Plan of ancient Olympia Greece.

The site of Olympia Greece is big! Many organised tours leave a pathetic amount of time to get round it. If you're just visiting out of curiosity then perhaps a couple of hours might be enough for you.

But if you're an enthusiast about ancient Greece, then you'll need a whole day. It isn't that you can't walk around the area in a few hours, but there is so much to take in. My own method was to walk around the site to get to know it, visit the museum to view the artifacts, take a break for lunch, and then walk around once more. That way on my second walk I had a much better appreciation of what I was looking at.

But even if your time is limited, don't forget the museum. It's one of the best you'll see, including many models of Olympia Greece which show how it would have looked in its heyday. The pediment sculptures and metopes of the Temple of Zeus are masterpieces.

This map of ancient Olympia shows the main areas of interest.

 

Temple of Zeus

A ramp leads up to the terrace of this temple. It was built in the 5C BC from local limestone, which was covered with a layer of stucco. It was built in the Doric style, and it was almost as large as the Parthenon in Athens.

The evidence of the earthquake which occurred in the 6C AD can be clearly seen in the way the drums which made up the columns are scattered over the site.

temple zeus

Gymnasium

This was built during the Hellenistic period (3C BC) in Olympia Greece, and was originally surrounded by covered porticoes. Most of these were destroyed by the flood water of the river Kladeos which runs on the western side of the site. You can still see the foundations of the southern and eastern porticoes.

gymnasium

Pelopion

This Precinct of Pelops dates from the 10C BC and was altered over the centuries. It is an artificial mound built over a tumulus and Helladic houses. Pelops was a hero who married Hippodamia, a daughter of the local king. Pelops gives his name to the Peloponesse. Pausanias says that each year a black ram was sacrificed to Pelops on this spot.

Palestra

This was a wide courtyard surrounded by Doric colonnades. Some of the columns have been re-erected, which greatly helps to imagine how the whole area would have looked. The courtyard was surrounded on all sides by rooms and halls, including a library and dining room. It is believed the Palestra was donated by a Hellenistic king between 300-250BC.

The Palestra was used by athletes, especially wrestlers, for training purposes.

palestra

Bath buildings

This is where the athletes were able to use various bathing facilities. The remains indicate that the structure originated around 500BC, although it was added to over the centuries.

Roman hostel

Dating from Roman times, this is thought to be a hostel where affluent Romans stayed when visiting the games in Olympia Greece.

Heroon

Dating from about 450BC, this was a place for athletes to meet and eat. It was a rectangular structure containing a circular room. An inscription from Roman times indicates that a hero was honoured here, but his identity is not known.

Courtyard houses

The remains here are estimated to have been constructed c450BC, but their exact purpose has not been determined. In the 1C BC a larger residential house was built which partly overlaid it.

Pheidias' workshop

This was the second highest building in Olympia, built to accommodate the statue of Zeus while Pheidias worked on it. It was 12m high, and the internal dimensions were the same as that of the cella of the temple of Zeus where the statue would finally reside.

Numerous tools, glass ornaments and other bits and pieces have been found in the vicinity. Among them was a beaker with an inscription on it, "I belong to Pheidias".

In the 2C AD an altar to all the gods was placed here. Later in the 5C AD it was converted into a church. Inscriptions were found naming the two lectors who oversaw the work, Kyriakos and Andreas.

pheidias workshop

Leonidaion

Built in 350BC, this is the largest structure in Olympia. It was donated by an inhabitant of the island of Naxos called Leonides.

It's function was as a high class guesthouse and banqueting area for Greeks who came to race their horses. Rooms were situated around the central court, surrounded by Ionic columns.

It was later destroyed by a fire, and in the 2C AD it was converted into a residence for the local Roman governor. The central area was made into a water garden.

leonidaion

Clubhouse

This has recently been identified as a clubhouse for athletes. It was built in the 1C AD. It is easily identified by the three arched niches. These were above a swimming pool and a court. Coloured marble veneer was used to decorate the walls.

South Stoa

The South Stoa was a double colonnade with a central section which projected southwards. It's been suggested this could have been a stand for VIP's to watch the processions which passed by.

Bouleuterion

It's easy to miss the bouleuterion as there isn't really much left to see. The two chambers were built between 550BC and 500BC.

In Roman times the bouleuterion was used by the Olympic council to administer the games and the sanctuary. It was also where the athletes made their vows to adhere to the rules and spirit of the games.

Triumphal Arch

During the reign of the Roman Emperor Augustus many additions were made to the site. One of these was to add a triumphal arch over a gate which led from the Bouleuterion to the south east buildings.

Roman baths

These baths were built in the 3C AD, and were the largest baths in Olympia Greece.

House of Nero

Although this is know as the 'Nero house' it is doubtful if this is correct. Earlier Greek buildings were demolished to make way for it. It was a very grand structure, and has been described as a palace. It was built during the 2C and 3C AD.

Echo Stoa

The outline of this stoa is not easy to see. It was once a very imposing Doric colonnade, originally from the 4C BC. Know as the Stoa Poikile, it was also called the Echo Stoa, as according to Pausanias, 'the echo repeats a word seven times or more'.

Stadium

The 4C BC stadium is a larger version of the previous one. It could contain up to 40,000 spectators who sat on earth embankments. A stone altar has been reassembled on the northern side, while on the south side you can see the paved Umpires' Stand (in the centre of the photo). The start/finish line (which you can see running across the width of the track) is also well preserved.

stadium olympia greece

Stadium entrance

Pausanias called this the 'secret entrance'. It was built in about 200BC, and is a vaulted tunnel which leads into the stadium. The archway has been re-erected.

This entrance was not for the use of spectators in Olympia Greece. Only contestants and umpires could use it.

stadium entrance

Metroon

Here you'll find the remains of a small Doric temple known as the Metroon, or shrine of the Mother. The mother in question was Rhea, the mother of Zeus. It was renovated during the reign of the emperor Augustus. He was honoured in an inscription found on the temple which says 'saviour of the Greeks and the whole inhabited world'. Eight imperial statues were discovered here, and you can see seven of them in the museum.

Treasuries

This terrace at the foot of the Hill of Kronos contains the rather poorly preserved remains of eleven treasuries. They were offerings from Greek cities, and were built between 560BC and 450BC. When Pausanias visited Olympia Greece the treasuries were used to display various items from antiquity. He claims to have seen 'the sword of Pelops with a gold hilt'.

The photo shows a view looking towards the Temple of Hera, taken from the terrace where the treasuries were once situated.

olympia treasuries

Nymphaion

This was a freshwater fountain built in 153 AD by Herod Atticus. It wasn't greatly admired by his contempories, and Pausanias seems to have thought so little of it that he totally ignored it!

It did actually serve a useful purpose. It was the outlet for water brought from the east. This water was clean, much better than the water which came from local wells which was brackish.

You can see remains from the Nymphaion in the museum, including some of the 24 statues used in its ornamentation.

nymphaion

Temple of Hera

Here you can see the quite well preserved remains of the Doric Temple of Hera, built in the 6C BC. Hera was honoured in the 2C AD when the Greeks began to hold games for women only every four years.

This temple was the earliest one in Olympia Greece. Experts think it might originally have been dedicated to Zeus. The structure was made of limestone walls finished in brick, with wood columns. These wood columns were gradually replaced by stone.

temple hera olympia

Prytaneion

The Eleians, one of the local clans who controlled the games at Olympia Greece, had their 'town hall' here. The original Prytaneion was in the south east of the sanctuary, where the House of Nero is situated. You have to look closely to see any of the remains.

Philippeion

This was built around 335 BC by Philip II of Macedon and completed by his son Alexander the Great. It was a circular structure built in the form of an Ionic temple, as was to house gold and ivory statues of Philip, his wife, parents and son Alexander. Olympia Greece was still an important site, and Philip wanted to demonstrate his importance, especially as most Greeks looked on Greeks from Macedon as somewhat inferior.

olympia philippeion

Late Classical indicates features which were built up to the end of the 4C BC. Hellenistic is roughly between the 3C BC and 2C BC, before the Romans took over running the Mediterranean world.

Don't forget that the structures in Olympia Greece have been built, demolished, destroyed, re-erected, renovated, extended, and the materials reused for newer buildings. It was constantly undergoing change and was never static.

 

Here's a video showing a virtual 3D reconstruction of the main areas of the site.

 

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