Olympia

Elis, Greece

Olympia was site was a major Panhellenic religious sanctuary of ancient Greece, where the ancient Olympic Games were held every four years throughout Classical antiquity, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and popular place to visit due large remains from Antiquity.

Prehistory

The site had been occupied since about 1500 BC, with a religious cult of Zeus developing around 1000 BC. The first Olympic festival was organized on the site by the authorities of Elis in the 8th century BC – with tradition dating the first games at 776 BC. Major changes were made to the site around 700 BC, including levelling land and digging new wells.

The earliest evidence of building activity on the site dates from around 600 BC. At this time the Skiloudians, allies of the Pisatans, built the Temple of Hera. The Treasuries and the Pelopion were built during the course of the 6th century BC. The secular structures and athletic arenas were also under construction during this period including the Bouleuterion. The first stadium was constructed around 560 BC and it consisted of just a simple track. The stadium was remodelled around 500 BC with sloping sides for spectators and shifted slightly eastward. Over the course of the 6th century BC a range of sports were added to the Olympic festival. In 580 BC, Elis, in alliance with Sparta, occupied Pisa and regained the control over the sanctuary.

Classical period

The classical period, between the 5th and 4th centuries BC, was the golden age of the site at Olympia. A wide range of new religious and secular buildings as well as structures were made.

The Temple of Zeus was built mid 5th century BC. Its size, scale and ornaments were beyond anything previously constructed on the site. The Greek Baths and further sporting facilities, including the final iteration of the stadium, and the hippodrome (for chariot-racing) were constructed. The Prytaneion was built at the northwest side of the site in 470 BC.

In the late classical period, further structures were added to the site. The Metroon was constructed near the Treasuries around 400 BC. The erection of the Echo Stoa, around 350 BC, separated the sanctuary from the area of the games and stadium. The South Stoa was built at the southern edge of the sanctuary at approximately the same time.

Hellenistic period

The late 4th century BC saw the erection of the Philippeion. Around 300 BC the largest building on the site, the Leonidaion, was constructed to house important visitors. Due to the increasing significance of the games, further athletic buildings were constructed including the Palaestra (3rd century BC), Gymnasion (2nd century BC) and bath houses (c.300 BC). Finally, in 200 BC, a vaulted archway was erected linking the entrance of the stadium to the sanctuary.

Roman period

During the Roman period, the games were opened up to all citizens of the Roman Empire. A programme of new buildings and extensive repairs, including to the Temple of Zeus, took place. In 150 AD, the Nympheum (or Exedra) was built. New baths replaced the older Greek examples in 100 AD and an aqueduct was constructed in 160 AD.

The 3rd century saw the site suffer heavy damage from a series of earthquakes. Invading tribes in 267 AD led to the centre of the site being fortified with material robbed from its monuments. Despite the destruction, the Olympic festival continued to be held at the site until the last Olympiad in 393 AD, after which the Christian emperor Theodosius I implemented a ban. The Temple of Zeus was apparently destroyed around 426 AD, during the persecution of pagans in the late Roman Empire, following an edict by Theodosius II enforcing the ban on pagan festivals. The workshop of Pheidias was turned into a Basilica and the site was inhabited by a Christian community. Archaeological evidence suggests that small scale Olympic events (perhaps in Christian guise) were still being held secretly until Justinian's plague and two earthquakes devastated the place mid 6th century. Repeated floods ensured that the settlement was finally abandoned altogether in the early 7th Century.

 

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Elis, Greece
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Details

Founded: 8th century BCE
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Greece

Rating

4.7/5 (based on Google user reviews)

User Reviews

Clara Oliveira (45 days ago)
Really nice for a day visit! We spent about 3 hours there but if you want to make it a all-day trip, that works as well. There are a couple of places to buy food and drinks, and also some tables under the trees, so you can also bring your food if you want to.
Marisa B (46 days ago)
Olympia, Greece, stands as a testament to ancient athleticism and divine reverence. As one of Greece's most significant archaeological sites, it was the birthplace of the legendary Olympic Games, held to honor the mighty Zeus. We marveled at the ruins of temples and walked in the footsteps of ancient athletes, imagining the glory of past competitions. The stadium, with its impressive dimensions, echoed with the cheers of spectators and the thundering footsteps of runners. But amidst the grandeur, we were reminded of the human stories—the honor of Olympic victors, the myth of Hercules, and the temptation of poppies. Olympia is not just a site of ancient ruins; it's a window into the rich tapestry of Greek history and mythology.
Sam Diamond (3 months ago)
Your ticket incorporates three things. The archaeological site, the museum about the archaeological site and a museum about the ancient Olympic games. It feels like there is great potential untapped in all three areas. Especially the archaeological site which leaves too much to the imagination, in my humble opinion. It lacks the wow factor that kids really need to understand what they are looking at and why it’s important. If you’re British, say that you are French for an EU discount ?
Theo Vlassis (3 months ago)
Exploring the Archaeological Site of Olympia was an unforgettable journey back in time. As an avid enthusiast of history and ancient civilizations, this site exceeded all my expectations. Walking amidst the ruins where the Olympic Games were born filled me with a sense of reverence and wonder. The site is meticulously preserved, allowing visitors to truly immerse themselves in the rich history and culture of ancient Greece. From the remains of the Temple of Zeus to the iconic stadium, every corner of Olympia tells a story of the past. The knowledgeable guides on-site provided fascinating insights into the significance of each structure and artifact, enhancing the overall experience. Additionally, the signage and information boards were informative and easy to follow, making it accessible for visitors of all ages. The natural beauty surrounding the site adds another layer of charm to the visit. The lush greenery and tranquil atmosphere create a serene backdrop for exploring the ancient ruins. Overall, my visit to the Archaeological Site of Olympia was both educational and inspiring. It's a must-see destination for anyone with an interest in history, archaeology, or the origins of the Olympic Games. I highly recommend allocating ample time to fully appreciate everything this remarkable site has to offer.
Michael W. (4 months ago)
I wanted to visit the original Olympic site for a long time. So I was very excited when I finally stood in front of the Ancient site of Olympia. We can walk through most of the ruins, and some of them have a steel rope circling. I hope people will notice that they shouldn’t walk inside. However, some people are still walking inside the circled area! The site is massive. All the ruins are there with information displayed in front of them. I loved the Ancient site of Olympia. I hope people will remember not to cause damage to the ruins.
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