The most complete information guide about Athens, Greece

The sanctuary of Olympia


The sanctuary of Olympia

This is one of the most important sanctuaries of antiquity, dedicated to the father of the gods Olympian Zeus. Olympia is the birth-place of the Olympic Games and the place where they were held. The area has been inhabited uninterruptedly since the 3rd millennium BC and in the late Mycenaean period it became a religious centre.

The excavations at Olympia, by French archaeologists, started in May 1829, two years after the battle of Navarino. The finds (metopes from the opisthodomus and parts of the metopes from the pronaos of the temple of Zeus) were transferred to the Louvre in Paris where they are still being exhibited. When the Greek government was informed of the looting of artifacts, the excavation was stopped.

Excavations started again 45 years later by German archaeologists. The research is being continued to this day by the German Institute of Archaeology in Athens and the Ephorate of Antiquities in Olympia.

Site map of OlympiaThe sanctuary of Olympia spreads around the green wooded foot of the Kronion hill where the rivers Alpheios and Cladeos meet. In ancient times, the valley in between the two rivers was full of wild olive trees, poplars, oaks, pines and plane trees. These trees gave the center of the sanctuary the name Altis, meaning alsos (grove).

The Altis is the area in Olympia that comprises the main religious buildings, temples and votive offerings of the sanctuary. The auxiliary buildings, priests' houses, baths, the areas for the preparation of the athletes, guest houses along with other buildings were built outside the enclosure.

The beginning of worship as well as the mythical confrontations that took place in Olympia, are lost in time. At the end of the Mycenaean era there already was an installation in the area and in the Geometric and early Archaic periods, the first simple buildings of the sanctuary were founded.

The games began in 776 BC to honor Zeus. Pelops, the king of the Peloponnese was, according to mythology, their founder. In the beginning the games that, from beginning to end were dominated by religious character and austere ritual, were taking place in the area in front of the temples but later, as the athletes taking part in the games as well as the spectators increased, were moved to well organized installations. At the same time the events (running, pentathlon, long jump, discus, javelin, wrestling, boxing, pancration and horse racing) were enriched in number and variety.

The innumerable offerings of the 7th-6th centuries BC were placed outside on trees, altars or in alcoves of the sanctuary. The most important of the offerings were bronze tripods and cauldrons of excellent quality, war loot (hanging on poles) and other art objects and instruments for the games. At the end of the 4th century BC, the architectural plan of the sanctuary is finally completed.

Olympia was always functioning as a place of political projection and, especially during late antiquity, the games often fell victim to political exploitation from important personalities like Philip II, Alexander the Great and his successors. After the total submission of Greece to Rome Romans, proving their authentic Greek origin, also took part in the games but by then the glamour and idealistic spirit of the games had considerably weakened.

The town of Elis, whose sole interest was the preparation and performance of the games, directly depended on the games and the sanctuary of Olympia. Top

Some of the most important monuments of the site:

The temple of ZeusThe temple of Zeus
It was built between 470 and 457 BC. and it is widely accepted to represent the best example of the classic Doric architectural style, having the 6-colunm width and 13-column length outside structure of dimensions 64,12 x 27,66 x 20,25 meter (210,36 x 90,74 x 66,43ft) (maximum height at the middle). These columns had a height of 10,43 meter (34,21ft) and a diameter of 2,25-2,21 meter (7,38-7,25ft). The enclosed section of the building, contained within the colonnade, consisted of a vestibule, main temple (28,74 x 13,26 x 14,19 m - 94,29 x 43,50 x 46,55ft)) and back temple. The vestibule and main temple were separated by doors of 4,8 meter (15,74ft) width.

The main temple contained a 2-storey colonnade and balcony as well as the famous statue of Zeus (12,5 m - 41ft height, located on a 9,93 x 6,25 meter - 32,57 x 20,50ft pedestal) constructed by Fedeias, the most prominent sculptor of Greek antiquity. The statue was made of ivory and was partially covered by golden leafs. The walls were constructed by shell limestone, covered in places by thin marble plaster, whereas the main temple inner columns were connected by 1m tall similarly plastered barriers. The roof of the building was made of wood and was covered by marble blocks.

The back temple was separated from Floor plan of the temple of Zeusthe main temple by a wall and was employed for speeches made by prominent visitors of the temple, especially during the periods designated for the Olympic games. Today, only the remains of the building’s pedestal are located at the site of ancient Olympia. Near the opisthodomus of the Temple of Zeus grew a wild olive tree, the "Callistephanos Elaia" whose branches were used to make the wreaths for the winners. Top

The Temple of HeraThe Temple of Hera (Heraion)
This is a Doric temple from the end of the 7th century BC The Heraion is one of the oldest examples of monumental dimensioned temples in Greek architecture. Originally made of wood, it was a richly ornamented large building with a three-aisled cella (main room) where the statues of Hera and Zeus stood.

The stadium
The Olymic stadium In its present form it dates from the early 5th century BC. The track has a length of 212,54 meter (0,13 mile) and a width of 28,50 meter (93,50ft). On the stadium's southern slope there was a stone platform for the Hellanodikes (the judges) and opposite was the altar of Demeter Chamyne. The stadium could hold 45.000 spectators.

The Bouleuterion
The Bouleuterion

The Bouleuterion is made up of two buildings which date from the mid 6th and the 5th centuries BC. The altar of Horkios Zeus, where the athletes were sworn in before the games, was between the two buildings.

The PhilippeionThe Philippeion
A circular peripteral building, which Philip II started to build after the battle of Chaeroneia (338 BC) and which was completed by Alexander the Great. It was used for the hero-worship of the Macedonian dynasty. The statues were the works of art of Leochares.

The Leonidaion
The Leonidaion

This guesthouse was built around 330 BC. It was named after its donor and architect, Leonidas of Naxos. Important foreign guest and officials stayed here during their visit.

The workshop of PheidiasThe workshop of Pheidias
Built to house work carried out on the gold and ivory statue of Zeus. In and around the workshop, tools, terra-cotta moulds and other artifacts relating to the work of the artist have been found.

The Palaestra
The Palaestra

It was built during the 3rd century BC and was used as a practicing area for wrestling, boxing and jumping.

The Gymnasium
The Gymnasium

This closed rectangular building from the 2nd century BC with a large yard, was used by the athletes to practice javelin, discus etc.

The Prytaneion
The Prytaneion (beginning of the 5th century BC) housed the Prytans (officials of the sanctuary). The sacred open fireplace with the eternal flame was kept inside.

The Treasuries
These are small temples dedicated mainly by Greek cities and colonies. There are the remains of 12 small temples but only 5 of these are identifiable to any degree of certainty namely those built by the cities of Sicyon, Selinus, Metapontium, Megara and Gelas. Top

The archeological museum of OlympiaThe archeological museum

The archeological museum of Olympia is one of the most important archaeological museums in Greece. Its collection holds artifacts from the sanctuary of Olympian Zeus. The new museum was constructed in 1975, and eventually opened in 1982.

The museum has:

• a collection of terracotta’s (prehistoric, archaic and classical periods).
• a collection of bronzes.
• a collection of sculptures (archaic up to the Roman periods).
• a collection from the Olympic Games.

Among the most important exhibits of the museum are:

Sculptured ornaments from the Temple of ZeusThe sculptured ornaments from the Temple of Zeus
There were 42 figures decorating the 2 pediments of the temple, 12 metopes and the lion-headed water spouts running along the lengths of the temple. It is one of the best surviving ensembles from ancient Greek works of art. They belong to the "austere style" and date to the 1st half of the 5th century BC.

The eastern pediment depicts the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomaos and the central figure which dominates the work is of Zeus. The western pediment depicts the abduction of the Lapith women by Centaurs and has Apollo as its central figure. The metopes bear the relief representation Hermes of Praxitelesof Hercules' labors. These sculptures were made during the 5th century BC.

Hermes of Praxiteles

One of the masterpieces of ancient Greek art. Hermes, as Pausanias informs us, is depicted carrying the infant Dionysos. It is made from Parian marble and is 2,10 meter (6,88ft) heigh. It is thought to be an original of the great sculptor Praxiteles and it is dated to ca. 330 BC. Nike of Paionios

Nike of Paionios
The statue depicts a winged woman. An inscription on the base states that the statue was dedicated by the Messenians and the Naupactians for their victory against the Lacedaemonians (Spartans), in the Archidamian (Peloponnesian) war probably in 421 BC. It is the work of the sculptor Paionios of Mende in Chalkidiki who also made the acroteria of the Temple of Zeus.

Nike, cut from Parian marble, has a height of 2,11 meter (6,92ft) but with the tips of her (now broken) wings would have reached 3 meter (9,84ft). In its completed form, the monument with its triangular base (8,81 meter - 28,90ft high) would have stood at a height of 10,92 meter (35,82ft) giving the impression of Nike triumphantly descending from Olympos. It dates from 421 BC. Bronze breast-plate

Bronze breast-plate

On its lower part there is an engraved scene of Zeus and Apollo with his 'kithara', while other figures are also represented. It probably is the work of an island bronze-smith around the dates of 650-625 BC.Bronze battering-ram

Bronze battering-ram

The only surviving besieging (5th century BC) instrument of its kind from Antiquity. On all sides of the battering-ram there are symbolic depictions of ram heads from where it got its name.

At the museum there is a shop selling books, postcards and slides supplied by the Archaeological Receipts Fund.

There are two more interesting museums in Olympia:

• Museum of the history of the Olympic Games of Antiquity
• Museum of the history of the excavations of Olympia

Info and booking this tour Info and booking an excursion to Olympia
Opening hours Opening hours and admission
See our Greek glossary for explanation of typical words. Top


    The sanctuary of Olympia
    The archeological museum

Bookmark Buttons
Bookmark with  Facebook Bookmark with  Oneview Bookmark with  Linkarena Bookmark with  Seekxl Bookmark with  Mr. Wong Bookmark with  Folkd Bookmark with  Digg Bookmark with Bookmark with  StumbleUpon Bookmark with  Blinklist Bookmark with  Technorati Bookmark with  Ma.Gnolia



















































































    © 2004-2009 - Athens Info Guide - All rights reserved - Disclaimer