Deaprting from Athens and after about 4hours driving (including a short stop at the Corinth Canal) we arrive at Ancient Olympia.
The entrance of the site is beyond the bridge over the Kladeos River. Thanks to Theodosius II and various earthquakes, little remains of the magnificent buildings of Ancient Olympia, but enough exists to sustain an absorbing visit in an idyllic, leafy setting. A visit to the Archaeological Museum beforehand will help with visualising the ancient buildings. The first ruin encountered is the gymnasium, which dates from the 2nd century BC.
South of here is the partly restored palaestra (wrestling school), where contestants practised and trained. The next building was the theokoleon (priests’ house). Behind it is Pheidias’ workshop, where the gargantuan ivory-and-gold Statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, was sculpted. The workshop was identified by archaeologists after the discovery of tools and moulds.
Beyond the theokoleon is the leonidaion, an elaborate structure that accommodated dignitaries. The altis, or Sacred Precinct of Zeus, lies east of the path. Its most important building was the immense 5th-century Doric Temple of Zeus, which enshrined Pheidias’ statue, later removed to Constantinople by Theodosius II (where it was destroyed by fire in AD 475). One column has been restored and re-erected, and helps you put into perspective its sheer size. South of the Temple of Zeus is the Vouleuterion (council house), containing the altar of oaths , where competitors swore to obey the rules decreed by the Olympic Senate.
The Stadium lies to the east of the altis and is entered through an archway. The start and finish lines of the 120m sprint track and the judges’ seats still survive. The Stadium could seat at least 45,000 spectators. Slaves and women spectators had to be content to watch from the Hill of Cronos.
To the north of the Temple of Zeus was the pelopion, a small, wooded hillock with an altar to Pelops. It was surrounded by a wall containing the remains of its Doric portico. Many artefacts now displayed in the museum were found on the hillock.
Further north is the 6th-century Doric Temple of Hera , the site’s most intact structure. Hera was worshipped along with Rea until the two were superseded by Zeus.
To the east of this temple is the Nymphaeum , erected by the wealthy Roman banker Herodes Atticus in AD 156–60. Typical of buildings financed by Roman benefactors, it was grandiose, consisting of a semicircular building with Doric columns flanked at each side by a circular temple.
The building contained statues of Herodes Atticus and his family. Despite its elaborate appearance, the Nymphaeum had a practical purpose; it was a fountain house supplying Olympia with fresh spring water. Beyond the Nymphaeum and up a flight of stone steps, a row of 12 treasuries stretched to the stadium, each erected by a city state for use as a storehouse and marking the northern boundaries of the altis.
At the bottom of these steps are the scant remains of the 5th-century-BC metroön, a temple dedicated to Rea, the mother of the gods. Apparently the ancients worshipped Rea in this temple with orgies.
The foundations of the Philippeion , west of the Temple of Hera, are the remains of a circular construction with Ionic columns built by Philip of Macedon to commemorate the Battle of Chaironeia (338 BC), where he defeated a combined army of Athenians and Thebans. The building contained statues of Philip and his family.
North of the Philippeion was the Prytaneum , the magistrate’s residence. Here, winning athletes were entertained and feasted. Time for lunch and after we start our drive back to Athens.
Alternative Tour Options:
There are so many other things to see in this area. Keep in mind that your driver is at your disposal, so if you would like to adjust the proposed itinerary at all, just let him know!
Did you Know?
- Famous visitors of the Olympic Games was Plato and Aristotle, and before them,in the 6th century BC., Thales of Miletus,were to compete in the games, and so was Alexander the Great and Nero.Thales died of sunstroke in the stadium during the games of 548 BC.
- Slaves and women,especially married ones,were strictly forbidden to wtch the games, and if a woman was caught as a spectator,she was thrown off Mt.Typaeon.
- Barbarians were allowed to watch,but not to compete.
- The victors of the Olympic games were hailed as heroes. Statues were built in their honor around the magnificent Temple of Zeus and the stadium of Olympia. Parades with chariots, songs, and poems written in their honor were given in their hometowns. Other special privileges awarded to the athletes were choice seats at all public spectacles; statues carved in their image were placed in prominent locations in the city, and they were also exempt from paying taxes. Cash rewards were common. In some Greek cities, part of a wall was torn and victorious athlete was led in though the opening. This ritual signified that any city with strong citizens had no need to defend itself with a wall from its enemies.
- The first modern Winter Olympic games were held in 1924 in Chamonix, France. There was no winter Olympic festival in ancient times. Separate Winter Games were first authorized in 1911 to be held in 1916, but due to World War I they didn’t occur until 1924, in Chamonix.
- The Modern Olympic flag of five linked rings, each with a primary color used in the flags of the nations competing in the games, was introduced in 1908. There is no ancient basis for this modern symbol.
- The idea of the Olympic torch or Olympic Flame was first inaugurated in the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. There was no torch relay in the ancient Olympic Games. There were known, however, torch relays in other ancient Greek athletic festivals including those held at Athens. The modern Olympic torch relay was first instituted at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin.
- The Olympic Oath was introduced in 1920.