Journey through Ancient Greece

Olympia

Sanctuary of Zeus and venue of the ancient games

The site at Olympia is large and beautiful, with olive, plane and pine trees, planted by the German archaeologists in the 1930s, giving plenty of shade for your picnic.
Sadly the site was flattened by earthquake and although the 20 feet of sand and debris which built up protected many wonderful artefacts, which can be seen in the museum, the buildings remain largely piles of stone and require a good deal of imagination to picture. (There are 2 excellent models of the site in the museum.)

Here the Greeks erected statues and built temples in a grove dedicated to Zeus, supreme among the gods.
For over 1,000 uninterrupted years from 776 BC the Olympic Games took place here on the August full moon of every fourth year. Participants came from all over Greece and beyond and in times of war truces were declared for the duration of the games.

You enter the sacred site on a long level track. and come first to the gymnasium and the Palaestra (wrestling school).
The Temple to Hera (the Heraion) built in 600 BC, is one of the oldest buildings here and one of the only two remaining Archaic temples in Greece (we see the other at Corinth); originally it had wooden pillars which were progressively replaced by stone ones.

The stadium has been restored to its 4th century state when 30,000 spectators watched from the earth embankments.

The Temple of Zeus was built in 470-456 BC; it was as large as the Parthenon and made of limestone originally faced with stucco. The temple's decoration rivalled that of the Parthenon with superb sculptures of the Lapiths and centaurs, and the chariot race of Pelops now in the museum. Sadly the 40' high ivory and gold statue of Zeus, created by the sculptor Phidias, and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World, which stood in the naos has not survived.

The Museum contains many exquisite finds from the site, don't miss:

The awe inspiring sculpures from the Temple of Zeus (remember these would all have been brightly coloured) including the twelve Labours of Hercules, the chariot race between Pelops and Oinamaos (with Zeus in the centre and a wonderful soothsayer ), and the Centauromachy (the battle of the Centaurs and Lapiths at a wedding feast).
The superb marble statue of Hermes with the infant Dionysos now thought to be the work of Praxiteles (4th century) was discovered in the Temple of Hera.

The terracotta statue of Zeus carrying Gannymede, probably the acroterion of a temple.
Even the scant remains of the marble Nike by Paionios give a vivid impression of it's glory, the chiton appearing transparent round her body.

go back to home page

Mainly Peloponnese Itinerary