OLYMPIA - Distance from Ermioni: 245 kms/3.75 hours 

Olympia is an ancient sanctuary located in Elis, in the valley of the gods, and has given its sacred name to the world with the modern Olympic Games.  The archaeological site and museum is situated a 10 minuite walk away from the modern town, which offers the visitor various quality hotels, apartments and basic rooms to stay overnight, or longer, as the journey to Olympia can be a long trek, whether you are coming from Ermioni or Athens. The modern town also offers various tourist and souvenir shops, tavernas and cafes, mostly located around the main street, which runs down the centre of the town.  Its best to leave your car at your hotel or parked on the back streets, and make the pleasant short walk over the river to the archaeological site and museum, as parking near to the site entrance is restricted to tourist coaches that bring visitors to Olympia from around the world. 

Olympia was also known for the gigantic ivory and gold statue of Zeus, sculpted by Pheidias, which was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Sadly, this amazing statue no longer exists, apart from its description.  Close to the Temple of Zeus which housed the statue, within the Altis sacred precinct, the Atelier studio of Pheidias was discovered and excavated in the 1950s.  The sculptor's tools and clay moulds that were found within the studio have made it possible to date the creation of the statue of Zeus.

Olympia, the most ancient and most famous sanctuary in Greece, was transformed from a settlement into a religious centre during the late Mycenaean period, and by the end of the 4th century BC the sanctuary had aquired its final definitive architectural appearance. Most visitors who come to Olympia enjoy their exploration of the sacred sanctuary, with the various temples and treasuries surrounded by tall plane trees, poplars, oak and pines, but the walk through the Crypt arched passageway is extra special, as this entrance leads you to THE Olympic stadium.  Ancient Games were held here from the 8th cen. BC until the 4th cen. AD, the inception date being 776 BC based on inscriptions found at Olympia.  The Games were held every four years, as part of a cycle known as the Panhellenic Games, which included the Pythian Games held at Delphi, the Nemean Games and the Isthmian Games held near Corinth.  The stadium that we see today is the third version, built at the beginning of the 5th century BC, where at this time the Olympic Games themselves changed in nature, from a purely religious character they gradually became a spectacle for entertainment.  The 212m long stadium could now hold up to 50,000 spectators, that sat on the ground, on embankments that surrounded the stadium on all four sides.  Admission to the archaeological site, including the stadium and museum: 12 Euros*

The ancient games at Olympia featured many competitions that still take place in today's modern Olympics.  There were four running events, the original stade, a straight-line sprint of just over 192 metres and running events which consisted of a predetermined number of laps in the stadium (with one hoplite race where the athletes wore armour and carried a shield), long jump, discus, javelin, wrestling, the pentathlon (a combination of the previous five events) shot-put, boxing and the pankration (a combination of wrestling and boxing).  Equestrian events consisted of two and four-horse chariot races, as well as horse racing, whereby the owners were deemed the winners.

The Greeks that came to the Sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia shared the same religious beliefs and spoke the same language.  The athletes were all male citizens of the city-states from every corner of the Greek world, coming as far away as Iberia (Spain) in the west and the Black Sea (Turkey) in the east.  Only freeborn Greek men were allowed to participate, although there were victorious women chariot owners.  Athletes from any Greek city-state and kingdom were allowed to take part in the events, as during the celebration of the games, an 'Olympic Truce' was enacted so that athletes and spectators could travel from/to their cities in safety.  

Ancient texts of the Greco-Roman geographer Pausanias describe the Olympic Games in the 2nd century AD held exclusively for women, the 'Heraean Games'.  The Games, named in honour of the Greek goddess Hera, also took place every four years.  Very few historical records of the Heraean Games exist, but they were believed to have taken place just after the traditional Olympic Games around 776 BC, also held in the stadium at Olympia.  The female athletes competed initially only in running sports, and competed wearing a chiton (kyton) a short robe worn by ancient Greeks, while the men competed completely naked.  The Heraean Games were associated with adolescents and considered a rite of passage into adulthood for young female athletes. 

The newly formed International Olympic Committee, IOC, elected that the re-born modern 1896 Olympic Games should be held in the marble Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.  As they say, the rest is history.  Athens also successfully held the Summer Olympics in 2004, where the ancient stadium of Olympia was used for the begining of the opening ceremony and all the shot-put events. For all Olympic Games since 1936 in Berlin, the sacred flame from Olympia, lit from the rays of the sun during an official ceremony held in front of the temple of Hera and the 'renovated' 5th century BC Olympic stadium, is now ceremonially carried by torch runners to all four corners of the world.

Olympia Archaeological Museum is located very near to the sanctuary, in a valley next to the hill of Kronos.  The new larger museum was officially inaugurated in 1982, after the original museum erected in 1888 was damaged by earthquakes in 1954.  Among the many priceless works on display, the most impressive are the sculpures from the temple of Zeus and the marble statues of Hermes and Nike. There is also a large collection of bronze helmets, shields and other ancient weapons, including the bronze Corinthian helmet, with inscription, that was dedicated to Zeus by the great Athenian general Miltiades following his victory over the Persians at Marathon in 490 BC.  The Museum is open every day, apart from national holidays.  Admission: 12 Euros* 

Olympia Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity is located in the original Archaeological Museum at the far end of the modern town.  Completed in 1888 after the first excavations, it displayed the finds of the Sanctuary until the 1970s.  With the Athens XXVIII Olympiad in 2004, this magnificent building became the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games.  Visitors will have a full picture of the historical development of the Olympics and other Panhellenic Games through a wide selection of more than 400 exhibits, as well as information panels and visual material.  The basement of the museum is equipped with a digital exhibition that informs about the ancient games through multimedia content.  Admission: 12 Euros*

*Admission ticket price includes access to all the following areas:  Archaeological Site of Olympia - Archaeological Museum of Olympia - Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity and Museum of the History of the Excavations in Olympia.   Contact no's: +30 26240 29119 and +30 26240 23753


Ancient Olympia
37° 38' 36.888" N, 21° 37' 46.6824" E
Picture Gallery
Ancient Olympia - The Gymnasium Ancient Olympia - The Palaistra Ancient Olympia - The Palaistra Ancient Olympia - The Leonidaion Ancient Olympia - Byzantine basilica Ancient Olympia - Statue plinth near the temple of Zeus Ancient Olympia - Temple of Zeus Ancient Olympia - Temple of Zeus Ancient Olympia - Temple of Zeus Ancient Olympia - Temple of Zeus Ancient Olympia - Plinth of the Nike statue Ancient Olympia - The Philippeion Ancient Olympia  - The Philippeion Ancient Olympia - The Philippeion Ancient Olympia - Temple of Hera - Heraion Ancient Olympia - Temple of Hera - Heraion Ancient Olympia - Temple of Hera - Heraion Ancient Olympia - The treasuries Ancient Olympia - The Nymphaion Ancient Olympia - The Crypt archway of the stadium Ancient Olympia - The Crypt archway leading to the stadium Ancient Olympia - Starting line at beginning of the race course Ancient Olympia - Finishing line at the end of the race course Ancient Olympia - The 50,000 spectator stadium Ancient Olympia - Prytaneion officials building - 5th cen. BC Ancient Olympia Museum - Pediment from the Megarian treasury Ancient Olympia Museum - Marble statue of Nike of Paionios Ancient Olympia Museum - Marble statue of Hermes of Praxiteles Ancient Olympia Museum - West pediment from the temple of Zeus Ancient Olympia Museum - Lapith women from the West pediment Ancient Olympia Museum - Bronze Corinthian style helmets Ancient Olympia Museum - Miltiades' helmet from Marathon Ancient Olympia - Reconstruction of the 'Altis' sacred sanctuary Ancient Olympia - Artist impression of the temple of Zeus Ancient Olympia - The giant ivory and gold statue of Zeus Ancient Olympia - Lighting the Olympic flame Ancient Olympia - Olympic flame in front of the temple of Hera Olympia - The main high street of Olympia  Olympia - Tavernas and cafes under the plane trees Olympia - The old NeoClassical railway station