The temple of Athena Alea is one of the most celebrated temples of the Classical period and one of great importance for the history of monumental architecture and sculpture in Greece. It stands in the southernmost part of the ancient Arcadian city of Tegea and is the only visible monument of the homonymous sanctuary, the most important one in Arcadia, known and respected as a place of refuge by all Peloponnesians. Pausanias mentions (8, 45, 4 - 47, 4) that the mythical founder of the sanctuary of Athena Alea was Aleos and marvels at the beauty of the temple and of its sculpted decoration. He also relates that the all-marble temple of the Classical period was designed by Skopas of Paros, one of the great sculptors of antiquity. Recent excavations demonstrated that the site was dedicated to the worship of a female deity since the Mycenaean period. This deity was later identified with Athena, in whose honour the great Doric temple of the seventh century BC, located under the foundations of its Classical successor, was built. This Archaic temple with its wooden columns and entablature, which Pausanias describes as 'great and worthy of a goddess', burned down in 395/4 BC. The Classical temple was erected in the fourth century BC and destroyed by earthquake in the sixth century AD.
Only the foundations of Skopas's temple, which according to Pausanias was the largest and finest of all the temples in the Peloponnese, are visible today. It was entirely built of Doliana marble, with stone foundations and reused Archaic building materials. The temple was Doric, amphiprostyle in antis, and clearly influenced by the temple of Phigaleia and the Propylaia of the Athenian Acropolis. The stylobate (47.55x19.19 metres) supported a Doric colonnade of six and fourteen columns. The cella was decorated with seven Corinthian half-columns along each of the sidewalls. Its main entrance on the east side was accessed by a ramp, while a similar ramp led to a smaller door on the north wall. Inside the cella was the ivory cult statue of Athena, which, according to Pausanias, Augustus himself transported to Rome after his victory over Antonius. In Pausanias's time the statue had been replaced by another, which stood between the statues of Asklepius and Hygeia made by Skopas of Pentelic marble. Many more important votive offerings were also kept inside the temple. The building's exterior was kept fairly simple, except for the pedimental sculptures, also by Skopas, which depicted scenes from local legends. The east pediment represented the hunting of the Calydonian boar by Atalante, who had been raised in the Arcadian mountains, while the west pediment showed the heroic battle of Telephos, son of Heracles and Auge, daughter of King Aleos, against the Greeks invading the state of Mysia in Asia Minor.
A. Milchh?fer investigated the temple in 1879 and W. D?rpfeld drew the first plans in 1885. In 1900, the French School at Athens expropriated the houses built over the sanctuary and began excavating the site systematically under G. Mendel, who unearthed the temple's foundations. Excavations continued under K. A. Romaios in 1909.