"The Birthplace of the Olympics" Olympia by amsterdam_vallon

Olympia Travel Guide: 179 reviews and 590 photos

A little history

One of the most important sanctuaries of antiquity, dedicated to the father of the gods Olympian Zeus. Olympia is the birth-place of the Olympic Games and also where they were held.
The area, of great natural beauty, has been inhabited uninterruptedly since the 3rd millenium B.C. and in the late Mycenaean period it became a religious centre.

The sanctuary of Olympia spreads around the green wooded feet of the Kronion hill, where the rivers Alpheios and Cladeos meet. The valley amongst the two rivers was in ancient times full of wild olive trees, poplars, oaks, pines and plane trees and it was these trees that gave the centre of the sanctuary the name Altis, meaning alsos (grove).

The Altis is the name given to the area in Olympia that comprises the main religious buildings, temples and votive offerings of the sanctuary. Out of the enclosure were the auxiliary buildings, priests' houses, baths, the areas for the preparation of the athletes, guest houses along with other buildings.

The beginning of worship, as well as the mythical confrontations that took place in Olympia, are lost in the depth of the centuries. At the end of the Mycenaean era there was already an installation in the area, and in the Geometric and early Archaic periods, the first simple buildings of the sanctuary were founded.
The games began in 776 B.C. to honour Zeus. Pelops, the king of the Peloponnese was, according to mythology, their founder. The games, that, from beginning to end were dominated by religious character and austere ritual, were taking place in the area in front of the temples to start with, but later as the athletes taking part in the games, as well as the spectators increased, in well organised installations. At the same time the events were enriched in number and variety.

The Monuments and Remains at Ancient Olympia:
1- The Gymnasium
2- The Palestra
3- The Theokoleon
4- The Baths
5- The Workshop of Pheidias
6- The Leonidaion
7- The Bouleuterion (Council Chamber)
8- The South Stoa
9- The Sounth-east Building with the altar of Artemis where Nero build his villa
10- The Echo Stoa
11- The Crypt
12- The Stadium
13- The Hippodrome
14- The 12 Statues of Zeus
15- The Treasuries
16- The Metroon, the Temple of Cybele
17- The Fountain of Herodes Atticus
18- The Temple of Hera
19- The Grove of Pelops
20- The large Altar of Zeus
21- The Philippeion
22- The Prytaneion
23- The Temple of Zeus

Like you can see on the plan, Olympia is a big site to visit. Make sure you have enough time to do the entire tour of the site.

History of the Olympic Games

The origin of the Olympic Games is linked with many myths referred to in ancient sources, but in the historic years their founder is said to be Oxylos whose descendant Ifitos later rejuvenated the games.
According to tradition, the Olympic Games began in 776 B.C. when Ifitos made a treaty with Lycourgos the king and famous legislator of Sparta and Cleisthenes the king of Pissa. The text of the treaty was written on a disc and kept in the Heraion. In this treaty that was the decisive event for the developement of the sanctuary as a Panhellenic centre, the "sacred truce" was agreed. That is to say the ceasing of fighting in all of the Greek world for as long as the Olympic Games were on. As a reward for the victors, the cotinus, which was a wreath made from a branch of wild olive tree that was growing next to the opisthodomus of the temple of Zeus in the sacred Altis, was established after an order of the Delphic oracle.

The Olympics were held, after the completion of four years during the month of July or August. The time inbetween two Olympic Games was called an Olympiad. In the beginning the games lasted only one day and comprised of only one event, the running of one Stadion, but gradually more events were added resulting, towards the 5th century B.C., in the games lasting for 5 days.

In total the Olympic Games consisted of 10 events: running, the pentathlon, jumping, discus, "ekebolon" javelin, wrestling, boxing, the pancration, chariot racing, and horse racing.

All Greeks who were free citizens and had not committed murder or heresy, had the right to take part in the Olympic Games. Women were not entitled to take part, except as owners in the horse races, while being strictly prohibited from watching the games.

Unesco World Heritage

This site is under the autority of the Unesco World Heritage.

This is the mission of this organisation:

Protecting natural and cultural properties of outstanding
universal value against the threat of damage in a rapidly developing world.

Welcome to the World Heritage

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  • In a nutshell:Sports + history = Olympia
  • Last visit to Olympia: Oct 2003
  • Intro Updated Dec 24, 2003
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Reviews (29)

Comments (3)

  • loisl's Profile Photo
    Sep 26, 2005 at 7:26 AM

    Thanks for sharing all this valuable informations with us. We will visit Olympia in 2 weeks. Cheers, Peter

  • Dec 18, 2004 at 4:47 PM

    Great page!! And Happy B-day!! Greets from FLorida =0) Priscila

  • Paul2001's Profile Photo
    May 27, 2004 at 12:13 PM

    Superb page. Very informative tips. I think that in the upcoming months to the Athens Olympics we are going to see alot of this place in the media.


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