- Take the train to Olympia
- Olympias sights
- Tour through the Olympic site
- Olympia in retrospect
In one day, three cruise ships visit the Greek town of Katakolon in the north-west of the Peloponnese. They are Queen Victoria, the MSC Magnifica and the sailing ship Club Med 2. The almost 5.000 passengers on these ships have one main destination: ancient Olympia.
Our ship, Cunard's Queen Victoria, is in Katakolon all day. We have enough time to explore the small town of Olympia and the former Olympic cult site without time pressure.
Take the train to Olympia
Olympia is 33 kilometers from Katakolon. Most of the fellow travelers booked a carefree package. They travel to Olympia in buses to visit the Olympic Grove. The individualists among the cruise guests either use taxis, rental cars or the train. We decided on the train as the cheapest alternative. Behind Katakolon's harbor is the small train station. Modern railcars run regularly from Katakolon via Pyrgos to Olympia. Apart from us, only a few passengers use the train. The crowd that we expected does not happen. Possibly the reluctance of fellow passengers can be explained by the fact that the train is not advertised in the area of the jetty. We heard about the train as part of our travel preparations. The railcar leaves Katakolon on time and after a 45-minute drive through a varied landscape we reach Olympia on schedule. The first impression: Olympia is a neat place, shaped by tourism.
Welcome to Olympia
Olympias train station
The extensive excavation site, the adjoining Archaeological Museum with the finds from the excavations and the Olympia Museum are close together. One kilometer walk to the train station. Temperatures are midsummer; When you reach your destination, trees and bushes provide more shade than expected. The entrance fee for the excavation site and the Archaeological Museum will cost twelve euros in 2022. Students and seniors pay half. Admission for minors (under 18 years old) is free, as is the case for all archaeological sites and museums in Greece.
Olympia - Museum of the Olympic Games
The buried ancient Olympia was discovered in 1766. The debris lay under a layer of sand, mud and rubble up to five meters thick. Historical sources show that an earthquake destroyed the place of worship. Systematic excavations began in 1874 under German leadership. What was subsequently unearthed was of such importance that Olympia was included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1989. Unfortunately, severe forest fires in 2007 destroyed a large part of the trees around the Olympic site.
Olympia was a sanctuary and one of the most famous ancient cult centers. The father of gods Zeus was worshiped in Olympia. There was the huge Zeus Temple, with the statue of the deity made of gold and ivory. It is described as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The Olympic grove was enclosed by a wall. Olympia was also the venue for the Olympic Games, which were held every four years over a period of more than 1.100 years.
Tour through the Olympic site
In the area, multilingual boards inform visitors about the significance of the individual remains of buildings and temples. We follow the numbering in ascending order. This is how we see the authoritative objects.
The circular route begins at the Gymnasion, the training facility for runners, discus and javelin throwers. Today, only the remains of columns indicate the original dimensions of the rectangular building, estimated at 120 x 220 meters, the open inner courtyard of which was enclosed by a colonnade.
Opposite the gymnasium was the Prytaneion. The Prytans resided in the square building. They regulated the operation of the sanctuary and the sacrifices at the altars. We learn from this that there have been Olympic officials at all times.
Palaestra, the Greek Baths and the Kladeos Baths
It is followed by the Palaestra, the Greek Baths and the Kladeos Baths. The palaestra was a covered competition venue for wrestlers, pugilists and ball games. It was laid out as a square building with a large, open inner courtyard. The Greek baths offered bathing rooms and a cold water swimming pool. The Kladeos thermal baths were built in Roman times. The complex's mosaic floors are still well preserved.
Workshop of Pheidias
Next to the Greek baths is a building measuring around 32 by 14 meters, the workshop of Pheidias. Material finds suggest that the Zeus statue of the Zeus Temple was built in the building. In the 5th century AD, the workshop was converted into an early Christian basilica.
Workshop of Pheidias
The square Leonidaion can be imagined as a huge building complex. The inner courtyard was smaller than that of the palaestra. A part of the building had thermal baths, another part was apparently used as an inn.
The Zeus Temple is arranged centrally in the area. It was the dominant building of the place of worship. Its dimensions are given as 64 by 28 meters. The height may have been 20 meters. The temple was built in the second half of the 5th century BC. Today only a monumental column reminds of the height of the temple.
Ruins of the Temple of Zeus
Echo hall, crypt, treasure houses and the stadium
Remnants of the echo hall, a crypt and treasure houses are on the circular path. In the east the visitor sees the big stadium. That was reconstructed in its original form in 1961. The running track was 192 meters long; around 45.000 spectators found space on earth walls.
Nymphaeum of Herodes Atticus and Hera Temple
The semicircular nymph sanctuary was built around 160 AD. It measured 33 meters in width and 13 meters in height. The water required for the sanctuary was brought in via an aqueduct.
Next to it is the Hera Temple. In the Greek legend, Hera was the wife and sister of Zeus. At 50 by 19 meters, the dimensions of the temple are smaller than those of the Zeus temple. Instead, the temple complex is better preserved. Sixteen pillars formed the long side and six pillars the transverse side. The modern Olympic flame has been lit at the Hera Altar since 1936.
The Philippeion loomed behind the Temple of Hera. Philip II of Macedonia, father of Alexander the Great, had the structure built in 338 BC. The rotunda consisted of 18 Ionic columns. Inside the monument were five statues of his family made of gold and ivory.
Scientists from the University of Mainz used geomagnetic methods to prove the original racecourse in 2008. The former largest complex of the sanctuary has not been preserved.
Olympia in retrospect
We would like to know what the sanctuaries and secular buildings described looked like in real life. Unfortunately, camera technology was not yet invented in ancient times. However, written historical descriptions have survived. The illustrations that scholars made after the excavations may have come from wishful thinking. Olympia's ruins are imposing and at the same time difficult to grasp.
We don't want to miss visiting the ancient Olympic sites. Now we know that Olympia was not only a huge sports facility, but also a sanctuary with temples and altars, in which homage and sacrifices were made to twelve Olympic gods.
Main street in the Olympia of modern times
On the way back to the train station we take a closer look at the main street of the village. We visit a jewelry store and look at the many souvenirs. We can't decide on anything and instead visit a tavern for a drink.