Tours in Greece



General Background

In the west of the Peloponnese, 16 km inland from the Ionian Sea, the main road out of Pyrgos leads into legendary Olympia’s. In a peaceful and luxuriant valley at the confluence of the rivers Alpheus and Cladeus, the vast archaeological site of Olympia stretches over the lower slopes of a hill covered with pines and olive trees that fill the air with fragrance on hot summer days.

Geography - Demography
The modern village of Ancient Olympia lies on a hill, near the remains of the magnificent and glorious structures of Olympia. Population: 1,812 inhabitants. Here is also the Museum of the Modern Olympic Games, with many choice items from the Modern Olympic Games on display (torches, stamps, and so on).

History and Mythology
The first Olympic Games were held in 776 BC, after the ‘descent of the Dorians’ to southern Greece and after the worship of Zeus had started to spread. It was a king of Elis, Iphitos, who established that the Games were to be held every four years. Athletes came to Olympia from towns on the Greek mainland - and later on from Ionia and Sicily too – to compete at Olympia for four days. At first there were only half a dozen sports, but in the fifth century BC they increased to thirteen. The prize was a kotinos, or wreath of intertwined olive branches, and it was a prize that any athlete or city longed to win. The heyday of the Olympic Games was from the sixth to the fourth century BC. The institution of the ‘sacred truce’ meant that city-states temporarily ceased hostilities, which helped them settle their disputes and realize the unity of the Hellenic nation. It was a major religious, cultural and sporting centre, a pole of attraction for Hellenism, and the bond that linked motherland Greece with the colonies of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. The celebrations at Games-time lent the city religious splendor and influence until the 4th century BC. The sanctuary of Olympia was pillaged by the Romans in 74 BC in the course of their conquest of Greece. The Games lost their glory and the main purpose under Hadrian. Thereafter, Olympia played neither a religious nor a political role and the crowds filled the stadium from curiosity, not from faith or respect. The Games went on until 393 AD, a year before Theodosios II ‘the Great’ prohibited “pagan” festivals. In 426 AD, Theodosios ordered the destruction of all pagan temples. In the following years, an earthquake, fire and pillage completed his work. The first excavations - by the French scientific mission of Blouet and Dubois in May 1829 revealed the exact position of the temple of Zeus. In 1875, the Greek Parliament ratified an agreement with the German Archaeological Institute, authorizing them to undertake the excavations, which are still under way.    Olympia Tour     Olympic Games More...

Gymnasium and Palaestra (Wrestling House). The gymnasium in ancient Greece functioned as a training facility for competitors in public games. It was also a place for socializing and engaging in intellectual pursuits. The name comes from the Greek term gymnos meaning naked. Athletes competed in the nude, a practice said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body and a tribute to the Gods. Gymnasia were typically large structures containing spaces for each type of exercise as well as a stadium, palaistra, baths, outer porticos for practice in bad weather, and covered porticos where philosophers and other "men of letters" gave public lectures and held disputations. Go to Top Olympic Games More...

The palaestra was the ancient Greek wrestling school. The events that did not require a lot of space, such as boxing and wrestling, were practiced there. The palaestra functioned both independently and as a part of public gymnasia. A palaestra could exist without a gymnasium, but no gymnasium could exist without a palaestra. The palaestra  at Olympia is centered around a large courtyard covered with sand for use as a boxing or wrestling surface. Along all four sides of the palaestra are rooms that opened onto the porticoes. It is not possible to say for what most of the other rooms lining the porticoes were used. Since Olympia had no resident population, the palaestra and gymnasium would not have included spaces for lectures or intellectual discourse and would have been used primarily by competitors in the sanctuary games.

The stone benches found in six of rooms would certainly have been used by athletes and spectators rather than by intellectuals. The unidentified rooms of the palaestra would have included rooms such as the elaiothesion or oil store, the konisterion or dusting-room, rooms for storing athletic apparatus, and a few sphairisteria, which were rooms or open courts for ball play. Go to Top

The workshop of Fidias 'Phidias'  (c.480 BC - c.430 BC), son of Charmides, (not to be mistaken for the Charmides who participated in the tyranny at Athens) , was an ancient Greek sculptor, painter and architect, universally regarded as the greatest of all Classical sculptors. Phidias designed the statues of the goddess Athena on the Athenian Acropolis (Athena Parthenos inside the Parthenon and the Athena Promachos) and the colossal seated Statue of Zeus at Olympia in the 5th century BC.  The workshop of Pheidias was turned into a Basilica and the site was inhabited by a Christian community until the late 6th century. After this point the site was buried under the alluvial deposits of two rivers until its discovery by archaeologists in the 19th century Go to Top

Leonidaion:The Leonidaion was the lodging place for athletes taking part in the Olympic Games at Olympia. It was located at the southwest edge of the sanctuary and was the largest building on the site. It was constructed around 330 BCE and was funded and designed by Leonidas of Naxos. The building consisted of four Ionian colonnades with 138 decorated columns, forming a square of approximately 80 metres. In its interior there was a central Doric peristyle with 44 columns.  It consists of four ranges of rooms set around an atrium with a circular pool in the centre added by the Romans.   Olympia Tour More...

The ancient sanctuary of Zeus was the place where all ancient Greeks abandoned the politic rivalries of their city-states and were united in worship of the gods as they celebrated their common ethnic and cultural roots. The Olympic games probably began as a local funerary celebration in honour of Pelops .  The first historical reference to the Games in 776 BC. when a treaty between kings Iphitos of Elis and Lykourgos of Sparta provided for an Olympic truce (ekecheiria) during the summer Games. From 776 BC. onwards lists were kept of the winners in the foot - race round the Stadion, giving rise to the Greek method of chronological reckoning by olympiads. Every four years Greeks from all over the Greek world gathered in this sanctuary to participate in the Olympiada. A sacred truce was kept during the period of the games and attempts were made to settle wars

and conflicts between the (poleis -cities) based on reasoning inspired by Zeus. They were finally banned by the Emperor Theodosius, and came to an end in AD 393 after an existence of more than a thousand years. A direct consequence was the revival of the Olympic Games by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the first modern Games being held in Athens in 1896.

Bouleuterion: where the members of the council which administered the sanctuary used to hold their meetings.

Prytaneion: Administrative centre of the sanctuary (5c BC), the perpetual flame was kept in a sacred hearth.

  Olympic Games More...

Naos Dios: A ramp leads up to the terrace supporting the great temple of Zeus which was built in the 5c BC of local shell- limestone, covered with a layer of stucco. The entablature and study columns have collapsed and their drums and capitals lie in pieces at the foot of the high steps of the stylobate The chaotic heap of stones, the enormous drums and capitals of the columns thrown down by an earthquake in the 6c AD create a dramatic effect. The pediments were decorated with sculptures (museum) illustrating the chariot race between Oinomaos and Pelops as well as the battle of the Lapinths and Centaurs, the friezes at the entrance to the pronaos and the opisthodromos were composed of 12 sculpted metopes (museum) of the Twelve Labors of Heracles. The naos, which consisted of a nave and two aisles, contained the famous statue of Olympian Zeus, one of the "Seven Wonders of the World".

It was a huge chryselephantine figure (about 13.50m high) representing the king of the gods in majesty, seated on a throne of ebony and ivory holding a scepter surmounted by a n eagle in his left hand and a Victory, also chryselephantine, in his right., his head was crowned with an olive wreath.  Go to Top
Philippeion: this circular votive monument was built in the 4c BC in the Ionic order. It was begun by Phillip of Macedon and completed by Alexander the Great. The Philippeion in the Altis of Olympia was an Ionic circular memorial of ivory and gold, which contained statues of Philip's family, Alexander the Great, Olympias, Amyntas III and Eurydice II. It was made by athenian sculptor Leochares in celebration of Philip's victory at Battle of Chaeronea (338 BC).
Naos Heras (Heraion)   The Temple of Hera, or the Heraion, at Olympia, Greece, is an important monument of the ruins of Doric architecture.  The temple was dedicated to Hera, the wife of Zeus and one of the most important female deities in Greek religion. A few columns have been re-erected.

among the remains of the imposing foundations of the temple of Hera. Within stood an effigy of Hera, of which the colossal head has been found, and one of Zeus, as well as many others statues which included the famous Hermes by Praxiteles.In modern times, the temple is the location where the torch of the Olympic flame is lit,

by focusing the rays of the sun. Eleven women, representing the roles of priestesses, perform a ceremony in which the torch is kindled by the light of the Sun, its rays concentrated by a parabolic mirror. The Olympic Torch Relay ends on the day of the opening ceremony in the central stadium of the Games. The final carrier is often kept secret until the last moment, and is usually a sports celebrity of the host country. The final bearer of the torch runs towards the cauldron, usually placed at the top of a grand staircase, and then uses the torch to start the flame in the stadium. It is generally considered a great honor to be asked to light the Olympic Flame.  Go to Top

Stadium:  The first stadium was constructed around 560 BCE, it consisted of just a simple track. The stadium was remodelled around 500 BCE with sloping sides for spectators and shifted slightly to the east. In the 3c BC a passage was built beneath the terraces to link the sanctuary to the stadium. The Crypt a vaulted passageway linking the Stadium with the Altis, was built at the end of the 3rd c. BC. The starting and finishing lines are still visible, the distance between them was a stadium (about 194yd). The finishing line (nearest the passage) was marked by a cippus, a small low column acting as a goal or a marker round which the runners ran if the race consisted of more than one length of the stadium, the starting line was marked by several cippi. Olympic Games More...

The spectators, men only, were ranged on removable wooden stands mounted on the bank surrounding the stadium. It was enlarged several times until it could accommodate 20000 people. In the middle of the south side there was a paved marble enclosure where the judges sat.   

The word originates from the Greek word "stadion" (στάδιον), literally a "Stand", (a place where people stand.) The oldest known stadium is the one in Olympia, in western Peloponnese, Greece, where the Olympic Games of antiquity were held since 776 BC. Initially 'the Games' consisted of a single event, a sprint along the length of the stadium. Therefore the length of the Olympia stadium was more or less standardized as a measure of distance (approximately 190 meters or 210 yd).

  Olympia Tour More... Classical Tour More... Peloponnesian Tour More...

Go to Top

Copyright ©  1999   All  rights reserved.  Send us an e-mail.