Time Travel in Olympia & the importance of a guide

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Apprx. Reading Time: 5 minutes

 

Sometimes you need a human touch to things.

 

I'm quite an impatient person and no matter how much I try after an hour or so, museums start to irk me. I like cities but it's beaches that make me grin!

I appreciate art too. In fact I appreciate everybody who has the patience to spend days (or hours) in a museum which lacks interactive ways to keep someone engrossed.

 

While I am fully aware that paintings and sculptures cannot entertain you to keep you attentive, that is not what they're meant for, it is here that guides play an important part. To help you appreciate art and history.

 

Intonations and chutzpah are something that pre-recorded tapes do not possess and hence cannot paint a picture for you; cannot make you fully cherish what you are currently seeing.

While passing a mountainous terrain in Morocco our driver drew our attention to a couple of hollows in the hills. I would have dismissed it for just being holes, but he stopped for us and informed us that they were in fact windows carved by locals who lived in the hills, ages ago, to avoid sandstorms and to keep cool in summer.

 

Months later when we docked at Katakalon, this belief was only made stronger.

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Just like any archaeological site, the place was full of ruins. Pillars and columns stood from a bygone era, golden and full of character, each with a story of their own.

Once the spectacle, full of participants eager to gain name and fame, it now had us trying to recreate the pomp and splendour that the place might have seen.

 

We crossed over a bridge and stepped into Olympia, set on the hill of Kronos (head of the Titans in Greek Mythology), at the confluence of Alpheus river with its tributary the Kladeus. As such, the region was very fertile and one of the top reasons why settlements were present here right from the 3rd millenium BC.

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The sanctuary at Olympia was dedicated to Zeus and took about 500 years to complete. Yes, it does seem like a long time but this was BC and you have to take a look closely at the artefacts extracted to understand why. Minute and intricate detailing added wherever possible.

The games established in 776 BC we initially held for a day and then increased over time to span 5 days. Roman Emperor Theodosius I who was against paganism, abolished the games and the early Christians destroyed many temples in Olympia (yes, we've been pretty destructive too!)

 

A few years later in about the 3rd century AD, a powerful earthquake destroyed what was left of Olympia. The rivers kept depositing silt and Olympia ceased to exist over time.

 

The famed archaeologist Richard Chandler, stumbled upon the site in 1776 and was excited to realise that it was indeed Olympia.

Olympia was finally discovered again centuries later.

We first glanced upon short stumps of pillars which was all that was left of a grand gymnasium, used by the athletes. A colonnade used to sit here. The Northern part still remains unexplored and I wondered what would be found buried underneath there.

 

Immediately located to the left was the 'Prytaneion' or the town hall of dignitaries that controlled the games. Almost nothing was left of it. It was here that feasts were offered to the Gods and the winners were honored, in the presence of an everlasting sacred flame in honor of the Goddess Hestia.

Ruins of temples were concentrated in this region, including ones to Zeus, Hera, the hero Pelops after whom the Peloponesse region is named and one created by the father of Alexander the Great, to demonstrate his importance.

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There was almost nothing left of the temple of Zeus too, just some rubble and stones, until a single corner column was reconstructed recently in 2011.  All of these structures made up the 'Altis' the sanctuary to the Gods, kept walled away from the training areas.

We had to be careful here and not step or sit on anything as they could have possibly been pieces of ancient pillars!

To the right, we could see larger columns, again part of a colonnade which made up the 'Palestra',  used for training and as a hostel for the athletes. It looked in a better condition only because some of the columns had been re-erected.

 

Bathing facilities, additional hostels, courtyard houses and the 'Leonidaion' - the 2nd largest structure in Olympia (the temple of Zeus being the largest) and a banquet hall were located on the right, ahead of the Palestra, which went on to show how huge Olympia had been.

We took a roundabout turn, passing the remains of the treasury towards the stadium. Olympia was huge and while many wander around, in the end everyone ends up at the stadium.

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It could seat up to 40000 spectators at its pinnacle.

Everyone was buzzing to take a sprint even though the sun was blazing. We were strongly advised against it, so I pretended to run!

Many others did and one fainted too!

Mariana had been very patient with us, answering all our queries, helping us conjure images with a picture book she was carrying and picking the best routes to skip crowds.

 

She was a lady well in her 50's yet you could see that her energy and enthusiam to do her job well and keep us engrossed was unparalleled.

She had helped us paint history in the few hours we spent with her, ensuring we took it all back with us in the form of a story in our memory.

The sun was not blazing and it was time to head back. We now looked at a place full of stones and soil in new light and it held more mystery to us than before.

 

That is why sometimes you need someone to hold your hand and show you the wonders you may not see with your naked eye!

The current Olympic games started in 1896 have spendour but the ancient ones definitely had more mystique!

   

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PRACTICAL DETAILS

 

Olympia - Archaeological Site

 

  • If you're visiting Katakolo only for a day via cruise, opt for a tour organised by the liner, or get in touch with operators on shore who pick you up and drop you at the terminal well in advance, as it works out cheaper
  • It takes about 45 minutes to get to Olympia from the Katakolon port. If you do not opt for a tour, you could take a train that takes about the same time to get there via beautiful Greek countryside
  • A direct taxi costs about 50 Euros
  • Entrance tickets prices to Olympia cost 12 Euros for adults and 6 Euros for children and for special cases. It includes entry to the museum too. All the latest required information can be found here.
  • Open daily from 8 am to 7.30 pm, last admission 15 minutes before closure

 


 
ADDITIONAL READS

Looking to head off to the islands to catch some sun and sea? Why not head to Mykonos? All details here!

 


Tell me - do museums fascinate you? Do you need a guide as well when visiting historical sites?


 

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