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The ancient site of Olympia

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In the west of the Peloponnese, at the foot of Mount Cronion, Olympia is undoubtedly one of the most emblematic archaeological sites in Greece! The ancient Olympic Games – the ancestors of our current Games – are indeed named after this archaeological site, where they were created in the 8th century BC. But Olympia was also a major religious center, attracting pilgrims from all over the world.

Follow the guide!


How to get to Olympia? Where to stay in the surroundings? …
Find all the practical information as well as tips from the Captain at the end of the article!

Brief history of Olympia

Olympic Games & cult of Zeus

Occupied since the 3rd millennium B.C., the site of Olympia once was one of the most important religious centers of ancient Greece.

Dedicated to the cult of Zeus, the sanctuary hosted for over 1000 years (from 776 BC to 393 AD) the most famous Panhellenic games of Greece: the Olympic Games.

They were held every 4 years and brought together more than 40,000 people (athletes, spectators, merchants…). Participants competed in a series of events: horse racing, discus throwing, javelin throwing, long jump, running, wrestling…

🤔 What were panhellenic games? 🤔
The Panhellenic games were religious festivals gathering “all Hellenes” (= all the Greeks), on the occasion of which were held major athletic and artistic competitions. The four great Panhellenic games organized in ancient Greece were:
– the Olympic Games of Olympia
– the Pythian Games of Delphi
– the Isthmian Games of Corinth
– the Nemean Games of Nemea
They were held every year on a rotating basis. The tradition was partly preserved since the modern Olympic Games take place every four years.

The all of the Sanctuary of Olympia

In 373 AD, Roman emperor Theodosius I forbade all forms of pagan practices, celebrations and rites. In 426, the sanctuary of Olympia is destroyed on the orders of Emperor Theodosius II.

Between 522 and 551, a series of earthquakes destroyed most remaining traces of the ancient site.

The rediscovery of Olympia

Twelve centuries later, in 1766, the ruins of Olympia were discovered by the British archaeologist Richard Chandler. The excavations began in 1829.

Today many of the remains found on the site are exhibited in the archaeological museum of Olympia.

In 1989, the site was listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Olympia - Peloponnese

The modern Olympic Games and the Olympic flame ceremony?

Imagined by the Frenchman Pierre de Coubertin in the late 19th century, the modern Olympic Games are largely inspired by their Greek ancestors. The first Games were held in Athens in 1896.
If each edition of the Olympic Games is now organized in a different country, the ceremony of the Olympic flame is on the other hand always held in Olympia, to celebrate the kinship between the ancient Games and the modern Games.

Every four years, a few months before the competition, actresses dressed as priestesses light the ancient flame in front of the temple of Hera during a ceremony inspired by ancient rituals.

Visiting Olympia

Map of the sanctuary of Olympia

In order not to get lost and not to miss anything of the archeological site, Captain Ulysses warmly advises you to follow the map of Olympia below:

Map of the archaeological site of Olympia

You can download the map in PDF format here.

🤓 Self-guided virtual reality tour 🤓
In Olympia, as in most archaeological sites, it is sometimes difficult to imagine what the monuments could possibly have looked like in ancient times.
But Captain Ulysses has found a way to discover what Olympia actually looked like during the Antiquity: a self-guided tour of the site in virtual reality. Equipped with virtual reality goggles, you’ll be able to discover Olympia as it was during Ancient Greece.
👉 Find out more: virtual reality self-guided tour of Olympia

The temple of Zeus

Built between 470 and 456 B.C. and funded byy a war booty, the temple of Olympian Zeus was an imposing 210-feet-long and 79-feet-wide Doric building.

The pediments of the temple (large sets of statues representing mythological scenes that decorated the east and west facades) are nowadays exhibited in the archaeological museum of Olympia.

⚡The chryselephantine statue of Zeus ⚡
The temple of Zeus was most famous for housing one of the seven wonders of the ancient world: the chryselephantine statue of Zeus (“chryselephantine” = made of gold and ivory), made by the sculptor Phidias.
This mythical 39.4-feet-high statue represented the god sitting on a throne of ebony and ivory.
The statue was transferred to Constantinople in the 5th century AD and was destroyed in a fire a few years later.

The temple of Hera

Built around 600 BC, the temple of Hera (also called the Heraion) was dedicated to the wife of Zeus.

The 164-feet-long and 59-feet-wide building was built in the Doric style. The famous statue of Hermes of Praxiteles, which you’ll find in the archaeological museum of Olympia, was discovered in this temple.

Sports facilities

The sanctuary of Olympia – where the Olympic Games were created – comprised vast infrastructures where athletes competed in various physical events.

The stadium

The 231-yard-long and 30-yard-wide stadium was built in the 5th century B.C. It was the 4th stadium to be erected on the site, the three previous ones being too small to accommodate all the spectators wishing to attend the events.

On each of the four sides of this fourth stadium, an embankment could indeed accommodate 40 000 to 45 000 people!

Gymnasium

The 218-yard-long and 13yard-wide gymnasium was lined with Doric porticoes. It hosted events such as the javelin throw, discus throw and running.

The palestra

Built in the 3rd century BC, the palestra – where wrestling and long jump events were held – consisted of a central space surrounded by baths and small rooms where the athletes could talk with

their coaches.

The other monuments of Olympia

  • Public monuments:
    • The Bouleuterion where the assembly of the people was held and where the athletes took the oath before participating in the Games. This building also housed the Olympic Senate (the ancient equivalent of the International Olympic Committee).
  • The other monuments :
    • Pheidias’ workshop where the sculptor Pheidias fashioned the famous chryselephantine statue of Zeus, a masterpiece of the ancient world. In the 5th century AD, a Byzantine church was built on the ruins of the workshop, but it was abandoned due to the earthquakes that struck the region several times in the 6th century.

The museums of Olympia

To complete the visit of the archaeological site, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends a visit to the two museums of Olympia: the archaeological museum and the museum of the history of the Ancient Olympic Games.

If you only have the time (or the desire) to visit one, choose the first of the two, which houses exceptional artifacts discovered during the excavations of Olympia.

The archaeological museum of Olympia

Just a stone’s throw from the ancient site, the Archaeological Museum of Olympia is one of the most beautiful archaeological museums in Greece. It exhibits a plethora of vestiges discovered during the excavations of the site, dating from prehistory to the Roman period.

You’ll be able to discover – among many other things – theHermes of Praxiteles (discovered in the temple of Hera), as well as the pediments of the temple of Zeus, but also a vast collection of bronze objects.

The museum of the history of the Ancient Olympic Games

Located between the archaeological site and the modern city of Olympia, the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games traces the history of the Games thanks to relics and reproductions. A nice visit if not a must-see!

Attention, sailors!
You’ll find detailed advice and recommendations about the top landmarks in Peloponnese in the Captain’s article: What to see and what to do in Peloponnese?

Access

Getting to Olympia

Where is Olympia located?

Nestled at the foot of Mount Cronion, the archaeological site of Olympia is located in the west of the Peloponnese, about 20 kilometers/12.5 miles from the Ionian Sea.

Olympia is located some 300 kilometers/185 miles from Athens, 170 kilometers/105 miles from Mycenae and 200 kilometers/125 miles from Epidaurus.

Ancient Olympia - Greece

How to get to Olympia?

To get to Olympia (as everywhere else) in the Peloponnese for that matter), the easiest way is to rent a car.

You can also take the bus from the capital, but it’s quite long and unpractical so the Captain would advise against it.

If you don’t want to/can’t drive, you can also opt for a day trip from Athens. While this is definitely not the cheapest option, it has the great merit of being very handy. Find out more:

🚘 Visiting the Peloponnese by car 🚘
If you’re planning on exploring the Peloponnese on your own, Captain Ulysses strongly recommends renting a car: it is by far the most practical way to get around the peninsula. Not to mention that car rental in Greece is on the whole very cheap!
To find THE best deal, the Captain recommends Rentalcars, which compares offers from a host of rental services.
One last piece of advice: the Peloponnese is crisscrossed with small mountainous roads, so you should definitely opt for a fuel-efficient car, even if it is a little more expensive to rent!

Where to stay in Olympia? Hotels & accommodation

If you are planning a road-trip in the Peloponnese, the Captain advises you to stop in Olympia for one night. A stone’s throw from the ancient site, the modern city offers plenty of options.

👉 You will find here a selection of the best hotels and apartments in Olympia

Booking.com
Olympia - columns - Greece

Opening times of the ancient site of Olympia

The archaeological site of Olympia is open:

  • From 8am to 8pm from April to October
  • From 8am to 3pm from November to March

Admission

The entrance ticket to Olympia is available at the price of 12 € per person (free of charge for children under 17). It includes the entrance to the site as well as access to the archaeological museum.


Looking for tips and recommendations? Here are all of Captain Ulysses’ suggestions in the Peloponnese!

🛏️ Accommodation: to book your accommodations in the Peloponnese, Captain Ulysses highly recommends Booking.com. From youth hostel to luxury boutique hotel: there’s plenty to choose from!

🎟️ Activities: monuments, guided tours, sports activities, boat tours, excursions… To book your activities in advance, the Captain recommends two trusted sites: GetYourGuide and Civitatis.

🚌 Local transportation: to get around the Peloponnese, Captain Ulysses can only recommend renting a car. He suggests renting your car on Rentalcars, which compares offers from a host of brands, including Hertz, Avis, Europcar and trusted local agencies.
If you prefer to avoid driving, GetYourGuide and Civitatis offer a selection of day-trips in the Peloponnese.

✈️ Flights: to book your flights to Greece, Captain Ulysses warmly recommends the Skyscanner comparator. You’ll be able to compare countless offers to find the best deal. If your dates are flexible, you can also compare prices over several months to find the cheapest flights possible.


👉 Book your tours and activities in advance!

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