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Visit to Olympia

Home -> Europe -> Greece -> Travelogue Greece -> 18 May 2014

Sunday 18 May, visit to Olympia

A turret, but where? The interior of the PeloponneseToday we want to visit Olympia, the place where the Olympic games refer to. But via which route we have arrived there we do not know anymore and apparently the GPS function was turned off on the cameras because we have no location data on any of the photographs. Judging by the timestamp on the photos we quickly leave the coast and enter the mountainous interior of the Peloponnese with summits above 2,000 meters high. Generally the roads are pretty good, although sometimes narrow.
River in the interior of the Peloponnese The temple of Apollo Epicurius, FigaliaThe Peloponnese is a green peninsula with many trees and shrubs. In winter there is a lot of rain here and we even see a little stream and somewhere in the distance a waterfall.
Again we are not very well prepared because we are quite surprised when we see a sign to an Apollo temple. This temple of Apollo Epikourios (or Epicurius), says our travel guide, has a unique architectural style and is the best preserved temple of Greece, built between 420 and 400 BC. Since 1987 the temple is protected against acid rain and other damage by tarpaulins and restoration work is being carried out.
But first we pass old Figalia where one can still see traces of the old city. The Greek traveler and geographer Pausanius described the city in 170 AD but there is little left to be seen, from the temples that once were almost nothing at all, only from the temple of Athens are some stones still standing. From here a 12 kilometer long mountain road (the Sacred Way) leads to the Apollo temple.
The temple of Apollo Epicurius, Figalia The temple of Apollo Epicurius, FigaliaHet unieke van deze tempel op 1130 meter hoogte zit onder andere in het feit dat meerdere bouwstijlen door elkaar zijn gebruikt. De stijlen zijn vooral herkenbaar aan de zuilen: Dorisch (eenvoudig en bovenaan plat), Ionisch (smallere zuilen met een krul bovenaan) en Korinthisch (met meer versiering). Ook staan er 15 x 6 zuilen in tegenstelling tot wat gebruikelijk was, namelijk 13 x 6 zuilen, waardoor de verhoudingen anders zijn.
Beelden staan er niet meer, die kun je allemaal vinden in het British Museum in Londen waar wel meer Griekse kunstwerken zijn (bijvoorfbeeld de Elgin Marbles die Lord Elgin ooit 'leende').
Binnen de tent kunnen we om de tempel heen lopen en een Japanse toerist is heel enthousiast elk plekje aan het filmen.
Excavation at Figalia Excavation at FigaliaBehind the temple is another area where we mainly see blocks of stone, spread over a large area that can be foundations of buildings or parts of walls. We do need some imagination to imagine it being a lively place, but that will be a lot easier when the temple has been restored and the tarpaulins are be removed. We read somewhere that the intention is that this will happen in 2020, but that is mainly dependent on funds and with the economic crisis it could well be a lot later.
The highway just stopsWhen we travel back to the old Olympia, the four-lane road (a sort of motorway) suddenly stops, at least the road is blocked by crash barriers. Still, the road across the road seems to continue and we drive around the obstacles and go straight on, just like some Greeks in front of us. But at first we do not know exactly what to do. We still have a lot to learn about Greek traffic. For example, we are still speeding down when we see a speed camera (of which there are many), but the Greeks themselves just drive on undisturbed, sometimes 40 kilometers too fast.
Remains in OlympiaAfter the visit to Figalia it takes us 2 hours to reach ancient Olympia, the place that is famous and still wellknown for the four-yearly Olympic games in ancient times. In 776 BC. the first games were organized according to the traditions, although there are indications that games were already held earlier. The last games were in 392 AD after which the Christian emperor Theodosius I forbade all pagan games. Until they were reintroduced in 1896.
Many city-states organized regular games but there were 4 Panhellenic Games that were accessible to all Greek-speaking people. During these games no war was allowed between the participating states and winners were honored with only a garland (but also a lot of honor and sometimes financial rewards in their hometown).
Remains in Olympia Remains in OlympiaIn ancient times, Olympia was not really a city, but rather a temple complex that was being expanded and where mainly priests lived. But once every four years the place turned into a true place of pilgrimage for athletes and spectators. Initially, only a running competition was held but gradually the program was extended. And although the winners only received a laurel wreath (made of olive leaves in Olympia, in honor of Zeus to whom the Games were dedicated), the honor was just as great as today and it was important for states to have as many winners as possible, this all played a role in the political power relations in ancient Greece.
Although, Greece as a unity never existed in ancient times. But the many games in which several city states participated making (in principle) truces with each other, did ensure that there were many diplomatic and political connections, even though they were also constantly fighting each other. The language they shared also connected all these states so that we still have an image of a coherent Greek culture, however different it was in the different parts of the Greek-speaking world.
Temple of Zeus, Olympia Pieces of columns, OlympiaThe most important temple here is that of Zeus Olympios, the supreme god. Until 426 AD it housed one of the 7 wonders of the world, namely the 12 meter high statue of Zeus on a throne, made of ivory and gold by the famous sculptor Phidias. Unfortunately, 50 years later (in Constantinople) it was lost in a fire.
Before the temple of Zeus the fire on the altar during the Games kept burning continuously and 100 oxen were burnt on it, the origin of the Olympic fire.
A piece of a column, Olympia At the temple of Zeus, OlympiaMost of the pillars have fallen over and from close by it is easy to see how impressive they have been, the diameter of a piece of column is bigger than Elisabeth. The Temple of Zeus, according to Pausanius, was over 20 meters high, 29 wide and 70 meters long. And the roof was made of very thin discs of marble, so thin that the sun could shine through it a little bit.
There is not much left of the various temples but it is nice that there are so many descriptions from antiquity itself, so that it can be deduced how everything should have looked originally. It also shows how many beautiful artworks have unfortunately been destroyed in the course of history, not only by natural disasters but also by human actions.
The entrance to the stadium, Olympia The stadium of OlympiaThe stadium was the terrain for the races and is 212.5 meters long and 28.5 meters wide but there is not much to see. There were about 50,000 places for spectators in the stadium and from far and wide came both athletes and spectators, so important were the Olympics. The ceasefire that was concluded before and during the games was also primarily intended for people to travel safely to the place of the games.
The Philippeion in Olympia The Philippeion in OlympiaIn the sacred complex there were dozens of temples, but only one was not dedicated to a deity: the Philippeion is a circular memorial of Philip II of Macedonia and there were images of himself, his wife and his son, Alexander (the Great).
You can clearly see from the curls at the top of the columns that these are Ionic columns.
There is much more to tell about this beautiful excavation and everything connected with it, but almost everything can be found elsewhere on the internet. When you are on the site itself, it is advisable to also visit the museum where there is a well-organized model of the site and a lot of explanation about the various excavations that have taken place.
Lunch at OlympiaIt is very hot and we have roamed around the archaeological site for a long time so after our visit we drive to the nearby modern village of Olympia, which of course is entirely living from tourism. There are plenty of restaurants where we can eat and drink. It is crowded but not too much, that seems to be worse during the weekdays when large cruiseships arrive on the west coast and hundreds of passengers are transported with buses to Olympia.
View of the bridge to the Peloponnese from NafpaktosFrom Olympia it is another 2 hours drive to Nafpaktos where we have booked for the last week. At Patras we cross the modern toll bridge to the mainland and from the balcony of our hotel we see the bridge in the distance. We are in a hotel just outside the busy center and the whole evening people go in and out of the gates of the center, walking, cycling but also in the car. Only early in the night it becomes a bit quieter. And we surely need a rest after a long day with long car trips and a few long excursions. But we have seen very nice things again today.


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