Wednesday, July 07, 2010


On the afternoon of March 15, we toured the ancient site of Olympia.

Olympia was the site of the original Olympic Games, which may have been initiated as early as 776 B.C. Games continued to be held at Olympia, at four-year intervals, until the Fourth Century A.D., when Theodosius, a devout Christian, discontinued the Games. Theodosius banned the games on several grounds: the Games were deemed to be pagan rituals, no longer in keeping with standards of an advanced civilization; the games had become unduly violent; and the games were accompanied by rampant licentiousness.

Modern-day excavations of the ancient site were undertaken in 1875 and continue to the present day. One of the first archeologists to participate in the excavations at Olympia was Adolf Furtwangler, father of the great conductor.

We took a guided tour of the site, which included a visit to all the principal ruins: the Hippodrome, the Olympic Stadium, the Gymnasium, the Palestra, The Temple Of Hera, The Temple Of Zeus and various other important historic remnants. Olympia’s structures were erected over ten centuries, beginning in The Archaic Period and proceeding through The Classical and Hellenistic Periods onto The Roman Period, in the later stages of which Olympia lost its mythic status and fell into decay and ruin.

The Temple Of Hera (Hera was the wife of Zeus) is the oldest of the ruins at Olympia—and one of the oldest Doric temples in Greece. Erected circa 590 B.C., The Temple Of Hera was destroyed by earthquake in the Fourth Century A.D.

The Temple Of Hera serves a modern-day function: it is the site where the Olympic flame is lighted every four years and sent by runners bearing torches to the appointed venue.

The Temple Of Zeus was completed circa 456 B.C. and, like The Temple Of Hera, was built in the Doric style. Placed in the very center of the site, The Temple of Zeus was the largest and most elaborate temple of Olympia.

Very little evidence of the temple remains today.

Very little of anything remains at Olympia. The ancient site has been victimized by so many natural and man-made disasters over the centuries—earthquakes, fires, invasions, acts of deliberate destruction—that the Olympia of today is little more than a pile of unearthed ancient rocks.

Even the remnants of the Olympic Stadium are little more than a few unremarkable grass-covered slopes.

Our guide escorted us through the many pathways lined with stones, telling us what each pile of stones formerly represented.

Devoted Olympics fans may find a visit to Olympia to be essential, but we were not among that number. As we maintain scant interest in Olympic Games, ancient or modern, we did not find Olympia to be especially rewarding or even particularly interesting. We were happiest when our walk through the endless piles of stones had concluded.

From the ancient site, we proceeded to the nearby Archeological Museum Of Olympia, where we spent two happy hours viewing artifacts that had been unearthed during the many excavations of Olympia.

The Archeological Museum is not large—there are only twelve exhibition rooms—and we were able to visit the entire permanent collection. We found our visit to the museum to be more worthwhile than our visit to the ancient site itself.

We spent the night in the modern town of Olympia, situated down the hill from the ancient site. The town of Olympia is not large and did not appear to possess interesting features. We did not even bother to stroll the town’s streets. Instead, Josh and my brother and I swam in the hotel pool for an hour, after which we joined my parents for dinner in the hotel dining room.

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