Ancient Olympia Greece
Olympia is the birthplace of the Olympic Games and
Zeus' sacred place, Olympia has cultivated ideals since ancient times.
It was never just the games, but also the honour, the peace, the struggle and the body - all in one.
Visiting the archaeological site and museum, you will walk in one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Greece.
Situated in the landscape of Ilia,
by the foot of Mt. Kronion (Kronios Lofos), Olympia invites you to take part of the history of Greece.
Mythology : Olympia is connected to many gods and myths, and there
are different versions on how the Olympic Games got started. According
to one version, this was where
Zeus struggled with his father
finally beating him and seizing the throne. As a memory of his victory,
Zeus made the games.
Another myth tells us that it was the five brothers that brought up Zeus
on Crete that started them. They raced in Olympia, and the oldest
brother Heracles (not the hero) crowned the winner with an olive wreath.
Yet another story tells us about king Oenomaus of Pisa, whose daughter
Hippodameia had reached marrying age. This worried the king, since an
oracle had told him that he would die by the hand of his son-in-law, and
so he conceived of a wicked plan that would prevent Hippodameia from
ever getting married. He made an announcement that any suitor would have
to compete with him in a chariot race. If the suitor won, he would get
Hippodameias' hand, but if he lost, he would die.
So, the races begun. Despite the risk of losing their life, many suitors
challenged the king, not knowing that the evil king had
horses. After Oenomaus had beaten, and killed, 33 suitors, Pelops
arrived. As soon as she saw him, Hippodameia fell desperately in love,
and conspired with the king's charioteer Myrtilos to help
Myrtilos sabotaged the king's chariot by pulling out the bolt that held
one of the wheels in its place, and after the race had started the
chariot fell apart in the first turn. The king was caught in his horses
reins and dragged to death. Pelops and Hippodameia married, and the
games were to be held in order to remember the day Pelops won over the
History: The area of Olympia was
already inhabited in the beginning of the 2nd Millennium BC, if not
earlier. There was a cult here before Zeus, probably to
Tradition holds that the first Olympic Games were held in 776BC, but
they might actually have started way before then. The games were a peace
treaty between Sparta and Elis, and it was soon decided that all Greek
states could take part in them as long as they respected the sacred
truce that must be held during the games. This period of peace was for a
month at first, but because so many states took part and people from all
over came to watch, it was extended to three months, always during
Because the sacred truce gave the kings and leaders from all over Greece
a chance to meet unarmed, Olympia became an important place for
political discussions and trade. It also enhanced the feeling of unity
amongst the Greeks, along with the language and religion.
Olympia was to be renovated many times, and new buildings were added
through the ages. Famous people came here to watch the games, such and
Aristotle, and before them, in the 6th century BC,
Miletus had died of a heat stroke here.
Gelon and Hieron of Syracusae
were to compete in the games, and so was
Alexander the Great
Slaves and women, especially married ones, were strictly forbidden to
watch the games, and if a woman was caught as a spectator, she was
immediately thrown off Mt. Typaeon.Women could compete though, and
besides that, the Heraia were also held here; foot races for young maids
in the area.
Barbarians were allowed to watch, but not to compete. A competitor had
to be a free, unpunished Greek and he had to have trained for the games
in his home for ten months, and for one month in Olympia. The winners
did not receive any money, but were greatly honored. The prize was an
olive wreath from
Zeus holy tree, and the winner was allowed to raise a
victory statue. In his hometown he would usually be given free meals for
the rest of his life, and it is said that a town with a champion would
tear down its wall since they no longer needed one with such an athlete
as a citizen.
If an athlete was caught cheating, perhaps through bribing or poisoning,
he was forced to finance a statue of
where his and his family's
name would be put and what he had done. Then the statue was put near the
entrance of the stadium, so that the athletes would see them before the
games started as a reminder of what could happen.
From the year 472 the games were held during five days in stead of the
original one. On the first day the competitors would register, take a
sacred oath that they had trained for ten months and that they would
respect the rules. On this day there was a competition between the
heralds. On the second day the horse races and Pentathlon were held. On
the third the track races took place. On the fourth there was wrestling,
boxing and Pancrateon. On the fifth day the prizes were handed out, with
During the Classical period the great temple of Zeus was built. Olympia
was his sanctuary and he had an oracle here. Inside the temple stood the
statue of the god, made by
. We only know about this statue
through coins and descriptions, and it was supposedly 13,5 meters (37,5
feet) high. It pictured a sitting Zeus with the goddess
right hand and a sceptre in his left. The statue was made of gold and
ivory, and was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
It disappeared towards the end of the 4th century AD.
The greatness of Olympia was now bigger than ever, and the victory
against the Persians had enhanced the feeling of unity amongst the
Greeks even further. Many new buildings were added, and the baths from
this period are the oldest in the world: complete with a swimming pool
and a sauna.
In the 4th century BC the whole stadium was moved to the East and slopes
were made on the sides for the spectators. Alexander the Great completed
his fathers building Philippeion and competed himself during the games.
He didn't win, but proved to be a good loser.
The Romans conquered Greece in the 2nd century BC and they took many of
the treasures of Olympia with them. Sulla even tried to relocate the
games to Rome, but failed. Even so, the Olympic Games lost their
importance and were just held for show. During Augustus reign Olympia's
status was enhanced again. Statues of the emperor and his family and
descendants were to be put in the sanctuary.
Nero came to Greece in AD 67 and took part in the horse races. Although
he fell off his chariot he had himself declared winner, and then took
many statues with him.
was to build a nympheum here, and its fountain provided
the area with drinking water.
Because Germanic tribes ravaged Athens and the Peloponnese, many
buildings were torn down in the 3rd century, and the materials were used
to build fortifications in Olympia. They never actually came here, but
in the 4th century the games were banned by emperor Theodosius. The
whole sanctuary was shut down in 426. One of the main reasons was the
the Olympic Games were now considered pagan by the Christian emperor,
and the competitors nakedness highly immoral.
In the 6th century earthquakes destroyed the buildings in Olympia, and
it was filled with mud from the flooded rivers Kladeos and Alfeos.
Landslides from Mt. Kronion finally covered the whole area up.
The sanctuary was discovered in 1776, and in 1829 French archaeologists
started excavating the site. The first modern Olympic Games were held in
Athens in 1896. The irony of it all is that the ancient games would stop
the wars, but the modern ones have been stopped by wars on a few
||1. The Gymnasium - Here the athletes would exercise running
2. The Palaestra - This is where they would train wrestling and
3. The Thermai - The baths
4. The Heroon - Monument to the unknown hero
5. The Theokoleon - Priests' quarters
6. Phedias' Workshop
7. Phaidryntai House - Here the care-takers of the statues
8. The Leonidaion - A guesthouse for noble men.
9. The Temple of Zeus 10. The Bouleuterion - This is where the
Olympic Committee sat.
11. The Southern Stoa - marketplace
12. Hestias' Sanctuary
13. The Echo Hall - Here the announcements were made, echoing
14. The Krypte - The Entrance to the stadium
15. The Stadium
16. The Treasure Houses
17. The Statues of Zeus, or Zanes
18. The Metroon - Temple to the Great Mother
19. Herodes Atticus' Nymphaeum
20. The Temple of Hera
21. The Pelopion - Monument to Pelops
22. The Philippeion - Monument to Philip II
23. The Prytaneion - Where feasts were held
Museum of Olympia : Just
opposite the archaeological site is the museum. It has a big model plan
of how the site must have looked in its day, and many interesting
artifacts. The best known artworks are the sculpture of
Nike of Paionius,
Miltiades' helmet and the pediments from
the temple of Zeus, picturing the myth of
Peleus and Hippodameia on one
side, and the myth of
Centaurs and the Lapiths on the other.
There are also several objects from the actual games - what the athletes
would use competing or cleaning themselves, as well as votive offerings
that people would dedicate to the gods in order to get cured
Getting There:In many holiday
resorts daytrips to Olympia are offered. You can also take a bus from
Athens, as well as from Kalamata and Kyllini for example.There are
hotels and rooms in Olympia town, which is at walking distance from the