Olympia, The Birthplace of The Olympic Games
The modern Olympic Games date back only a little more than a century, while its earliest recorded ancient counterpart was held almost 3,000 years ago in 776 B.C., and took place every four years for more than a millennium. It is indeed a dream come true for many to be able to visit to the actual stadium where those old games were held and where the Olympic flame is lit to proclaim the opening of the modern athletic competitions.
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The town of Olympia in Greece marked the homecoming of the games in 2004 with a multimillion-dollar makeover including the pedestrianization of the main street, new footpath to the ancient site, two new museums–and the holding of an event, the shot put, at the ancient site. Despite these changes, an excitement beyond words will surely be felt by visitors to the site as they pass through the entrance tunnel beneath the third century B.C. arch and into the arena at Ancient Olympia, revealing the enormity of the complex–the equivalent of today’s modern Olympic villages–where one can still figuratively hear the cheers of the spectators, echoing down through the ages.
Built in the fifth century B.C., the Temple of Zeus stood at the center of the site. Only the bases of the columns are what have remained of the temple, although some fallen columns have been intentionally placed in sections where they have collapsed, providing visitors a glimpse of the temple’s former glory as it went into decline.
(Ruins of the Temple of Zeus) Image source
The temple contained a massive statue of Zeus, which was made in the group of buildings whose foundations are in front of the temple, on the side away from the stadium. One of these buildings is marked as the Studio of Phidias, the sculptor who crafted the statue. Across the path from here are the remains of the Leonidaion, the guesthouse used as a lodging place for athletes and distinguished visitors.
(Leonidaion) Image source
Behind the Leonidaion is the Bouleuterion, the meeting house where the equivalent of the modern International Olympic Committee would gather. It was also where the athletes participating in the games swore to uphold the Olympic rules, as cheaters were not taken lightly. From here, the athletes would make their way into the stadium, passing by rows of statues exposing past athletes who had violated the rules. The statues recorded each disgraced athlete’s name as well as that of his father and his hometown. Of course, there was also a segment where the heroes of the games were honored.
(Restored ruins of the Temple of Hera) Image source
Close to the modern-day entrance is another building worthy of attention. The Temple of Hera is much smaller in scale than the Temple of Zeus. Dating from the seventh century B.C., it was rebuilt in the sixth century B.C. making it almost as old as the games itself.
(Pediments from the Temple of Zeus at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia) Image source
Opposite the site of Olympia, the renovated Archaeological Museum houses one of Greece’s best collections from the site. Though many spectacular treasures have been hauled out of vaults to be exhibited for the first time in celebration of the Olympics, its pride can be found in the main hall containing the sculptures and friezes that decorated the Temple of Zeus. Tools used by the master sculptor Phidias are shown in another room. Other displays include items used in the games themselves, such as discuses, part of a starting block, and stones used by weightlifters. A must-see is the graceful marble statue of Nike by Paeonius from the fifth century B.C.
Also worth visiting is the Museum of Olympic Games, located just a block behind the main street. It focuses on a great exhibition of medals, torches, posters and other souvenirs on the modern Olympiads since 1896.
See more sites of Greece:
- Olympia, the Birthplace of the Olympic Games
- The Glorious Acropolis of Athens
- The Ancient Royal City of Mycenae
- Delphi, Home of The Oracle of Apollo
- The Minoan Palace of Knossos in Crete
- Delos, The Birthplace of Apollo
- The Suspended Rocks of Meteora
- The Magical Byzantine City of Mystras
- Nature’s Wonders of Greece – Part One
- Nature’s Wonders of Greece – Part Two