The Ancient Glory of Olympia

“…There is  no more inspiring place in Greece that can so sweetly and with such persistence encourage peace and reconciliation…”

– Kazantzakis, Travelling, The Landscape of Olympia

Ancient Olympia…

The port of Katakalon is one way to access ancient Olympia. I have to confess that my initial excitement about visiting Olympia was lukewarm at best. Well, what a surprise – the archaeological site and museum are phenomenal!

Grateful that we hired a private taxi, we were able to enjoy it at our leisure. Again, the size and scope of the archaeological site and museum were far beyond our expectations. Wow, the Greeks…

The Olympic games took place for approximately 1100 years. They were held in honor of the father of gods anIMG_2464d men, Zeus and his wife Hera. The Temple of Zeus and the 42-foot gold and ivory statue in his honor, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, must have been awe-inspiring. The events held major religious, political and cultural significance and were marked by great ceremony, sacrifice and processions,  clearly reflections of the Greek ideals and belief in cultivating both mind and body.

One can only imagine the buzz of activity, the pomp and ceremony among the many temples. Even standing in Pheidias’ workshop, you can almost hear the sounds of workmen..you can almost sense that Pheidias is going to appear in a doorway…

In the gymnasium, athletes trained and competed in the nude. Oil was massaged into their bodies to loosen their muscles and after training or competition, the oil, sweat and dust were scraped off with a strigil before bathing. Athletes not only exercised but listened to philosophers, orators and politicians.

The first Olympic event was a footrace, later to be joined by other competitions including discus throwing, wrestling, boxing, javelin throwing, and equestrian events. Guidelines and rules were to be strictly adhered to and the victory of athletes was believed to be evidence of divine favor. Winners were honored for life and often immortalized in art and sculpture.

Only free males could participate in or attend the games although there are stories of a few determined women who managed to sneak in. 50,000 spectators crowded into the stadium – a stadium with no seats and no facilities. Yikes!

To walk here, to stand on the stadium’s foot race starting line, to be this close…you can almost smell the oil and sweat…almost hear the cheers…

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The Museum…

Housing an astounding collection of artifacts, the museum is a revelation. Magnificent Hermes, reconstructed pediments from the temples, statues, mosaics, artifacts, tools, art, jewelry, ceramics, weapons…even the tools of legendary Pheidias who oversaw both the construction of the monumental statues of Athena in the Parthenon and the statue of Zeus here in Olympia are displayed.

Standing in awe of their love of elegance and beauty, it’s easy to understand why the ancient Greeks were always admired and emulated … and why they inspire us to this day.

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