Olympia (Greek: Ολυμπία Olympía) is a town and UNESCO World Heritage Site in Peloponnese, Greece. This was the site of the original Olympic Games from 776 BCE. The games, held every four years in honor of the Greek god Zeus, lasted through the entire Classical Age until the late 4th century CE. The central sanctuary or Altis included temples, altars, shrines, and public buildings for both religious and profane purposes. (See the official site of the Greek Ministry of Culture for description of the site and practical information)
The flame for each modern Olympic Games is still lit in the town, by a reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror, and carried by torch to the place where the games are to be held.
Olympia is in mountainous territory that originated from seismic events like earthquakes and volcanoes that are prevalent in the region of Greece. Furthermore, the region also has a lot of thunderstorms. It is thought that these natural events are the source of many of the Greek myths pertaining to Gods battling amongst themselves. The myths say that the Olympian gods overthrew the Titan gods and settled on Mount Olympus. Zeus, who was the leader of the Olympian gods, wielded thunderbolts as his weapon.
The region is very fertile, and today, grows a wide range of crops, including citrus, grapes, and olives. The mountainous terrain, interspersed with views of the Ionic sea as one drives through the area, has breathtaking views.
The site of Olympia itself, was considered a sacred area, and the ancient games were a sacred event, rather than a sport. Women were excluded from participating in or viewing the games - the only exception being the priestess of Demeter Chamyne, who participated in the ceremony that started the games. The Olympic games, held in ancient and classical times, are today considered to be a mechanism to unify the peoples of Greece in peace, but at the same time, would inculcate in the youth, the physical training that would make them capable of defending their lands against attacking forces.
The seismic activity that are the source of the myths are also the biggest reason for the poor condition of the ruins. Major earthquakes, over the centuries, have broken down the buildings. Conquerors have looted. Christianity has waged war against paganism. Bronze (which was a valuable alloy) artifacts have been melted down and re-purposed. Today, while there are significant archealogical finds that have been uncovered, that tell us about how the games came to be, how they were run, and the structures that existed on the site, there are excavations that still continue the research, and much that will forever be lost in time. We know, for instance, from coins recovered from where spectators would be, that spectators grouped themselves by region / tribe / economic grouping. Since coins can be linked to historical times, we have a view into which city-states participated and when. But there are many structures on the site which lie in ruins, and the colors, and ornamentation, and sometimes even the outline of the structure are something that acheaologists can only make educated guesses about.
The city is very close to the Pyrgos intersection on the National road 9, a single carriageway that runs along the Western coast of Peloponnese.
By public transportation
Trains or KTEL buses from Patras via Pyrgos take around two hours. One can also travel to Olympia from the port of Kyllini using KTEL buses.
The village around Olympia is very small and consists of a handful of stores and hotels supporting the tourism industry. A vehicle is not needed to cover the village. The Olympic site is a 20 minute walk away from the village. There are no personal vehicles permitted within the site - one has to walk. Note that this is an open air site, and therefore, you will have to deal with the weather appropriately in order to enjoy your visit. Prepare for the hot sun and tourist crowds in the summer months. You will not be able to shelter from rain and see the site, so on rainy days, come prepared.
See the official site of the Greek Ministry of Culture for a well-referenced description of major sites and access information.
- 1 Olympia Land winery, Koskina, Ancient Olympia (1,5 km from Olympia city), ☏ +30 2624023021. Winery with unique wines from local varieties in a modern tasting room.
- Kalypso Nightclub. Closes at midnight. Popular with a young tourist crowd.
- Hotel Kronio (Easy walk to the museums and ancient sites), ☏ +30 26240 22188.
- Neda Hotel (Easy walk to city center and archaeological site), ☏ +30 26240 22563.
- Olympic Village Hotel & Spa, ☏ +30 26240 22211.
- Hotel Ilis, Archaia Olympia 270 65, ☏ +30 2624 022547.