Mediterranean Cruise: Olympia, Greece

Our next stop was Olympia, Greece. I’ve never thought much about where they used to hold the first Olympics, but it was a really interesting archeological site to visit. We first had to take a train to get there from the port. There were a few people who yelled at us to take the bus, but we read that they charge three times the amount of the train. The walk to the train stop was quick. There is only one train. It goes to Olympia once a day and comes back once a day, so if you miss it, you have to find another way to get there or back. It cost 5 euros a person each way. It is a lovely ride through small towns. Unfortunately at one of the stops about 50 high school students got on the train. It was so loud! However, the students were really interested in practicing their English and chatted with other riders.

After departing the train, you walk past the town to the archeological site. Admission included the site, the museum next to the site, and another museum about the history of the Olympic Games. It cost 6 euros for each of us. Most people went right into the museum first, but we wanted to try and get into the archeological site before too many groups got there. It was a short walk and you had to show your ticket to get inside. The first thing we saw were people working on an excavation.

This site has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but it was known first as a center of worship for Zeus in the 10th century. The sacred grove and the center of the sanctuary was called Altis and it was here that countless works of art and art techniques were created. Many of these masterpieces have been lost, but there are still major works of sculpture that exist today. There are the principal temples of Zeus and Hera, structures used by priests, administration, common buildings, accommodations, residences for important guests (Nero’s House), and sports structures such as the stadium, thermal baths, and gymnasium. It is interesting that they chose this spot for the Olympic Games since the sanctuary was all about peace. The athletes were under a sacred pact for three months and came from all areas of Greece. Their only prize was an olive wreath.

These columns seemed to go on forever and were all a part of the same building, which was the gymnasium.

This became a church at some point.

These are the remains of the thermal baths.

This is a wider view of all of the site from the back left corner near the thermal baths.

These are temples that were actually felled by an earthquake. The size of the columns are unbelievable. I don’t understand how they raised something that massive in those times.

A far view and close up view of Nero’s House. Distinguished guests stayed here.

My favorite thing I learned about at the site were these stones. These lined the walkway down to the stadium. These are the bases of Zanes (plural form of Zeus). There were sixteen of these and they had bronze statues of Zeus on top. They were erected from the fines imposed on athletes who cheated. The inscription on these bases named the athlete and the offense for which they were penalized. They were placed along the walkway to the stadium as a warning to all athletes competing in the games.

The first picture was the remains of a fountain. I didn’t take a picture of where the eternal flame was located. It was a pile of stones in front of this building. You can see all the people standing around it in the distance. I love walking among the ruins and thinking about all the people who were there before me. The devoted worshippers of Zeus, the referees for the games, the important guests, and the athletes who were competing for the the joy of competition all walked the same areas that I did.

After touring the archeological site, we checked out the museum. I was really happy that we were able to do it on our own. The tour groups were rushed through each of the galleries and some galleries they did not stop in at all. I like to be able to decide what I want to see or not. It was also nice to be able to listen to any explanations that interested us or just be able to walk away. This museum had a variety of pieces, but my favorite were the sculptures that came from the archeological site. We walked to the museum about the history of the Olympic Games and discovered this dirty cat under one of the buses. S/He followed us to the sidewalk near the museum and yelled us when we left him/her, much to the amusement of everyone in the parking lot.

I learned a lot at the museum about the Olympic Games. Women were not only not allowed to compete in the games, they were also not allowed to attend. There were competitions for young men and for adult men. The original games included running, discus, javelin, jumping, wrestling, boxing, and even chariot races for a short time. It was interesting to read about the rules and how they competed since a lot of it correlated to how they are done today.

We had a short amount of time before the train arrived to take us back to port. We stopped for some baklava and there were plenty of shops to buy souvenirs. Olympia was not someplace that I ever thought I would visit, but it was an amazing site to see. I would definitely recommend it, especially to anyone interested in the Olympic Games.

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