When referring to Olympia, we usually refer to Ancient Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Ancient Olympia was the sanctuary of Zeus and one of the most popular archaeological sites in Greece.
Modern Olympia is a village that pales to its ancient namesake: the village of Olympia is a small one-street town, with many stores and tourist shops, hotels and taverns. Its main goal is to provide the tourists of the ancient sites with all the necessary services for their visit, and little more. Of course, you can always do more than a stopover and soak up the surrounding pleasant hilly area.
The Olympic Games in Olympia
Olympia is the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Αlthough the first Olympics were thought to have been in 776BC, findings reveal that the sanctuary was used long before this time.
The Olympic Games were a festival in Olympia that took place every four years, for five days. A sacred truce was imposed during this time, observed by the Greek cities. Sparta was once banned from the Games for breaching the truce and did not participate for many years to come.
Initially, only native Greeks could participate in the Olympic Games, however, later Romans were also accepted, while other foreigners could only watch the games.
Women were not allowed to participate or watch the Olympic games, on pain of death.
The events of the Olympic Games included boxing, chariot and horse racing, foot racing, pentathlon (running, jumping,wrestling, javelin and discus throw), and pankration, which was a type of wrestling, during which the athletes could break the fingers or other bones of their competitors’ body.
The Olympic Games continued for centuries, but the decline started after the end of Hadrian’s reign. In 267AD, after a long series of threats of invasion, many buildings were actually dismantled to build a large wall that would protect the town and the olympic field.
Christians attacked the pagan sanctuaries, demolishing the Altis, while later some earthquakes destroyed a large part of the original buildings in Ancient Olympia.
Today, after restorations, the ruins of Olympia are quite compact, so it is easy for the visitor to get a quick overview of the site and then visit the buildings or head to the museum of Olympia.
The archaeological site is quite pleasant, with many trees providing much needed shade. The sanctuary occupies a large and flat area at the feet of Kronion Hill, where two rivers, Alpheios and Kladaios meet.
The site comprises the Altis or sacred precinct, which is a large rectangular enclosure south of the Kronion, with baths, workshops and administrative buildings on the south and west, and the Stadium and Hippodrome on the East.
The Temple of Zeus in Olympia
The Temple of Zeus was further investigated in 1829, and some fragments of the temple metope were brought to the museum of Louvre.
The Temple of Zeus is located at the SW corner of the Altis, with only a few columns being in place. The size of the temple is impressive, although we can only imagine it in its true proportions. The statues of the temple are now housed in the museum of Olympia, where you can see Nike Paionios, and the statue of Hermes by Praxiteles.
The famous statue of Zeus, made of gold and ivory, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World was created by Phidias, the sculptor known from the Parthenon, but doesn’t exist today since it was removed from Olympia and brought to Constantinople, where it was destroyed by fire in 47AD.
Museums in Olympia
Just outside the archaeological site you will see the new Museum of Olympia that houses an impressive collection of statues and findings from the site.
A few meters away, in the main village of Olympia visitors can find the Museum of the Olympic Games with some very interesting collections and memorabilia from ancient and modern Olympic Games.
You can visit Olympia with one of the Athens Taxi tours. Check our:
- 2 day tour to Olympia, Mycenae and Epidavros
- the 4 day tour from Athens to Ancient Corinth, Mycenae, Olympia, Delphi and Meteora Monasteries, a private tour to the most important archaeological sites in Greece
- our 10-day private tour in Greece, that will take you to many interesting places and of course, Olympia.