Olympia has cultivated ideals since ancient times. It was never just the games, but also the honour, the peace, the struggle and the body - all in one.Visiting the archaeological site and museum, you will walk in one of the most important sanctuaries of ancient Greece. Situated in the landscape of Elis, by the foot of Mt. Kronion, Olympia invites you to take part of the history of Greece.
The area of Olympia was already inhabited in the beginning of the 2nd Millennium BC, if not earlier. There was a cult here before Zeus, probably to Gaea .
Tradition holds that the first Olympic Games were held in 776BC, but they might actually have started way before then. The games were a peace treaty between Sparta and Elis, and it was soon decided that all Greek states could take part in them as long as they respected the sacred truce that must be held during the games. This period of peace was for a month at first, but because so many states took part and people from all over came to watch, it was extended to three months, always during summer.
Because the sacred truce gave the kings and leaders from all over Greece a chance to meet unarmed, Olympia became an important place for political discussions and trade. It also enhanced the feeling of unity amongst the Greeks, along with the language and religion.
Olympia was to be renovated many times, and new buildings were added through the ages. Famous people came here to watch the games, such and Plato and Aristotle , and before them, in the 6th century BC, Thales of Miletus had died of a heat stroke here. Gelon and Hieron of Syracusae were to compete in the games, and so was Alcibiades , Alexander the Great and Nero.
Slaves and women, especially married ones, were strictly forbidden to watch the games, and if a woman was caught as a spectator, she was immediately thrown off Mt. Typaeon.Women could compete though, and besides that, the Heraia were also held here; foot races for young maids in the area.
Barbarians were allowed to watch, but not to compete. A competitor had to be a free, unpunished Greek and he had to have trained for the games in his home for ten months, and for one month in Olympia. The winners did not receive any money, but were greatly honored. The prize was an olive wreath from Zeus holy tree, and the winner was allowed to raise a victory statue. In his hometown he would usually be given free meals for the rest of his life, and it is said that a town with a champion would tear down its wall since they no longer needed one with such an athlete as a citizen.
If an athlete was caught cheating, perhaps through bribing or poisoning, he was forced to finance a statue of Zeus where his and his family's name would be put and what he had done. Then the statue was put near the entrance of the stadium, so that the athletes would see them before the games started as a reminder of what could happen.
From the year 472 the games were held during five days in stead of the original one. On the first day the competitors would register, take a sacred oath that they had trained for ten months and that they would respect the rules. On this day there was a competition between the heralds. On the second day the horse races and Pentathlon were held. On the third the track races took place. On the fourth there was wrestling, boxing and Pancrateon. On the fifth day the prizes were handed out, with celebrations following.
During the Classical period the great temple of Zeus was built. Olympia was his sanctuary and he had an oracle here. Inside the temple stood the statue of the god, made by Phidias . We only know about this statue through coins and descriptions, and it was supposedly 13,5 meters (37,5 feet) high. It pictured a sitting Zeus with the goddess Nike in his right hand and a scepter in his left. The statue was made of gold and ivory, and was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It disappeared towards the end of the 4th century AD.
The greatness of Olympia was now bigger than ever, and the victory against the Persians had enhanced the feeling of unity amongst the Greeks even further. Many new buildings were added, and the baths from this period are the oldest in the world: complete with a swimming pool and a sauna.
In the 4th century BC the whole stadium was moved to the East and slopes were made on the sides for the spectators. Alexander the Great completed his fathers building Philippeion and competed himself during the games. He didn't win, but proved to be a good loser.
The Romans conquered Greece in the 2nd century BC and they took many of the treasures of Olympia with them. Sulla even tried to relocate the games to Rome, but failed. Even so, the Olympic Games lost their importance and were just held for show. During Augustus reign Olympias status was enhanced again. Statues of the emperor and his family and descendants were to be put in the sanctuary.
Nero came to Greece in AD 67 and took part in the horse races. Although he fell off his chariot he had himself declared winner, and then took many statues with him.
Herodes Atticus was to build a nympheum here, and its fountain provided the area with drinking water.
Because Germanic tribes ravaged Athens and the Peloponnese, many buildings were torn down in the 3rd century, and the materials were used to build fortifications in Olympia. They never actually came here, but in the 4th century the games were banned by emperor Theodosius. The whole sanctuary was shut down in 426. One of the main reasons was the the Olympic Games were now considered pagan by the Christian emperor, and the competitors nakedness highly immoral.
In the 6th century earthquakes destroyed the buildings in Olympia, and it was filled with mud from the flooded rivers Kladeos and Alfeos. Landslides from Mt. Kronion finally covered the whole area up.
The sanctuary was discovered in 1776, and in 1829 French archaeologists started excavating the site. The first modern Olympic Games were held in Berlin in 1936. The irony of it all is that the ancient games would stop the wars, but the modern ones have been stopped by wars on a few occasions.
One of the things that would cross your mind when you go for your Greece holidays is the ancient Greek games. If you want to witness the place where these ancient games took place, you should definitely visit Olympia. This famous travel destination in Elis is an ideal place for people who want to have a fun, and at the same time, educational getaway. You and your loved ones will surely have a worthwhile time should you decide to spent your holidays here.