|Ancient Olympia lies 10 kilometers east of Pirgos, in a valley between wooded Mt. Kronos, the Alfios river and its tributary, the Kladeos.|
|According to legend, this area was inhabited by the Pisans. Their King was Oinomaus, whose daughter Hippodameia had married Pelops. There are indications that already by 1000 BC, games were being held in honour of the couple. Though exclusively local at the start, the games began gradually to attract the interest of the other towns in the vicinity In 776 BC, the leader of the Eleians, Iphitos, rededicated the games to the honour of Zeus.
This date marks the first Olympiad; afterwards every four years panhellenic contests were held attracting athletes from all the Greek city-states. While the Games were taking place, the Olympic Truce was in force and all hostilities suspended. The victor's prize was a crown made from a wild olive branch, which was always cut from the same tree, the Kallistefano.
'Tinella kallinike': Well done, glorious victor shouted the crowd in praise of the winner. Back in his birthplace, people would knock down the city walls. The Olympic Games, which included the foot-race, wrestling, the Pankration, the Pentathlon, chariot racing and horse racing, as well as artistic and literary competitions, came to an end in 393 AD, with the prohibitory edict of Theodosios I.
Fifteen centuries later, in 1896, they were revived where they had been born, in Greece, by the French historian and educator Pier de Coubertin. Since then every four years a torch bearer, like the ancient heralds, starts out from Olympia bearing the sacred flame to the place where the Games are held. To everse the organisation of the Games, an International Olympic Academy was founded with headquarters since 1961 in Olympia.
|Must see: The first building on the left is the Prytaneion, where ceremonies honoring the winners took place. Further south, Philippeion and next to it the Heraion, a Doric temple dedicated to Hera. Special running races, the Heraia, were held in her honor in which only virgins from Eleia could participate. Southwest of the Heraion lies the Pelopion, an altar dedicated to Pelops, for whom the Peloponnese is named. Nearby is the Doric Temple of Zeus (472 BC), here stood the famous gold and ivory statue of the god, a work of Pheidias.
Outside the sacred grove of the Altis are ruins of other buildings: the Bouleuterion or Council House, where the athletes took the Olympic oath; the Leonidaion, used as a hostel for official visitors; the Palaistra (wrestling school), Gymnasion and the Baths.
The Treasuries, placed at the foot of Mt Kronos, were small edifices raised by each city to house sacrificial vessels. Next to them stands the Nymphaion, a semicircular marble tank that held Olympia's water supply. Just beyond the Treasuries lie the Stadium and the Stoa Poikile or Echo Colonnade, and near it Nero's house. Set in the shade stands the monument containing the heart of de Coubertin, the man who revived the Olympic Games.
The Archaeological Museum
Olympia's new museum lies in a shady grove opposite the site. Here are displayed finds from the area, among them the stone head of Hera, Praxiteles' marble statue of Hermes (330 BC), the Victory by Paionios (421 BC), Miltiades' helmet, the terra cotta group of Zeus carrying Ganymede, and the sculptures from the pediments and metopes of the Temple of Zeus, among the most important works of Classical art. There are also pottery, terra cotta and bronze figurines, votive offerings from the sanctuary, etc.
Museum of the Olympic Games
Very near the ancient site lies the modern village of Olympia. Here one of its prettiest buildings houses the Museum of the Olympic Games, the only one of its kind in the world. It contains mementos connected with the history of the Games and a unique series of postage stamps, designed by Papastephanos - Provatakis commemorating the Games.
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