Olympia Archaeological Site

Olympia Archaeological Site:

Olympia, located in the Ilia (Elis) region in the north-west of the Peloponnese Peninsula, dates back to the end of the final Neolithic period (4th millennium BC), and is considered one of the most important places to trace the roots of Western society due to its religious, political, and sports tradition.

Olympia was the centre of worship of Zeus, the father of the twelve Olympian gods. Some of the most remarkable works of art were created to adorn Altis, the sacred grove and sanctuary. Great artists, such as Pheidias, put stamps of inspiration and creativity here, offering unique artistic creations to the world. Μany masterpieces have survived: large votive archaic bronzes, pedimental sculptures and metopes from the temple of Zeus, and the famous complex of Hermes by Praxiteles. These are all major works of sculpture and key references in the history of art.

Still visible inside the peribolos (enclosed court) of the Altis are the shrines to the gods, the principal temples of Zeus and Hera, and the remains of some very ancient sanctuaries—such as the Pelopion and a row of Treasuries to the north, at the foot of the Kronion hill. The divine precinct is packed with history and importance. There are structures used by the priests (Theokoleon), the administration (Bouleuterion), state (Prytaneion), and accommodation (Leonidaion and Roman hostel) buildings. There are also residences for distinguished guests (Nero’s House) and all the sports structures used for the preparation and celebration of the Olympic Games: the stadium and the hippodrome to the east, and the thermal baths, the palaestra and the gymnasium to the south and west.

The Olympic Games were celebrated regularly beginning in 776 BC. The Olympiad—a four-year period between two successive celebrations falling every fifth year—became a chronological reference and dating system used widely in the Greek world. But, the concept of Olympic honor was the most important legacy left to modernity. In ancient times, athletes agreed to a three-month sacred truce and came together from all the Greek cities of the Mediterranean world to compete. This practice demonstrates the loftiest ideals of Hellenic humanism: peaceful and loyal competition among free and equal men with their only ambition being the symbolic reward of an olive wreath.

The revival of the Olympic Games in 1896, through the efforts of Pierre de Coubertin, illustrates the lasting nature of the ideals of peace, justice, and progress—the most fragile attributes of human heritage. The values of fair competition and sacred truce that were established during the ancient Games, remain among humanity’s highest goals. Consequently, today’s visitors can feel the same spiritual and ideological force that drove athletes thousands of years ago.

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