An Olympic stroll on day 22

Olympia Travel Blog

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The Gymnasium

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 entrance into Olympia
  This was the first recorded Olympiad, held 2,786 years ago and they were held every four years for the next 1,168 years – 293 times before the end of the Roman Empire. 

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.
Our Olympia guide Elena
 
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.

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The Gymnasium
The Gymnasium
The entrance into Olympia
The entrance into Olympia
Our Olympia guide Elena
Our Olympia guide Elena
The Palaestra
The Palaestra
The Alpheios River was the ancient…
The Alpheios River was the ancien…
Im at the starting line for the O…
I'm at the starting line for the …
My husband took it much more serio…
My husband took it much more seri…
The entrance to the Stadium.
The entrance to the Stadium.
Cathy posed as a Greek statue but …
Cathy posed as a Greek statue but…
The pediment from the Temple of Ze…
The pediment from the Temple of Z…
Detail of the pediment
Detail of the pediment
The Hermes of Praxiteles
The Hermes of Praxiteles
Drapery in marble
Drapery in marble
How could you not love this lion?
How could you not love this lion?
Votive offerings from the prehisto…
Votive offerings from the prehist…
Also from the prehistoric period
Also from the prehistoric period
I think this is a Harpy - as you c…
I think this is a Harpy - as you …
Olympia
photo by: Fulla