I’ve just visited the archaeological site of Olympia, one of the most important religious centres of antiquity, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989.
It’s here the ancient Olympic Games were staged from 776 BC until the 393 AD.
The games were a series of athletic competitions with people from all over Greece coming to watch and partake. Held every four years they honoured the King of their gods, Zeus.
It took 1503 years for the Olympics to return after they finished in 393 AD with the first modern Olympics held in Athens in 1896.
Today, a ceremonial lighting of the flame takes place every four years at this very site, prior to the games. The Olympic flame is kindled in front of the ruins of the Temple of Hera, the Queen of Greek gods and the torch begins its journey to the site of the games. This ceremony was established in 1936 for the Berlin’s Olympiad and signified the beginning of the contemporary games.
The archaeological site covers a large land mass with ruins and a little reconstruction. There’s little explanation as to the nature of many of the ruins so make sure you visit the museum before you look at the Olympia site.
Inside the door of the museum is a model showing what the Olympia site looked like in its heyday. Try and memorize as much of the layout as you can before you go to the ruins and you’ll get a far better understanding what the complex looked like.
Temple of Zeus 470-457 BC
It was in this Temple, the colossal gold and ivory statue of Zeus was placed – one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The giant seated figure, in an elaborate throne was 13 metres tall and made around 435 BC at Olympia.
The temple was destroyed in an earthquake in 522 AD and no one is sure what happened to the statue of Zeus.
Reconstruction of the north-west corner column of the Temple was carried out to honour the 2004 Olympics. The magnitude of the column gives a real sense of the size of the temple. Along side the reconstructed column are the remains of other fallen columns. It’s incomprehensible how they built these columns without cranes.
How to get there
From the port and town, taxis run a round trip to the Olympia site (37 km each way) for a fixed rate of 80 euros and wait an hour for you to explore the site.