Olympia is a sacred precinct dedicated to Zeus where the Greeks held Olympic Games in honour of the same God. It was not a city in Antiquity and the festival was mostly managed by the city of Elis. In the photo above is the Altar and Temple of Hera.
HOW TO GET THERE
From athens there are KTEL Ilias (Ilia being the name of the prefecture) buses departing from Kifissou bus terminal. There are two or three direct buses, but there are many more that go to Pyrgos where you can change local bus to Olympia. The entire trip takes 5.5 hours, but there are also express buses between Pyrgos and Athens, which save us about 1 hour (express buses do not make small stops inside Ilia prefecture). The ticket costs €27.40 (in 2010).
The site is at a confluence of Alpheios and Kladeos rivers, overlooked by the Hill of Kronos. Archaeological finds prove that the cult activities at this place date back to the 11th century BC.
The ancient Olympia site comprises the archaeological site itself and the archaeological museum; ticket costs 9 euros for the both, or 6 euros for each (in summer 2010).
The Olympic Games were very important festival for ancient Greeks such that the truce called Ekecheiria was observed for the week-long festival. The four year period of Olympiads was used by the Greeks for their chronology. The victory at the Olympic Games were highest honour for the contestants as well as for the native cities of contestants. Victors were given a crown made of olive branch. The festival was celebrated over a thousand years from the legendary establishment in 776/5 BC until the suppression in 393 by the emperor Theodosius I. In 426 Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the temples and the Workshop of Pheidias was transformed into a church.
The Olympic Games were the festival of the Greeks in the sense that only the Greek men who spoke Greek as mother-tongue could compete (the non Greeks speakers - barbarians - could observe, but could not participate). The grecophones from Asia Minor and Magna Graecia (i.e. Sicily and Italy) were allowed to participate. Women were not allowed to be present and were forbiddedn to cross the Alpheios river during the festival. These rules changed under the Romans.
The treasuries were looted by Sulla in 86 BC. Agrippa - close friend and son-in-law of Augustus - repaired the temple. The Roman emperor Tiberius won the chariot race in 4 BC and Nero postponed the festival 2 years so that he could compete (the 211st Olympiad in AD 69). He won special musical contests and a chariot race, but these records were later removed.
- Robin Barber, Greece (Blue Guide), London- N.Y. 2001 (Revised reprint of the 6th edition of 1995), pp. 310-327.
- Christopher Mee & Antony Spawforth, Greece. An Oxford Archaeological Guide, Oxford/ OUP, 2001, pp. 284-94.
Back to Page Top