temple was burned to the ground by order of Theodosius II in AD 426. Badly damaged by the fire, it was finally thrown down by the earthquakes of AD 551 and 552. Reference: http://www.olympia-greece.org/templezeus.html
The site of the ancient sanctuary was identified in 1766. In 1829 a French team partially excavated the Temple of Zeus, taking several fragments of the pediments to the Musée du Louvre. Systematic excavation began in 1875 under the direction of the German Archaeological Institute and has continued to the present time, although WWII brought a temporary halt to the investigations.