The picture above is of a sculpture from the western pediment of the Temple of Zeus in the Ancient Olympia Museum. It depicts the abduction of the Lapith women by Centaurs and has Apollo as its central figure.


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The Sanctuary of Olympia

This is one of the most important ancient sanctuaries, dedicated to the father of the gods Zeus. The Olympic Games began at Olympia and it was where they were held. The area has been continually lived in since the 3rd millennium BC and became a religious centre in the late Mycenaean period .

The sanctuary of Olympia, situated in the west of the Peloponnese, spreads around the green wooded base of the Kronion hill where the rivers Alpheios and Cladeos meet.

The valley in between the two rivers was full of wild olive trees, poplars, oaks, pines and plane trees and it was these that gave the center of the sanctuary the name Altis, meaning alsos (grove).

French archaeologists began excavations at Olympia in May 1829, two years after the battle of Navarino. The finds were transferred to the Louvre in Paris where they are still being exhibited.

The excavation was halted when the Greek government was told of the looting of artifacts, and excavations were started again 45 years later by German archaeologists. The research is being continued to this day by the German Institute of Archaeology in Athens and the Ephorate of Antiquities in Olympia.

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The Temple of Hera is a Doric temple from the end of the 7th century BC. The Heraion is one of the oldest examples of temples in Greek architecture and the most intact structure of the site. Originally made of wood, it was a richly ornamented large building with a three-aisled main room where the statues of Hera and Zeus stood.

Only the temple's basement with its massive orthostates and lower part of the columns are visible in situ. Fragments of the terracotta entablature and the central akroterion are displayed in the museum.

Traditionally this is where the Olympic Flame is lit.

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The gymnasium dates from the 2nd century BC. South of here is the partly restored palaestra (wrestling school), where contestants practised and trained.

From the 5th century onwards, the sanctuary assumed its final form with the impressive temple of Zeus, the Metroon, the Arcades, the Gymnasium and the Palaestra, the living quarters of the priests, and the Philippeion.

Olympia was an ancient Greek sanctuary site dedicated to the worship of Zeus, in whose honour Pan-Hellenic Games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD.

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It was said that the Olympic Games began after a victory by Pelops against Oenomaos, King of Pissa.

The stadium in its present form dates from the early 5th century BC. The track has a length of 212.54 metres and a width of 28.50 metres. Access to the stadium by the athletes was by a vaulted entrance thirty-two metres long. The start and finish lines of the 120m sprint track and the judges' seats still survive.

The stadium could seat at least 45,000 spectators. Slaves and women spectators had to be content to watch from the Hill of Kronos as only men were allowed into the Stadium.

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To the north of the Temple of Zeus was the pelopion, a small, wooded hillock with an altar to Pelops. It was surrounded by a wall containing the remains of its Doric portico. Many artefacts now displayed in the museum were found on the hillock.

The foundations of the Philippeion, west of the Temple of Hera, are the remains of a circular construction with Ionic columns built by Philip of Macedon to commemorate the Battle of Chaironeia (338 BC), where he defeated a combined army of Athenians and Thebans. The building contained statues of Philip and his family.

Directly opposite the temple of Zeus, was the workshop of Pheidias where the great sculptor carved the huge statue of Zeus, listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. The statue was probably transported in pieces and assembled inside the temple of Zeus.

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It depicted Zeus seated on a gold throne decorated with mythological scenes; the face and undraped parts of the body were of ivory, while the gold robe was adorned with glass flowers and semi-precious stones.

Excavation finds and pottery date it precisely to 430-420 BC. Later the workshop became a place of worship and in the fifth century AD, a Christian basilica was erected over its ruins.

The nymphaeum, built by the wealthy Roman banker Herodes Atticus in AD 156-60 was very grand, consisting of a semicircular building with Doric columns flanked at each side by a circular temple.

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The building contained statues of Herodes Atticus and his family. Despite its elaborate appearance, the nymphaeum had a practical purpose; it was a fountain house supplying Olympia with fresh spring water.

In Roman times, the villa of the Roman emperor Nero was added, also the Exedra of Herodes Atticus and Roman baths, and even then when it was at its largest,Olympia was no more than a square kilometer in size.

The Olympic Games ceased in 393 A.D. after the edict issued by Theodosius the Great which forbade all pagan festivals. The Games were revived for the first time after fifteen centuries, in 1896, in the marble stadium in Athens.

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The Temple Of Zeus was built between 470 and 457 BC. and it is widely accepted to represent the best example of classic Doric architecture , which enshrined the statue of Zeus, later removed to Constantinople by Theodosius II (where it was destroyed by fire in AD 475). One column has been restored and re-erected, and helps put into perspective its sheer size.

After the games had come to an end in the early fifth century in 522 and 551 the ruins were devastated by earthquakes, the Temple of Zeus being partially buried. In subsequent centuries the rivers overflowed and together with landslides buried the site in mud and sand.

Olympia remained forgotten under a layer of debris 5-7 metres deep and was not rediscovered until 1766 by the English antiquarian Richard Chandler.

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The Museum

One of the masterpieces of ancient Greek art,Hermes is holding the infant Dionysus in his left arm, while he dangles a bunch of grapes in his right (missing) one. It is made from Parian marble and is 2.10 meters high. It is thought to be an original of the great sculptor Praxiteles and it is dated to circa 330 BC.

The marble is beautifully carved to describe the anatomy of the body in accurate forms, while the treatment of the surface juxtaposing sheen and texture reveal the different roles of the stone: skin, cloth, tree, and hair.

See photograph below!

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In 1829 the French Scientific Expedition of the Peloponnese partially excavated the Temple of Zeus, taking several fragments of the pediments to the Louvre Museum. Excavation then began by the German Archaeological Institute in 1875 and continue to the present. Early German excavations first investigated the race track, but the excavations of 1952-1966 uncovered the entire monument. In 2004, the ancient stadium of Olympia hosted the shot-put event of the Athens Olympic Games

The Nike of Paionios of Mende in Chalkidiki, Macedonia (his name is carved on the base of the statue). Circa 420 BCE.

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The statue, even in its ruinous state reveals a strong sense of movement emphasized by the strong diagonal pose (side view), the hovering feet, and the lines of the himation that push against her body as if forced by the wind. Her spread wings and the face have not survived.

See photograph below.

Figure of the old diviner from the temple of Zeus East pediment. The intense facial expression is unique for this early period of classical art.

The Statue of Zeus at Olympia was one of the classical Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was carved by the famed Classical sculptor Phidias (5th century BC) circa 435 BC in Olympia. (To the left is an image of how the statue may have looked).

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The seated statue occupied the whole width of the aisle of the temple that was built to house it. According to the 1989 World Book, it was 40 feet (12 meters) tall.

Zeus was carved from ivory (technically the ivory was soaked in a liquid that made it softer, so it was probably both carved and shaped as necessary) then covered with gold plating (thus chryselephantine) and was seated on a magnificent throne of cedarwood, inlaid with ivory, gold, ebony, and precious stones.

In Zeus' right hand there was a small statue of Nike, the goddess of victory, and in his left hand, a shining sceptre on which an eagle perched.

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If visiting Olympia during the summer months it is a very good idea to begin very early - the site opens at 8am and is not really busy at that time as a lot of the coaches have not arrived.

Following the devastating fires in the Peloponnese in 2007, although they managed to save the site itself the whole area around the site was badly affected. Before the Olympic Flame was lit for the 2008 Olympics there were over 30,000 trees planted around the site.

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The image that depicts Olympia for me is the gateway into the Stadium. It is an awe inspiring sight.

Tickets Full: €12, Reduced: €6 For the period April 1st - October 31st combined, individual ticket can be purchased for the price of €12 (reduced ticket € 6) and includes the visits to the following areas: 1. Archaeological Site of Olympia. 2. Archaeological Museum of Olympia. 3. Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity. 4. Museum of the History of the Excavations in Olympia. The ticket is valid for one day. Tickets are no longer available for a single area (e.g. The Arcaeological Site of Olympia).

Opening Hours: Winter: Daily (Monday - Sunday): 08:30- 15.30. From March 1st, 2019: Daily (Monday - Sunday): 08:30- 16.00