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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrOlympia, located on the western side of Peloponnese at the foot of the Kronion Hill, about 4 hours drive away from Athens and only an hour drive from Patras, is among the most important archaeological sites in Greece.
Ancient Olympia, a birthplace of the Olympic Games and home of the Olympic Flame is truly inspiring and boasts a wonderful glimpse into the ancient world of athletes. Like much of the ancient world, you do need to use your imagination as there are rather limited remains of the temples, buildings, and the stadium. But given the significance of the place in terms of athletic history, it is well worth a visit.
At the Olympic Games, the sprint was always the most important race. And if you want to have some fun, walk through the arch entering the stadium, then go to the starting line and run the original Olympic track.
Ancient Olympia was not a town, but only a sanctuary with structures erected for the Olympic Games such as the stadium, horse-track, gymnasium, palaistra, and the worship of Zeus. The area of Olympia was already inhabited in the beginning of the 2nd Millennium BC, but the first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC.
All free male Greek citizens were entitled to participate in the ancient Olympic Games, regardless of their social status. Women, especially married ones, and slaves were forbidden to watch the games, although, women could compete. However, the events for women were not part of the official Olympics, but of a separate festival for the Goddess Hera, wife of Zeus. Like the Olympics, the Heraean Games were celebrated every four years, but the only event was the foot-race.
Exploring the archaeological site will take at least an hour, but allow more time if you can and enjoy the tranquility of the beautiful surroundings. Also allow at least another 45 minutes for the museum.
Ancient Olympia is located 500 m south from the Olympia Town. You'll find the entrance beyond the bridge over the Kladeos River. The nearby modern town of Olympia has plenty of hotels and other accommodation if you need to stay for a night or two.
What to See
Temple of HeraThe Temple of Goddess Hera, built around 600 BC, is among the oldest monumental temples in Greece. Known as the Heraion, the Doric temple is located close to the stadium in the north-west corner of the Altis. Originally, the temple was constructed for both Zeus and Hera. Later, Zeus received his own temple. The first columns were made of wood, gradually replaced by local limestone over time.
Lighting the Olympic FlameVisit the wonderful place where the flame of the Olympic Games is lit every 4 years. The torch is lit in the same way it was in the olden days. After the flame is lit, it is carried to the Olympic Stadium, where the Olympic runners begin the Torch Relay to wherever in the world the Olympics are held. The torch for the winter games is lit closer to the Olympic Stadium, at the monument to Pierre de Coubertin , the founder of the modern games.
Temple of ZeusThe Temple of Zeus, the most important building in the Altis, was built between 470 - 456 BC. The Doric peripheral temple was constructed of local shell limestone covered with white stucco. The most remarkable part of the temple was the magnificent gold and ivory statue of Zeus designed by Pheidias, which is considered to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The seated God had a statue of the winged Goddess, Nike, in his right hand and a scepter with a perched eagle in his left. Unfortunately, both the temple and the statue of Zeus were destroyed by an earthquake.
Ancient StadiumThe stadium is located to the east of the Altis and is entered through an archway. The racetrack of the stadium is around 212 meters long and around 30 meters wide. The starting and finish line were situated at the two ends and there was only one 192 m long track. The stadium could welcome up to 45,000 spectators.
Archaeological Museum of OlympiaThe museum's permanent exhibition contains a priceless insight into Greek antiquity. Examine a daunting collection of Greek sculpture, ancient armor, and bronze figurines. One of the museum highlights is a 4th-century BC statue of Hermes of Praxiteles, a masterpiece of classical sculpture from the Temple of Hera. There is also a Museum of the History of the Olympic Games, housed in the old archaeological museum in Ancient Olympia.
Opening HoursThe site is open daily from 8 AM to 7:30 PM in the summer. The museum is open daily from 8 AM to 6 PM in the summer. Last admission is 20 minutes before closing. In winter, opening hours are Monday 10 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday – Sunday 8 AM to 3 PM.
- If you visit Ancient Olympia in the summer, try to plan your visit either in the early morning or in the late afternoon.
- Visit the museum to get an idea of its splendor.
- Buy a combo-ticket for the site and the museum, it will save you a few euros.
- Ask for a map of the site at the ticket counter - they don't give you a map if you don't ask.
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Author: Ayda. Last updated: Oct 29, 2014