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History, archaeology and picture tour of ancient Olympia in Greece

Ancient Olympia Pictures

Brief history of the archaeological site and selected pictures, photos of Olympia where the Olympics all began.

The games at Olympia began sometime around the 11th century BC as a local and religious festival and event. Unlike today's games which have become very commercial in nature and highly extravagant. Over the next two hundred years it would be attended by the states from the rest of the Greek world. The tradition was that all participating states would cease fighting, lay down their arms during the period of the games. In today's Olympic Games countries that are at war or that illegally invade other countries can still participate although boycotts by counties in the past with regards to political differences have occurred.

The events at the games were athletic. The earliest being a 200 meter race. Later the Pentathlon, Pancratium and chariot races were added. At first only free-born Greek males were allowed to participate and the victor would receive an honorary award. A palm at the end of the contest and an olive branch at the end of the games. By the 4th century BC when the games were at their peak, the athletes were almost all professionals and heavily sponsored and rewarded for their victories. In 393 AD Emperor Theodosius suspended the games and the temples and buildings were eventually destroyed soon after by future emperors, invaders and earthquakes.

The ruins at Olympia are extensive with numerous temples, buildings and an excellent museum nearby. Although the condition of the site is fairly poor, the building outlines and the scattered ruins show the various periods of use of this site and the influence and contributions that the Greek city states, colonies and the Romans all had on Olympia. When visiting this site, you really need an outline as a reference or a tour guide to understand this site.

I won't discuss all the buildings on this site as there are too many, but there are two temples worth looking at closely. The Doric Temple of Zeus built between 470-456 BC was massive. When you walk by the columns you can only imagine how big it really was. The smaller Temple of Hera rebuilt in the 6th century is the best preserved temple on the site.

The museum near the site is worth visiting because it contains some finest Classical Greek sculptures including Hermes of Praxiteles. From the Temple of Zeus the frieze of the Twelve Labors of Hercules and on the west pediment my favorite, the Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs. Looking at the size of the individuals in this scene of sculptures, you can only imagine how huge, impressive the Temple of Zeus was and the powerful image of Zeus that it portrayed.

The Philippeion*** The Philippeion - begun by Philip II to celebrate his victory at Chaeronea and probably completed by Alexander the Great.

*** Palaestra

*** Palaestra - wrestling school building

Greek sculptor's Phedias studio*** Phedias workshop and later a church

Emperor Nero's Palace at Olympia *** Nero's house

*** Temple of Zeus - Enormous columns of a once huge, spectacular temple

*** Remnants of Temple of Zeus - from the back of the temple

*** Olympic flame lighting ceremony held in front of and in this area of Olympia

*** Temple of Zeus - constructed between 470-456 BC

Olympic stadium where Olympics started*** Ancient Olympic Stadium

Temple of Hera*** Temple of Hera 6th century BC

*** Hermes of Praxiteles statue

*** Temple Of Hera in background

Battle of Centaurs, Olympia Museum
The Battle of the Centaurs at Wedding of Perithoos - Temple of Zeus 470-456 BC, west pediment. You have to really see these sculptures in person to really appreciate the incredible skill required and knowledge involved to scupt these very life-like, twisting and turning human forms.
Close-up of sculptures

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