Photo courtesy of The Westin Resort, Costa Navarino
The Birthplace of the Olympics
Even the most experienced visitor of ancient ruins has to think Olympia is pretty cool. To walk beneath the arched entrance to the original Olympic stadium? How can you not take your place at the ancient starting line as if you're about to sprint in front of thousands of cheering fans? In addition to the stadium you've got many more buildings, including the impressive temples to Zeus and Hera. Because we still celebrate the Olympics today, this site had more impact on me. It helped me connect the dots from the present to the past more directly. For that reason alone, I found it worth visiting. The museum is also full of treasures. The most famous is the statue of Hermes, which is beautiful, but I was also struck by the collection of small carvings of animals they've found at the site, votive offerings that show that Olympia had been a place of pilgrimage for centuries even before the Olympic games began.
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Exploring Ancient Olympia
Olympia is where the first-ever Olympic Games took place, in 776 B.C.E., held in honor of Zeus, the Greek god of the sky and ruler of the Olympian gods. Today, visitors can walk through the ruins of the old stadium, as well as see the flickering flames lit for each modern Olympic Games. In ancient times, the area was a hub for religious happenings and sacred traditions. In the center of Olympia was the imposing temple of Zeus. Head to the Altis to see the ruins of Olympia's main religious buildings.
According to UNESCO, this is also where you'll find one of the highest concentrations of masterpieces from the ancient Greek world. Along with exploring ruins, make sure to visit museums in Olympia, like the Archaeological Museum of Olympia, and the Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games.