You'll never come away from this destination feeling cheated. The truth is that its very name indicates that most of the places you see in Olympia will bear a close relationship with its past as a venue for the ancient Olympic Games. But the place offers much more and you may want to spend at least half a day here to see all the buildings and enjoy the cuisine.
It was in 776 BC when Olympia played host to the first games, which took the name of the place. They were dedicated to the main god of the Olympic pantheon: Zeus. You should know that the games of Olympia were part of the so-called Panhellenic Games along with the Delphic Pythian Games, dedicated to Apollo; the Nemean Games dedicated to Hera in Argos and the Isthmian Games, dedicated to Poseidon in Corinth.
The ancient Olympic Games were held, as they are today, every four years, in the summer, in the months of July and August. This period was called the Olympiad and was in fact part of the official Greek calendar.
Some of them may sound familiar, like the discus and javelin events. There was also wrestling and chariot racing. Participation was exclusively male and only citizens could take part, not foreigners or slaves. Greek democracy was, as you see, very restrictive.
These ancient Olympics were abolished in the time of Emperor Theodosius, but Olympia is still the place where the Olympic torch is lit today. And it is done by using the sun's rays, in the traditional way.
Before stopping at any of the other sightseeing places in Olympia, the Museum of Ancient Olympia is a must-see. Its contents will tell you how to interpret what you see once you get outside. That means you'll be sure to enjoy the city to the full.
Have you ever wondered where the expression "entering the fray" comes from? Well, it comes from the Greek gymnasiums. The palaestra, which you can visit in the gymnasium of Olympia, is the place where the participants in the games trained, or "entered the fray".
It was in the workshop of Phidias that the molds used in the creation of the statue of Zeus were found. The statue was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, but it was lost. Today we know of its importance and appearance from descriptions and from its depiction on various coins of the time.
The Priests' House is located next to the workshop. It was the home of the high-ranking officials who visited Olympia, either on the occasion of the games or to carry out their political duties.
Without a doubt, this is one of the sights in Olympia that you shouldn't miss. The lost statue of Zeus stood here and, although it disappeared around the 5th century, the column that remains will give you an idea of the magnificence it once possessed.
The remains of the Temple of Hera are the best preserved in Olympia. You can still see its circular structure and some of its Doric columns.
Of all the places listed in this guide of what to see in Olympia, the stadium is most likely to catch your eye. To enter it you have to go under an arch. Once inside, you will see that the judges' seats and the starting lines for the various events have been preserved.
If the heat allows, walk around the slopes to get an idea of the immensity of the place.
As you have seen, there is a lot to see at Olympia, but enjoying the visit depends largely on how well you plan ahead. No brochures or guides are provided on-site, so we recommend that you take one with you. It is easier for your imagination to help you recreate the splendor of the place with a little back-up.
When you're done with your sightseeing, you may need to rehydrate and have something to eat. Greek food is excellent and Olympia is a good place to have such aperitifs as dolma, saganaki, and tzatziki. But the most popular food in Olympia is yogurt and the famous sweets made of nuts and puff pastry, the baklavas, which are of Turkish origin. Try them in moderation, because they are small but very filling.
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