New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Archaeological discovery in Greece is continuous. Recently, The Greek Ministry of Culture reported that a team of Greek and German researchers found a “great archaeological, epigraphic, literary and historical” clay plaque. Dating to before the 3rd century AD, the plaque bears an engraved inscription of thirteen verses from the 14th Rhapsody of “The Odyssey” in Ancient Olympia.
Odysseus came up out of the past to address his lifelong friend Eumaeus on a sunny day in 2018, in the oldest extract from Homer’s epic poem (said to have been written down around 675–725 BC) yet to be found. Maybe that “charged feeling” people get in certain places in Greece isn’t just imagined. Greece reverberates with all the beauty of the past for the world to experience. Greece awaits us all. Let’s go to Olympia this summer.
The sacred precinct of Olympia in Elis, on the Peloponnese peninsula, the oldest and arguably the most revered Pan-Hellenic sanctuary in Greece, dedicated to the worship of Zeus, in whose honor the Pan-Hellenic Games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 CE, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Greece. (Even cruise ships dock at the nearby port of Katakolo for tourists to visit the site).
A second important event held at Olympia was the Heraia Games for women, held every four years in honor of the goddess, Hera. Children, adolescents, and young women ran in separate foot-races over 500 feet of the stadium track (160 m). Prizes for victors included olive crowns and the right to set up a portrait of themselves on the site. The Olympic Flame of the modern-day Olympic Games is lit by reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror in front of the Temple of Hera, then transported by a torch to the place where the games are held.
Ancient Olympia is at the foot of the Hill of Kronos, wedged between the River Alpheios and its tributary, the River Kladeos. The area has a history of religious activity dating back to the 10th century BC, but was settled and inhabited without interruption from the third millennium BC. Near the Kladeos river the ancient site, the Altis, the sacred grove of wild olive trees sacred to Zeus, a most beautiful setting, shaded by tall trees, looks its part. You can visit Olympia at any time of year. Walking through the ruins, the foundations, steps and columns that have remained after destruction during the Byzantine era and earthquakes, is a serene experience, particularly when the rest of the tourists are gone.
Providing the mood: three full standing columns that remain of the Philippeion, a circular colonnaded building erected by Philip II of Macedonia (which contained gold statues of the royal family); the Crypt, the huge semi-arch that was the official entrance to the stadium of Olympia;
the starting line of what was the stadium of Olympia (which had a maximum capacity of 45,000); the starting line of the stadium, where athletes had to place their toes in the front grooves on the block, and where you see runners using the area for fun and for practice; the many-columned Palestra; the stone bases on which stood the Zanes of Olympia, statues of Zeus funded by fines from offending athletes in the Games; the Echo Stoa, among many others.
The Archaeological Museum of Olympia, across the road, contains a bronze collection that is one of the most important in the world, the 4th Century BC statue of Hermes and the Infant Dionysus by Praxiteles, plus many other finds from excavations, including the winged Nike of Paionios, shown landing gently on her left foot in her descent from flight, her chiton blown back by the wind, an eagle at her feet.
What we cannot see: the gigantic statue of Zeus created by the great 5th century Greek sculptor Phidias (known as the finest sculptor of the ancient world; he also worked on the Parthenon and its statue of Athena) one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The statue depicted the god Zeus seated on his throne, his skin of ivory and robes of hammered gold, designed to inspire awe in worshippers. Very close to the Temple of Zeus, which housed this statue, the studio of Pheidias, where sculptors’ tools were found, was excavated in the 1950s.
Jerking us back to reality, is information that there is a very good tourist office on Praxitelous Kondyli, where you can change money, get maps and schedules for buses, trains and ferries. The modern town of Olympia is a collection of tourist shops, cafes, restaurants, as well as the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games.
Every summer throughout July and August, the town of Ancient Olympia hosts the Olympia International Festival, featuring an exciting array of Greek and European musicians, dancers, and theater companies in performance at the Floka Theater an outdoor, ancient-style amphitheater about a 20-30-minute walk from and just above the town center.