Ancient Olympics – Tracing Olympic history in Olympia

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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.
Palaestra at Olympia - Ancient Olympics

Palaestra at Olympics

  • …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.
Stadium Entrance Olympia Ancient Olympics

Stadium Entrance

Ruins of the Philippeion - Olympia Ancient Olympics

Ruins of the Philippeion

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.

Where The Olympics Flame is lit Ancient Olympics

Where The Olympics Flame is lit

Ruins of the Temple of Hera Ancient Olympics

Ruins of the Temple of Hera

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.

 Archaeological museum Ancient Olympics

Archaeological museum

Relics in the Museum - Olympia Ancient Olympics

Relics in the Museum

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.

Horse and Carriage - Olympia Ancient Olympics

Horse and carriage

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.

The most expensive Coca-Cola

The most expensive Coca-Cola

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.

Greek cafe in Katakolon Ancient Olympics

Greek cafe in Katakolon

Fresh Greek bread and olives

Fresh Greek bread and olives

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.

The port of Katakolon

The port of Katakolon

What do you think about the Olympics?

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16 comments
Pip

Your pictures are great. I love history and archaeology, and I would really love to visit this place ?

Reply
    Sara

    Thank you Pip. Visiting Olympia will certainly take you back in time.

    Reply
sophie nadeau

This was a really interesting post to read; I had no idea that the Olympics themselves were actually named after Olympia- it makes so much sense though!

Reply
    Sara

    I didn’t know until I went there either. The Ancient Greeks and Romans really were very enterprising.

    Reply
Soraya

This looks fantastic! Greece has been on my bucket list for long and I really hope to be able to get there. The facts you shared are so interesting – the first recorded olympian was a baker – who would have thought! This is definitely going down in my list of things to do in Greece.

Reply
    Sara

    Thanks Soraya. I ended up there because it was a port excursion on my Mediterranean cruise but now that I have been there, I’d certainly recommend it.

    Reply
Diane Lee

I was there in 2013 and was seriously impressed by the museum—and all the cats at the café! I think I took more pics of the cats than I did of the ruins!

Reply
    Sara

    The museum was way cooler than the heat outside. I sat there for as long as I could. But I’m trying to remember the cats 😉

    Reply
Katelyn

What a great experience! I am seriously craving bread and olives now. We’re going through a heat wave now and if you were anything near as hot as I was trying to walk through the park this afternoon, I admire your perseverance!

Reply
    Sara

    That bread and olives were seriously delicious, Katelyn. Re the heat – it was really bad and I’m not used to it because in South Africa we have quite a mild climate 🙂

    Reply
Sophia

Wow this is amazing! I”m so jealous, this is such a unique experience! It’s incredible how far back history goes and what still remains of that history today!

Reply
    Sara

    Thanks Sophia. Yes it is quite amazing. I would have loved to be a spectator in those days. It must have been so different!

    Reply
MOIPONE

wow I wish to visit Greece one of these days. I love me some olives 🙂

Reply
    Sara

    There’s nothing like those fresh olives 🙂

    Reply
runawaybrit

“Olympic winners received olive wreaths and branches as prizes” – can you imagine if that was still the case now?! I love Greece, it is one of my favourite countries, that fresh bread looks divine!!

Reply
    Sara

    Haha, I don’t think anyone would be participating then and the games would have been dead. That bread really was divine!

    Reply
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