An Olympic stroll on day 22
Olympia Travel Blog› entry 27 of 57 › view all entries
Nearby Olympia is everything I want an ancient Greek site to be. There is an almost palpable sense of history in a secluded setting, lovely white marble ruins glistening in the sun with fallen flower petals from the overhanging trees, and a good museum nearby. Oh, and a souvenir shop with books, interesting books. There is even a plausible Greek myth.
In ancient times, kings held large celebrations when they got a princess married off and held a reception for the neighbors. In order to keep the neighbors from squabbling with each other, the king would organize games to entertain them with honors to the winners. Supposedly in 776 BC, the local king was instructed by the Delphic Oracle to hold games at Olympia and institute a truce with the other local kings.
The games were held in a large level area near the junction of two small rivers that were navigable to the sea. This area wasn’t settled by homes but was held as a separate gathering place sacred to the games and women were not allowed to attend or compete. Most of the original temples and gymnasiums ("gymnas" means nude by the way and all the athletes were nude during competition) are just jumbles of columns but a few have been reconstructed. There was once a giant statue of Zeus here and a workshop for Pheidas, the famous sculptor and a building in honor of Alexander the Great’s father, Phillip.
Off to one side and through an arch the stadium is still visible with marble set into the ground for a starting line. The original Olympic racetrack was rectangular and the racers went from a starting line down around a pillar and back. No oval tracks were used. My husband and I walked the stadium race path before leaving for the nearby museum.
The museum holds the statues from the pediments of the Temple of Zeus. These statues are in a triangular arrangement similar to those from the Acropolis in Athens but much more static in composition. It’s an interesting comparison if you’ve seen the ones in Athens. There are many other interesting things in the museum including votive offerings from the prehistoric period and you should plan to spend some time there. You should also look in the souvenir shop next door for a “Then and Now” book. This has photos of the Olympic site as it looks now with an overlay page to show how it looked then. Of course, I bought the book and a few others as well.