2022-06-04 Europe: 2022-12-20 03:00 (UTC)

Αρχαία Ολυμπία should not be mistaken with Mount Olympus. Former homes loathsome little mortals, latter the almighty gods.

The earliest known settlement around Archaia Olympia goes back to the third millennium BCE. Later in the Mycenaean era (1600 - 1100 BCE) the number of the inhabitants raised and a sanctuary built for Zeus around 10th - 9th centuries established its Hellenic fame and importance. From the later Archaic times (7th century BCE) gradually more buildings were added until the 4th century BCE, reaching its final form.

The region changed the owners multiple times, the Eleans and Pisatans fought for centuries and ruled depending on who was the momentarily stronger.

The first Ancient Olympiade (Hellanodikae) started in 776 BCE under the Eleans. In comparison to the already famous Hellenic athletic traditions it could be considered basic: only one competition, the stadion running event took place. The stadion as measurement standard originates from this, the dimension of the original running ground was 192.27x28.50mts and its length measures exactly one stadion. The first build in 560 BCE had only the track, then it was rebuilt around 500 BCE with a slight eastward position and the added spectator sides.

Upon arrival from the southwestern Krypte entrance you can immediately spot the marble starting line in the ground. Looking to the northern (left) side you can see the altar of Demeter Chamyne, looking toward south (right) direction around the middle you can see the exedra. This was the reserved platform for the judges, for the rest organic seating was offered. Estimates say about 45,000 spectators could fit into the stadion.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the 12.4 mt tall Statue of Zeus was sculpted and stood here in Olympia. Made by Phidias around the 5th century BCE, by this time the Eleans were the current custodians of the games and ordered the statue. His expertise in gigantic sculptures was already famous, particularly the Athena Parthenos in the Parthenon shone on his CV. Nothing of the Zeus statue survived since, we know its existence only from texts and depiction on coins. Remains of Phidias' workshop where he worked on the statue:

Along with her husband, Hera also had her sanctuary on the site. You can see the altar in the front: since the Berlin Olympiad in 1936 this is the location where the Olympic Flame is lit. This ceremony is modern, no such thing happened at the beginning of the ancient games.

The flame goes out but there's a match
393 CE, the year of the last ancient Olympic Games. An already familiar name appears on the horizon, known for closing down places which outsourced the knowledge to a decaying dragoncorpse: Theodosius I. He got into the history books among those asymmetrics who didn't find contradiction between a massacre and the Sunday mass. Still nothing is impossible, you only need strategist buddies to open the door like Saint Ambrose, with his significant stair on the career ladder because someone yelled from the crowd: Welease Wodger!

Celebs neither are any invention of recent times.

Nonetheless, Theo and Ambrose went hand-in-hand with the vision to save the souls of the taxpayer plebs and make them fear the one, the real god meanwhile. It appears a sportive event was the exact thorn in their feet, and that edict stomped the ancient Olympian Games too into the ground — showing an archetypal example of decapitating sculptures and burning books.

The final moment arrived in 426 CE, when Theodosius the Second, faithful to his genes and the buddies ordered the destruction of the site to make space for a basilica of a better religion. Nobody knows whether that fire which burned down the Temple of Zeus was accidental, coincidental or convenient. After that — you won't ever believe this — not human acts but natural disasters wrote Archaia Olympia's further declining history: around the 6th century CE earthquakes shattered the site, also the landslides of Mount Kronius and the floods of Kladeos and Alfeiós rivers deeply covered the site to finally force it fully abandoned by the 7th century CE.

Modern times
The resurrection waited until 1766 when the site under the layers of mud and sand was recognized by the English antiquarian Richard Chandler. The actual excavations started on the 10th of May 1829 by a group of French archaeologists in the French Scientific Expedition. From there the ancient site could have remained just one among the many other relics of a long bygone past — but it didn't. Baron Pierre de Coubertin envisioned a friendly competition among nations inspired by the idea of the ancient games. This from one side stemmed from popularizing physical fitness and health among the civilians, also let's try this instead of killing the soldiers in mustard-gas filled trenches on foggy and cold early winter mornings, who could probably do more in their lives than ending up in the masticator.

While such ideas sounded strange for many, ultimately his initiatives gathered enough backwinds and the International Olympics Committee was established in 1894, led by Coubertin and Evangelis Zappas. The first Modern Olympic took place in Athens between the 6th and 15th of April 1896. It was considered a success because of the contemporary revival and resemblance to the ways how it happened centuries ago.

According to some sources Monsieur Coubertin didn't support the idea of competing females. Which sounds too silly, he clearly never saw women playing beach volleyball.

So do the games happen since then in every four years together with female participants owning driving licences, along with the ongoing archaeological works in Olympia. Earthquakes and floods, also wildfires which were right happening in the vicinity pose constant threats, prioritizing the excavation of the historical valuables. To provide a shelter for this place of ancient and contemporary relevance and values, Archaia Olympia has been on the UNESCO's World Heritage list since 1989.

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