Olympia is located at the western coast of the Pelloponnes, in the valley of the Alpheios river. This city stretches over the southwest foot of Mount Kronios, where the Alpheios and the Kladeos rivers join.
Olympia consist of two parts: The city and the Olympics field.
The Greeks invented athletic competitions and held them in honor of the gods. The most famous games were those at Olympia.The Olympic Games took place every four years. The ancient Olympics seem to have begun in the early 700 BC, in honor of Zeus.
The History of The Olympics in Olympia
Mythology: Olympia is connected to many local myths and gods. Local myths concerning the famous Pelops, the first ruler of the region, and the river Alpheios, betray the close ties between the sanctuary and both the East and West. In one of the mythological versions of the origin of the Olympics, it was said that Zeus fought and beat his father, Cronus to take over the thrown. To honor his own victory, he created the games. In another myth, the five brothers of Zeus started the games. They held a race and one of the brothers names Heracles (Not the noted Hero) one. He was to crown the winner with an olive wreath.
300BC -Earliest structures were built at the foot of Cronus. It had been noted that there were buildings here that served as residences.
900 -Olympia has become a popular reserve. Many gifts and offerings were brought and left by pilgrims and travelers.
680BC -The southern area of the hill of Cronus was leveled by ashes and remains of old altars and votives. This was a time of construction. The Hereum Temple was the first to go up. The temples that were built kept more offerings and votives for the God’s.
490BC -Olympia became stronger and more recognized than ever. Two days were added to the Olympic games and more construction took place. An enormous temple for Zeus was built along with many other monumental landmarks.
430BC -Temple of Zeus was to be completed followed by a gold and ivory statue. This statue of Zeus was created by Phidias and became one of the seven wonders of the world.
364BC -Battles between the Eleans and Arcadians broke out during the 104th Olympiad. This is when the Arcadiants and Pisatans tried to organize their own Olympics.
31BC -An improved Olympia: new buildings and embellishments were added. Hostels and baths were constructed for the area. In 67 BC Emperor Nero caused the games to be postponed so he could compete. During these years the site of Olympia served as a religious center and attracted many new travelers and scholars.
267AD -Because of invasions, many building were dismantled to be used for a great wall to protect the statue of Zeus.
300AD -An earthquake caused greater damage to the already withered and taken apart buildings.
393AD -The last Olympic games were held. Many of the buildings in the Altis were destroyed and overrun by early Christians. The site was settled by Christians until earthquakes destroyed the majority of the area. The site was then abandoned.
600AD -Slavs were the last known inhabitants of Olympia. The site was completely abandoned after the 7th century.
The Modern Olympics
- Then 1500 years after the ancient Olympics ended, Pierre de Coubertin of France (1863-1937) brought it back in 1894. This was an attempt to bring the world together at peace once again. The first modern Olympics was held at Athens in 1896. From then on, the Olympics was to be held every four years. This was with the exceptions of the years 1916, 1940, and 1944 due to the World Wars. The winter games was also added in 1944 and was to be held in even-numbered, non-Olympic years.
- Who you will meet – Olympia has been known to attract many famous people that visited to watch the games. Among these people were Plato and Aristotle. It is rumored that Thales of Miletus died of a heat stroke at Olympia. Other famous names were Gelon, Hieron of Syracusae, Alcibiades, Alexander the Great and Nero- all in Olympia to compete in the games. Another person that you may run into would be the notable artist, Pheidias. He was an architect, a painter, and known for creating great sculptures of the divine. He made a statue of Zeus in Olympia that was regularly oiled and taken care of. There was a myth that said that if anyone were to see the God’s smile, he or she was to never be unhappy again. In the later years of the thriving Olympia, you would run into many travelers and scholars. Pausanias was known to be in Olympia between 160 and 173AD.
- Who you won’t meet – Women were forbidden from attending and watching the games. There were serious consequences for a woman being caught such as death by being thrown off of Mt. Typaeon. Women were however, allowed to compete. The popular Heraia were held here which are foot races in which young maids compete in. Salves were also forbidden from attending as both spectators and competitors. Barbarians were only forbidden from competing in the games.
Fun Fact: Once a woman disguised herself as a trainer in order to watch her son compete at the games. When her son won a match, she shouted and gave away her identity. The men of Olympia killed her. From that time on, not only the athletes but also the trainers and visitors weren’t allowed to wear clothes.
Major Landmarks of Olympia
The Temple of Zues
The Temple of Hera
The Tumulus of Pelops
The Workshop of Pheidias