Tracing Olympic history in Olympia – Birthplace of the Ancient Olympics
Did you know that…
- …the Olympic Games were named after the ancient Greek city of Olympia?
- …the only event initially was a race of about 190m
- …the very first documented Olympic champion was a baker.
- …Olympic winners received olive wreaths and branches as prizes…as well as fame.
- …only Greek speakers were allowed to compete in the beginning
- …athletes would rub themselves with olive oil before participating for physical and spiritual reasons.
- …a 40-foot gold and ivory statue of Zeus and one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, was in a temple at Olympia.
- …married women were not allowed to participate in or watch the Ancient Olympics. The penalty for disobedience was death. Unmarried women could attend.
- …the Olympics were banned in AD 393 by the Romans as it was considered to be a pagan festival.
- …Olympia was unearthed in 1876 and the modern Olympics began in 1896, just over 1500 years after it was banned.
I got to visit Olympia as part of my Mediterranean cruise. We arrived at the port of Katakolon in Greece one sunny morning. I’d never heard of it before I saw my cruise itinerary. We were transported to Olympia by bus. Souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants surrounded the area. As expected, Olympia was crowded with tourists eager to see where the most important sporting event in the world began. Our Greek tour guide was a walking encyclopaedia of fascinating Olympic facts and trivia. But to be honest, we had been seeing ruins the whole week and were ‘ruin-ed out’ by this time, so the fascination was not as great as it could have been.
We spent a few hours exploring ancient Olympia. A lot of archaeological excavations take place there on an ongoing basis. We saw the site where the ancient races were run, where the athletes lived, where the spectators sat and where the Olympic flame is lit before every Olympics begins. The ancient Greeks were serious about their mythology and almost everything we saw was dedicated to their mythological icons.
It was rather hot and becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate on the history lessons. Some people opted to do their tours in a covered horse and carriage, a wonderful idea except that we had to accompany our guide on the walking tour.
A parched throat and a need for caffeine and sugar led me to buy a Coca-Cola in a coffee cup – the most expensive soft drink I ever purchased. We were then taken to the archaeological museum which houses an extensive collection of Greek sculpture and the relics found at the site – it was air-conditioned thankfully – then to the modern town of Olympia for a walk.
We saw tons of olive trees on the way back to the port and got back to Katakolon with an hour to spare before we had to get back onto the ship. It was a great opportunity to drop in at a café for some Greek coffee, with bread and fresh olives – which we thoroughly enjoyed.
Then a quick stop for some Greek fridge magnets for my international collection and we were back onto the ship, bound for Venice, our final destination.
What do you think about the Olympics?