Olympia Things to Do

  • The tunnel leading out to the arena.
    The tunnel leading out to the arena.
    by tropicrd
  • Olympia as seen from the ruins
    Olympia as seen from the ruins
    by mindcrime
  • Kimisi Theotokou church
    Kimisi Theotokou church
    by mindcrime

Most Recent Things to Do in Olympia

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    Archaeological Museum of Olympia

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    The visit to Ancient Olympia wont be complete if you visit the archaeological site only, it’s actually the only way to have a better picture of the long history of the ancient sanctuary. My suggestion is to begin with the museum first and then do the ruins (short walk from the museum).

    The Archaeological Museum of Olympia houses many artifacts that were found in the area including some important pieces that once were parts of the temples in site. The items date from prehistoric era to the early christian era. Even outside the museum you can see some items, eg on the side of the museum I saw a line of lion’s head water-spouts from the roof of the temple of Zeus. The musuem isnt big but has a significant portion of important items, you’ll be glad having seen them when you visit the ruins afterwards. If you’re not familiar with ancient Greek history a guide will be handy as they tend to highlight the background of the era explaining culture and religious beliefs etc

    The halls are beautifully luminated and each group on display has a small info board with some information. There also maps and some scale models to complete the general picture.

    Pic 2 shows 7 infants’ pithos burials that were uncovered in the Altis and date back to 2000BC, in this case as you can see there is a detailed map of the excavations, the information in 3 languages (greek, english, german) and some scetches.

    Pic 4 shows bronze helmets, some are of the earliest conical helmets found in the Sanctuary and date back from 8th century BC.

    Small or big statues, minor objects, figurines, mosaics, vazes, pots, cauldrons, utensils, weapons, masks, shields, armor are some of the collections. But the highlights of the museum are definitely Nike of Paeonios and Hermes of Praxiteles, especially the later (pic 5) which was a shock for me many years before, I was walking with not much interested on the museum back then when I saw the statue standing alone in his own room, beautiful at all means

    The museum is open Monday 10-17.00, Tuesday to Friday 8-17.00, weekends 8-15.00 but we were there in march, in general the time frame is longer during summer months (we were there in march)
    The entrance fee for the museum is 6euros, for the archaeological site 6e but most people buy the combined ticket for 9euros. I did this of course both sites worth a visit and will fulfill the puzzle. There are some discounts of EU citizens over 65years old, students etc

    Don’t forget to use the restrooms of the museums as there aren’t any by the ruins of Ancient Olympia.

    Archaeological Museum of Olympia bronze helmets(8th c BC) Hermes of Praxiteles (340-330BC)
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    Archaeological site of Ancient Olympia

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    After visiting the archaeological museum I walked toward the archaeological site of Ancient Olympia. I know many people get dissapointed with the ruins but that happens only if you don’t really know where you stand and the great importance of the sanctuary of Zeus in ancient Greece. A bit of reading before your visit will help of course but in any case visit the museum first to see some items that were found in the general site. What’s more a guided tour is always a good idea in places like this so don’t hesitate to book one otherwise you may end up walking beneath the ancient stones and yawn, no there are no dragons around :) Check some pictures before hand, I also liked the scale models in the museum (pic 4) that show how the buildings were, yes, the stand alone columns you see on the site were just part of those buildings, but don’t forget some of them are more than 2300 years old ;)

    The archaeological site is big but not huge but you have to walk through cobblestones and dirt paths so coming here wearing heels wont be comfortable for your feet :) There’s a detailed map at the entrance but you’ll get a leaflet with a map with your ticket, keep it as it will point out the route you may want to follow and see most of attractions (if you don’t have a tour guide with you). Pic5 is an info board where all the hot spots are numbered so it’s easy to orient yourself.

    It’s been many years since the first time I visited Olympia and I had no photo so on march 2014 we decided for a second visit, unfortunately the weather didn’t help, it was a raining morning, the good thing was I was almost alone, I think I didn’t notice more than 3-4 other visitors, the security guards were way more for sure! Apart from the light rain the temperature was great though, no wonder you need lot of water (and hat, sunscreen) in august when the heatwave will attack you.

    The first photos were taken at the partly preserved gymnasium and the adjacent palaestra, both of them located near Kladeos river bank. The gymnasium was a quadrangular building from 2nd century BC, it seems before the athletes were practicing outdoors, at least now they were protected. The palaestra is a square building that was built in 3rd century BC, the 32 columns we see today were part of the internal peristyle.

    I had to skip the Greek Baths (don’t confused them with the Roman baths) that date from 450BC because I was having a bath anyway because of the rain. With my umbrella on hand I kept walking and saw the Workshop of Pheidias (the famous sculptor of the Acropolis in Athens), this was the place where he made the huge gold and ivory statue of Zeus in 435BC(one of the seven wonders of Ancient World) that was dominating the Temple of Zeus. According to the info board the workshop of Pheidias turned into an early Christian Basilica in 451AD and destroyed by earthquake 100 years later. Talking about the info boards they seemed dated and not always in good shape, they must probably be restored as it gets really annoying and spoils the excitement of those who are eager to learn/see more.

    A few meters away is the Leonidaion, which was a large square building from 330BC that housed the hotel for the visitors of Olympic Games and a residence for high officials during roman times.

    At this point I decided to walk back again to check the Thermes of Kronion, Prytaneion, Philippeion and walk to the left for the Temple of Hera, Nymphaeum, Metroon, The tresuries, the Zanes before I get into the Crypt for the Stadium.

    scale model at the museum Info board about the archaeological site
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    Kronion Thermae

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    When you enter the archaeological site of Ancient Olympia you have the Gymnasium on your right and the Thermes of Kronion on your left.

    There’s not much to see but the info board has some schetches of how the building was, a bird view photo and basic information in 3 languages (greek, english, german) as in most attractions so you fantasize a bit otherwise you see just some stones in front of you.

    The Thermes of Kronion was once a large complex building that was revealed in 1880. It was built on a spot where previously were some hellenistic srtuctures/baths. So it was remodeled many times between 2nd BC and 5th century AD when it functioned as a place for agricultural activities but also a pottery workshop. Some of the pottery vases can now be seen in the museum of Olympia. The central peristyle court had a beautiful mosaic floor according to the leaflet but there’s nothing really left to see here but in the museum I saw a mosaic that was part at one of the rooms of Kronion Complex.

    Thermes of Kronion
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    Filippeion and Prytaneion

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    Just after Thermes of Kronion lies Prytaneion of Eleans, on site are just a few ancient stones now but this was the administrative center of the sanctuary, originally built in late 6th century BC which means one of the oldest building in Ancient Olympia that housed the sacred fire that burned non stop.

    A few meters away is the Philippeion (pic) which was an elegant building dedicated to Zeus by King Philip II in 338BC, Philip died two years later but his son (the famous Alexander the Great) completed the structure by adding statues of his family inside.

    There are some columns still standing but you have to imagine the original structure that had 18 ionic columns while inside there were corinthian columns and a podium with chryselephantine statues of Alexanders’ family. I know some parts of the structure were transferred to Germany but some of them were returned because of the Olympic Games 2004. But I forgot to confirm thus at the archaeological museum.

    Philippeion
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    temple of Hera

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    Oh this temple is old! Temple of Hera was probably built in 650BC, hopefully the rain had stopped so I stood speechless in front of the temple for a while although in reality we can see only the basement now, the massive columns are the orthostates. There’s an info board (pic 2) with diagrams and schetches of the temple and as expected information about it where I read that according to legend here was kept the disk of the Sacred Iphitos(where the Olympic truce was written).

    Romans turned the temple into a museum later for the sanctuary treasures as the famous Hermes of Praxiteles, an amazingly beautiful 2,10meters high statue (pic 3) from 343 BC, hopefully I admired it earlier in the archaeological museum, it was made by parian marble and is the only work of Praxiteles survived.

    Pic 4 was also taken at the archaeological museum. The Colossal limestone female head probably belonged to a cult statue of Hera, one of the two statues that Pausanias saw when he visited the temple, the other one was of Zeus. The head of Hera was recovered near the Heraion.

    Don’t forget that the Olympic flame is lit in the altar in front of temple every four years for the modern Olympic Games.

    Temple of Hera info board about Temple of Hera Hermes of Praxiteles colossal limestone head of Hera
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    Nymphaeum

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    Nymphaeum was a monumental aqueduct that was donated by Herodes Atticus to the Sanctuary in 160AD supplying with fresh drinking water the town of Olympia. During the Olympic Games the wells weren’t enough for the hordes of visitors and back then plastic bottles weren’t invented yet :)

    It was an impressive semicircular two storey building adorned by statues of Herodes Atticus, roman emperors and many others (many of these statues can be seen at the archaeological museum) while the inside the apse was a large water tank.

    Unfortunately not much survived through time but the info board (pic 2) has a 3d reconstruction sketch of it.

    Pic 3 was taken at the archaeological museum of Olympia , it is a marble statue of a bull that was originally inside the water tank of the Nymphaion.

    Nymphaeum info board about Nymphaeum bull from Nymphaeum
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    Bases of Zanes

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    Did you know that athletes that were cheating during the Olympic Games have to pay huge fines? Those fines were used to pay famous sculptors to create large bronze statues of Zeus causing huge shame for the athlete and the city he represented. Those statues were strategically placed in row along the area in front of the main gate to the stadium so new athletes can see them and be nice guys on the way to compete with the others. Most cheats had to do with bribing of course and not use of anabolics… although in Asterix you may read some alternative stories :)

    From the number of the statues we understand that weren’t many athletes that tried to cheat considering the different centuries this custom was used although they start after 4th century BC, before that the games were more like a sacred event.

    What you see on this photo is a row of 16 pedestals where they were putting those bronze statues known as Zanes (plural form of Zeus in greek). Unfortunately no statue of Zeus survived.

    bases of Zanes info board about the bases of Zanes
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    Stadium

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    It was time for me to walk under the gate (known as the Krypte in ancient time, built in late 3rd century BC), a vaulted tunnel (pic 1) that leads into the stadium. So, why a simple runing track is so important? Because this is where the athletes run during the Ancient Olympic games!

    Most visitors try to run along the 192,27meters of the Olympic stade (600 feet) that are inticated by stone markers on both ends. Don’t forget that until the 13th Olympiad (728BC) this sport was the only one in Olympic Games. The stadium size was actually 212m long and 28,5m wide. The rain had turned the stadium into mud of course that morning so there was no option for me to run or even walk along but don’t hesitate to try it out and run.

    This wasn’t the first stadium as before the 5th century BC there was a smaller one in different position (closer to the temple of Zeus but it was just after 5th century that the games became really popular with almost 45,000 people attending the games so they changed the position) but the new bigger stadium was ideal for the visitors because they could take advantage of the natural seating area along the hill, there werent stone seats except for the preserved platform that acoomodated the judges of the games. This was the hill where I walked actually that raining day, the security guard didn’t like that for some reason and was following me all the time like I was ready to steal the grass or something :)

    There werent other visitors around, only a couple walking with their umbrella, I guess the guy explained her that no women allowed to watch the games in ancient Greece except the priestess at the altar of Demetra. Just for the record the stadium was used during the Olympic Games of 2004 again.

    the Krypte the stadium the stadium info board about the stadium
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    temple of Zeus

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    One of the last things I checked at the archaeological site was the Temple of Zeus. This was an impressive massive temple (largest in Peloponnese) in doric style that dominated the Altis. It was built between 470 and 456BC by Libon the Elean and was dedicated to Zeus of course. Inside stood the huge gold and ivory statue of Zeus made by Pheidias in 430BC, it was one of the Seven Wonders in Ancient World but it didn’t survive as it was transferred to Constantinople where it got burnt, actually what we know about it is only from descriptions. The temple was burnt in 426AD by Theodosius II and demolished completely by the earthquake of 551AD.

    The column that stands at the temple (pic 1) was restored and reerected at the occasion of the Olympic Games 2004. Although we cant see the temple on its full glory many parts have been found and now can be seen at the archaeological museum of Olympia, even outside the museum you can see some items, eg on the side of the museum I saw a line of Lion’s head water-spouts from the roof of the temple (pic 2) but much more important parts housed inside. At the central hall of the museum you can admire the two pediments of the temple (pic 3), spend some time there but then don’t miss the Nike of Paeonios (pic 4) the beautiful marble statue of Nike that was standing at the SE corner of the temple. The 2,11m in height statue was a votive offering to Zeus from Messenians and Naupactians for their victory against the Spartans in Archidameian war (421BC)

    Finally some fragments of the metopes of the temple are in Louvre museum since 1829.

    temple of Zeus lion���s head water-spouts Nike of Paeonios
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    Town of Olympia

    by mindcrime Written Dec 25, 2014

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    Yes I know, most visitors come for the archaeological site and the museum but what about the town of Modern Olympia? We had some time there and no matter the rain I walked its streets for a while. It’s not a huge town anyway but there’s nothing really that worth to put you off the beaten path especially if you have more things to see on your day of your visit.

    As we would spend the night at Pelopion (a nearby village) we checked Olympia for a while but definetely we didn’t get excited, we just noticed the central church (pic 2, Kimisi Theotokou church) and found the architecture of the buildings boring and typical (pic 3 was taken in the center) except the lovely Old Railway Station (pic 4) near the archaeological site

    Olympia as seen from the ruins Kimisi Theotokou church street in Olympia Old Railway Station statue in front of the church

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    ARCHAEOLOGICAL OLYMPIA MUSEUM

    by draguza Written Oct 4, 2012

    The Archaeological Museum of Olympia, one of the most important museums in Greece, presents the long history of the most celebrated sanctuary of antiquity, the sanctuary of Zeus, father of both gods and men, where the Olympic games were born. The museum's permanent exhibition contains finds from the excavations in the sacred precinct of the Altis dating from prehistoric times to the Early Christian period. Among the many precious exhibits the sculpture collection, for which the museum is most famous, the bronze collection, the richest collection of its type in the world, and the large terracottas collection, are especially noteworthy.

    The museum building comprises exhibition rooms, auxiliary spaces and storerooms. The vestibule and twelve exhibition rooms contain objects excavated in the Altis. Finally, part of the east wing and the basement are dedicated to storage and conservation of terracottas, bronze, stone, mosaics and minor objects.

    The Archaeological Museum of Olympia, supervised by the Seventh Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, was reorganized in 2004 to meet modern museological standards.

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    RUINES OF TEMPLES & ATHLETIC COMPLEX

    by draguza Written Oct 4, 2012

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    The Ancient Olympic Games -- The 5-day Olympic festival was held every 4 years between 776 B.C. and A.D. 393 at full moon in mid-August or September, after the summer harvest. Participants came from as far away as Asia Minor and Italy, and the entire Greek world observed a truce to allow athletes and spectators to make their way to Olympia safely. During all the years that the Games took place, the truce was broken only a handful of times.

    By the time the Games opened, literally thousands of people had poured into Olympia; and much of the surrounding countryside was a tent city. Women were barred from watching or participating in the Games, although they had their own Games in honor of Hera, Zeus's wife, in non-Olympic years. Any woman caught sneaking into the Olympic Games was summarily thrown to her death from a nearby mountain.

    No one knows precisely what the order of events was, but the 5 days included footraces, short and long jumps, wrestling and boxing contests, chariot races, the arduous pentathlon (discus, javelin, jumping, running, and wrestling), and the vicious pankration (which combined wrestling and boxing techniques).

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    Archaeological site (II). Temple of Zeus.

    by Aitana Written Sep 10, 2012

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    Altis is the sacred ground of Olympia, which consists of various buildings: the Temple of Hera (or Heraion), the Temple of Zeus, the Pelopion and the area of the altar, where the sacrifices were made. When we enter in the archaeological site, the Altis is on our left.
    The most important and impressive building is the Temple of Zeus, built between 470 and 456 BC. The stone used for its construction was from the shore of the Alfeios, whereas the friezes, metopes and roof were made with white Parian marble. The temple was built on top of an artificial elevation. It measures were 64.12 x 27.70 m and 20.25 m high. It was a peristyle temple with 6 x 13 Doric columns. The chryselephantine statue of Zeus by Phidias, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was housed in this temple. Awfully this statue was carried to Constantinople and destroyed during a fire.
    Theodosius II ordered the destruction of the temple in 426. One century later, and earthquake devastated the ruins. The pediments, friezes and metopes are shown in the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, except for some fragments which were taken to the Louvre.

    Pedestal of Nike Nike

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    Archaeological site (I)

    by Aitana Updated Sep 10, 2012

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    When you enter in the Archaeological site, the first building you find on the right is the Gymnasium, a place for training and also for socializing and engaging in intellectual pursuits. The building was rectangular, and four galleries in Doric rhythm surrounded a central court, called Pedion Areos.
    After the Gymnasium and connected with it is the Palaestra (pic 1), a large courtyard used as a boxing or wrestling surface. The building was 66 m square and the central court was surrounded by galleries also in Doric rhythm where athletes could train in bad weather.
    Following the main road, the next building is the Theikolon, the place reserved for the priest in charge of the temples. Later we found Phidias workshop, which had the same dimensions as the temple of Zeus. This way, the artist could be aware of the impression of his works in their future place. Later the workshop became a paleochristian basilica (pic 2).
    Leaving the main road and turning to the right we found the thermal baths, the swimming pool and the Roman Guest house (pic 3). These baths were built in the 5th century BC and the guest house dates back to the 2nd century AD and probably was used as a hotel for high-ranking officials.
    The last big building following the main road is the Leonidaion, a lodging place for athletes. It was build in the 4th century BC and was funded and designed by Leonidas of Naxos, hence its name. The building was almost square, and there was a inner court with fountains and a garden.

    Palaistra Phidias workshop Thermal baths and Roman guest house Leonidaion

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    See Important Sculptures In the Lateral Galleries

    by hquittner Written May 19, 2012

    There are many important other sculptures in the side galleries of the Archeological Museum. The Prominent among them is the old Archaic terra cotta of Zeus carrying off Gandymede. Even more famous in Gallery 7 is a late 5thC BC Nike by Paionios. The most famous sculptue is the Hermes carryjng the baby Dionysos done by Praxiteles. Another even older example of sculpture is a brass model of a horse.

    Zeus and Ganymede Hermes and Ganymede by Praxiteles The Nike of Paionios Ancient Bronze Horse
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