Friday, February 9, 2018

Travel to Olympia in Greece - The Cradle of the Olympics Games

Today I continue in Greece but in the Peloponnese Peninsula. I travel to the cradle of the Olympic Games, in the famous Olympia. It is a beautiful valley crossed by the Alfeo River that was formerly the sanctuary of Gods. It is treated together with Delphi, Athens, Mycenae, Vergina, among others, as one of the most important archaeological sites in Greece.

According to mythology, the first time a sports competition was held in this place was thanks to Heracles, also called Hercules by the Romans, in honor of his father Zeus. But it was not until 776 BC when the Olympics took on an importance that was held every four years. In Roman times, the games acquired a universal importance.

Over the years, the Olympics were banned and many of the temples were destroyed because of clashes between emperors, earthquakes, and floods, leading to oblivion. Today, visiting Olympia has become one of the most requested excursions from Athens despite being 300 km away.

We did our road trip in Greece in our motorhome. So I was lucky enough to enjoy entire Greece without haste. I enjoy every magical and wonderful corner that this Mediterranean country offers. The first stage of the journey to Patras was almost alone by mountain road but curiously transits next to the sea. The views were nice but I did not enjoy them.

I leave behind the detour to Nafpaktos, a stop I wanted to do at first. Soon after we reached the Patras bridge, visible from the plane when we arrive in Athens. Its official name is Charilaos Trikoupis Bridge which with its 2250 meters is the longest suspension bridge in the world.

Today the weather had given us a truce and the sun looked without any cloud or wet roads. It helped me a lot to cover the total distance in just over three hours. At 2, I got out of the car and ran to the ticket offices where they gave me the great news that they will close at 5 o'clock in the afternoon. Once again I began the visit completely alone, no doubt another gift from the Gods who had given me their grace today. Surely something had to do with the bluish (or greenish) eagle that had once again accompanied us from the sky.



The visit to Olympia did not disappoint me. To be able to step on this place with so many years of antiquity and history on its back is a luxury. The day I reached was extremely hot. I recommend that if you go in summer take water to hydrate because the heat becomes unbearable. There will be nowhere to take it till the exit where there are some machines that did not even work well.

You can visit the archaeological site and the museum. It will take you a long time if you want to visit it well. The museum is located opposite the Olympia Sanctuary. It shows the pieces of ancient Greece that were found in the sanctuary and in the surroundings. Its most valuable pieces are Hermes with the child of Praxiteles, the metopes, and pediments of the Temple of Zeus, the cup of Phidias, the victory of Peonius and the collection of ancient bronze statues. The collections are arranged in twelve rooms.

For the archaeological site they do not give us a map but at the entrance, near the gym, there is one in the open. We photographed it to know where we were during the visit. We start the route and the first thing we find is the Gymnasium right at the entrance and on the right, built in the 2nd century BC and a place of training for the old athletes.

Just ahead, we see the Palaestra. It is a square stage where athletes who participated in wrestling and boxing trained and who at that time ended up in spectacular and brutal competitions. A few steps to the right we find the ruins of the Greek Baths in which we enjoy the views of a fantastic mosaic.

Few meters to the south we find one of the most important places, the workshop of Pheidias. There he made the statue of Zeus. The building had the same dimensions as the chamber of the Temple of Zeus, which allowed Fidias to better judge the appearance of the statue in its surroundings. The figure represents the God seated on a throne of gold and is believed to have been transported in pieces to the Temple of Zeus.

We continue our exploration by Olympia. We leave behind the Fidias Workshop and we can already see the ruins of the impressive Leonidaion. It served as a lodging for distinguished guests, welcoming official visitors and athletes. It was built between 330 and 320 BC

On the south side of the Temple of Zeus, we see the South Stoa and on the east side the Echo Stoa. The stoas were walkways or porticos with columns and open to the public that was usually built for the sale of products or meetings. It is believed that the Echo Stoa was built as a separation of the space occupied by the Stadium with the Sanctuary.

Behind, we finally reached the stadium. Still today you enter through the Krypté porch. To the south side was the racecourse, where the horse races took place. It is very typical to see tourists who take advantage of a race at the Stadium which has become a small tradition.

In the central space between the two Stoas, we see the Temple of Zeus. It is the most important of the archaeological site of Olympia along with the Temple of Hera, they are best preserved. The Temple of Zeus was built between 470 and 457 BC. It was a Doric building with six columns on the facade and thirteen on the sides. Inside it was the colossal statue of the God, a 12-meter high masterpiece of Phidias and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The dimensions of the columns were incredible. It was 10.53 meters high and 2.25 meters in diameter.

After being amazed by the spectacular Temple of Zeus, we continue our visit. To the side, the Metroon was a small temple of Doric order. Above the Treasures was a set of small buildings in the form of a temple built to store the offerings that were made to the gods. In front of the Temple of Hera, there is the Olympic flame, the symbol of the Olympic Games.

For the Greeks, the fire had divine connotations and they believed that Prometheus had stolen it from the Gods. Today, months before the Olympic Games ceremony, the torch is lit in the place of the ancient games of Olympia through a celebration that begins with lighting the torch in the Temple of Hera. They hold a group of women representing the Vestagenes Vestales.

The Temple of Hera, built in the 6th century BC is also a Doric temple surrounded by columns on its four sides. This temple, also known as Hereo or Heraion, had a length of 50 meters long and 18.75 wide with a height of almost 8 meters. After leaving the enclosure, we see the Philippeion. In a circular way, he began to build Philip II in 338 BC, father of Alexander the Great. The building was Ionic and contained five gold and ivory statues of members of Alexander's family.

Near the exit, we see the Prytaneion, a place where the magistrates in charge of the economic administration lived. Inside was always the fire of Hestia, the goddess of the home. To conclude the tour you enter the room where the figures of the frontispieces and metopes of the temple of Zeus are exhibited.

We see the oriental on the right as you enter. It is dedicated to the myth of the car race between Oenomaus and Pelops for the hand of the daughter of the first, Hippodamia. It consists of twenty-one figures, representing the moments before the race, and are distributed symmetrically around the central figure representing Zeus, the referee of the race that takes place.

On his right is Oenomaus's side, which includes Oenomaus, his wife Asterope, his quadriga, servants, one of whom has been identified as Myrtilus, the charioteer of Oenomaus. Finally in the corner of the end is a representation of the Alfeios River. On the left is the camp of Pelops, followed by Hippodamia, his quadriga, servants and at the end a representation of the Kladeos River.

The pediment on the left is much better preserved than the previous one. It is dedicated to the myth of the struggle between the Lapiths and the centaurs of Eurytion. They are twenty-one figures distributed in groups of centaurs trying to kidnap the women while they try to resist, around the central figure that represents Apollo. At the ends, there are a series of women who attend the fight in horror.

The most important groups are those around Apollo that represent, on their right, the struggle between Eurytion and Laodameia, newly espoused with Peirithous. While he is behind them ready to hit Eurytion. On his left, there is another fight between a Centaur and a female pencil while behind is Theseus in a position similar to that of Peirithous.

We left the museum practically at its closing time and so hungry that we sat down to eat in the first place we saw. In the street that leads to the complex are the restaurants and also hotels and hostels. We took the opportunity to try something typical of the country that was the Mousaka!

With the coffee, we planned the rest of the itinerary with two possible options. We spend the night there and get up early to leave for Mycenae or drive there for the day to travel more. We decided on this option. 192 kilometers separated us from the destination and if it was too long the road would stop us to sleep where it was given to us. The visit ends and leaves a good taste in our mouths. We have stepped back thousands of years and stepped on a magical place of worship of the Gods. Olympia, the sanctuary of myths, magic, and history.

No comments: