Monday, September 29, 2014

Where Athletes Once Battled it Out. Ancient Olympia.

Standing before the Temple of Zeus.

We both had another great night's sleep last night and were up just past dawn.  It was the sound of someone sweeping the front portico, beneath our balcony, that woke me up. 


I had booked us into a room with a view of the sea.  That would be the Ionian Sea, on the western coast of Greece.  I stepped out on to the balcony to greet the morning and to soak in the view.  I was expecting the magnificent sea view experience that we had had in Nafplio but here, we just saw a sliver of water in the distance.

Somewhere in the hazy distance is the Greek island of Zakynthos, the largest of the Ionian cluster of islands.


Not the same mesmerizing sea view as in Nafplio but it was still a very pleasant morning.  Soon enough, Bro joined me.  We weren't in much of a rush to move fast.

Beautiful day, warn enough for shorts!

Our room.  Amazing how much mess two people can make!
But at the same time, we couldn't linger too long.  At the top of our agenda today is a visit to Ancient Olympia.   Last night, we decided we had to beat the cruise shippers to Olympia so we have to head out as early as we can.

What the room lacked in a sea view, the hotel restaurant made up for breakfast.  We were the first guests to arrive so we had the full spread to pick from and boy, was it a nice spread.  Not a lot of options but what there was looked delicious!

Standing, quietly to one side, was a woman.  We guessed she was both chef and dining room attendant.  She didn't speak much English but from what we could make out, she made all the delicious goodies that had been set out.  We both pigged out!

The spread of hot foods and deli meats.  There was a separate table with cereals and fixings.

A selection of olives, tomatoes and cheese with mixed herbs to sprinkle over with.

Greek yogurt (so tasty!) with thick cut preserved orange peel.

Spanokopita.  Very good.

A cake flavored with marzipan and topped with peaches.  This was mouthwatering good!

I lost track of how many servings Bro had but needless to say, he ate well!


After breakfast, we headed back to the room and quickly packed up our bags.  We would be checking out.

One last view before leaving.  I could finally make out Zakynthos!

In the car, I tried to set the Ms. Garmin to go to Olympia but that darn thing - you have to be so specific in how you identify the place or it can't find it!  After a few frustrating minutes, I gave up and switched over to Ms. Google.

We backtracked towards Olympia, which we had driven past yesterday afternoon on our way in to Katakolo.  Bro noticed several taxis passing by us, driving like bats out of hell. His guess was that they were heading to Olympia - after all, what else is nearby?  The huge tour buses heading in the same direction confirmed his thesis. He was about to try and keep pace with the speeding taxis when I told him to slow down - we had Google to guide so no need to risk our lives.

The modern town of Olympia is located only about 20 kilometers from Katakolo and it was an easy drive.  Of course, Ms. Google proclaimed we had arrived but from where we were, we couldn't see an entrance but all the tour buses parked in the lot were the sign that we were indeed in the right place.

By now, we were operating under the assumption that you can pretty much park anywhere as long as you are not obstructing anything so we found a spot and called it done.


As we walked towards the parking lot filled with the buses, we passed by several streets - lots of restaurants and souvenir shops.  As a town, Olympia was definitely larger in size that Katakolo and much more quaint.  Perhaps, we should have stayed here.  Oh well.  Next time.

If you don't know where to go as we had no clue, best thing to do is to follow the crowd.  Okay, in this case, follow someone you think knows where they're going :-)


As much as I like to avoid other tourists, they are useful as guides.....especially the tourists who come off mega sized tour buses.


The path we took wound past the parking lot and up in to the hills.  At the end was a small plaza filled with ruins.  There we found the museum where we bought our entry tickets - one to Ancient Olympia and the other to the museum.  We debated whether to see the site first or the museum first.  I voted the site as I was still thinking we had to beat the crowds to it.

On the path leading to the ruins.

At the entrance to the site, my heart sank.  Bro and I were probably visitors number 3001 and 3002 - it was mob scene.  We braced ourselves and entered.  The only saving grace is that the site is so large that the only spots that really feel crowded are the popular landmarks.

I set Bro's expectations that he would be seeing a lot of "rocks" versus ruins of buildings.  Some of the ruins are identified with descriptive plaques but many more were not.  Unfortunately, they didn't have a free map of the site at the museum but Bro's Fodor's Greece guide had one.  Of course, it did not identify every set of ruins so we struggled at times to figure out what was what.

So, with apologies in advance, here are a few of the photos we took.  Where we could identify the ruin, the photo has been labeled accordingly.  

Excavation work is still going on.  We guessed that this was the gymnasium?


It's a massive site!

Beautiful mosaic floor, the only one we saw.

Ruins of the round tholos temple known as the Philippeion.  The building was started by
Philip of Macedon and completed by his more famous son, Alexander the Great.


The stadium where athletes competed.


Temple of Hera, built at the end of 7th century BC, is the oldest of the temples here.

A lot of ruins strewn about everywhere!!

On the way out of the stadium.  I could imagine the crowd roaring as athletes entered under the archway.

That singular column identifies the Temple of Zeus.  You could see it from various vantage points on the site.



Posing for the obligatory photo op in front of famous landmark :-)



A day at Ancient Olympia.  Amazing to imagine what this place was like 9,000 years ago when it was in its heyday!


One good thing about all the ruins laying about, plenty of places to sit.  No, they weren't blocked off.

These columns were part of the  Leonidaion, the building that the athletes, competing at Olympia, stayed in.


I think this is part of the wall surrounding the workshop belonging to Phidias, considered to be
the greatest sculptor of his times.  He was responsible for several works at Ancient Olympia.

These columns framed the wrestling grounds.



Getting a sip of water before leaving the site.  Tap water is potable in Greece!

Unless you're an archaeologist or a die hard lover of ruins, you can only take so many ruins before you've had enough.  We lasted a little over an hour.

From the ruins site, we headed back to the museum.  It was a small museum but it was filled with stuff.  Everything was nicely displayed and well described.  I particularly loved the bronze pieces, especially the miniatures.






Very cool helmets!
The *finer* pieces of stonework, recovered from Ancient Olympia, were displayed here.

I really appreciated when the pieces were displayed as they would have originally been placed on the building.




Descriptions often included drawings recreating how archaeologists believed the shard of ruin once belonged.  Very helpful.

Statue of Hermes sculpted by Praxiteles. The child he is carrying is Dionysus. 



Pretty much every statue was missing its head and arms or hands.



Statue probably of Marcus Aurelius.  I loved the detailed carving.

The detail of the draping is fantastic!  The Greeks were truly master sculptors!


Undoubtedly, the pièce de résistance, in the museum's collection, was housed in the last exhibition hall.  On opposing walls of the large hall were sculptural remnants recovered from the the east and west pediments of the Temple of Zeus.  It was amazing sight to see the sculptures and to think that they used to rest high up, above the ground, on a temple roof is unbelievable!  I had no idea how the Greeks managed to get the pieces up there.  What was also truly mind boggling was that it is believed that it took the ancient Greeks around four years to construct the temple so all this carving work was done in a very short period of time.  I could imagine how glorious the temple looked when it was originally completed.

Below is the East pediment which depicted the chariot race between Pelops and King Oinomaos.  The story goes that King Oinomaos, a local ruler had a daughter, Hippodameia, who everyone wanted.  Whoever wanted to marry Hippodameia would have to face the king in a chariot race from Olympia to Corinth.  If the suitor won, he could marry Hippodameia but if he lost, he would die.   But what the suitors didn't know was that the king had “immortal” horses which were given to him by the god Ares who just so happened to be his father.  So the king always won.  But Pelops outwitted the king.  He promised the King’s servant (Myrtilos) a large bribe to rig the King’s chariot so that it would collapse during race.  Indeed, the chariot did collapsed and the king died.  Pelops got the daughter and the king's land.  The story continues that Pelops reneged on his bribe and instead drowned the King’s servant.  The servant, in turn cursed Pelops and his descendants.  


The image below describes each of the pieces that make up the pediment.
Image from Bucks County Community College

Close up view of a section of the East Pediment.

More of the East Pediment.

Below is the west pediment which depicts a battle between Centaurs and Lapiths with Apollo standing in the middle.  In Greek mythology, the Lapiths were a tribe of people who shared geneology with Centaurs except they were wholly human whereas the Centaurs were half human, half beast.  The scene depicted on the pediment is from the legend in which the Lapiths battle with the Centaurs at the wedding feast of Pirithous, known as the Centauromachy. The Centaurs had been invited to the festive occasion, but, unused to wine, their wild nature came to the fore. When the bride was presented to greet the guests, the Centaur Eurytion leapt up and attempted to rape her. A battle ensued.


The image below describes each of the pieces that make up the pediment.
Image from Bucks County Community College

Lapith women.

More of the West Pediment.

Here is the video that I shot of the pediments. The audio is not the best so you might need to turn up the volume on your speakers.



I was looking forward to visiting Ancient Olympia and while I had my doubts about whether or not I would really enjoy walking among the ruins and visiting a museum, I have to admit, I really did enjoy it all in the end.  I would have loved to also have had some time to explore the modern town of Olympia but unfortunately, we had a long drive ahead of us and it was time to hit the road.  So, from the museum, it was back to the car and on to Delphi!