Ancient Olympia

Ancient Olympia is located in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese peninsula, in the picturesque valley of the Alfea River, at the foot of Mount Kronos. This city has long been known as the largest religious center in Greece, where the cult of Olympian Zeus was revered.

Ancient Olympia is located in the northwestern part of the Peloponnese peninsula, in the picturesque valley of the Alfea River, at the foot of Mount Kronos

During the heyday of Ancient Greece, ancient Olympia had a pan-Hellenic significance. The local oracle of Olympian Zeus was consulted by the Greeks in various areas of the ancient world. Olympia was a kind of historical archive that stores evidence of many of the largest Hellenic events, for example, held here from 776 BC once every four years by the common Greek sports in honor of Zeus - the Olympic Games.

The glory of ancient Olympia did not fade away until the collapse of ancient civilization. With the adoption of Christianity, Olympia fell into decay. The last Olympic Games were held here in 369, and in 395 AD. Olympia was defeated and plundered by the Goths of Alaric. In 426, the remains of the magnificent buildings of ancient Olympia were burned and destroyed by order of the Byzantine emperor Theodosius II. Monuments of the sanctuary were also destroyed by nature. Disastrous earthquakes in the 4th century destroyed the Temple of Hera and the stone walls that protected the city from floods. Now nothing held back the elements of the rivers. Gradually, the ruins of ancient Olympia were hidden under a six-meter layer of earth.

In 1766, while traveling in Greece, the Englishman Richard Chandler discovered fragments of the walls of a huge temple and fragments of the capitals of the columns near Mount Kronos, and in 1829 a French expedition led by Dubois began the first excavations here.

In 1875-1881 the excavations of Olympia were carried out by the German archaeologists E. Curtius and F. Adler. The results exceeded all expectations: one hundred thirty marble statues and bas-reliefs, thirteen thousand bronze objects, six thousand coins, up to a thousand inscriptions, thousands of clay products were extracted from the ground. There were so many finds that in 1887 a special museum of the finds of ancient Olympia was built in Olympia.

After the first Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896, interest in Olympia around the world began to grow sharply. Since 1906, excavations of the ancient city have resumed and continue to this day.

The center of Olympia was the Temple of Zeus, built in 468–456 BC architect Libon from Elis. Its construction is associated with the decisive victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Plataea (479 BC).

On the metopes of the temple were depicted the twelve labors of Hercules, on the eastern pediment - the myth of the origin of chariot competitions. The plot of the composition of the western pediment is the struggle between the centaurs and the lapiths. This plot was repeatedly used by Greek artists as the personification of the triumph of culture (lapiths) over barbarism (centaurs).

The temple in ancient Olympia was famous for the huge statue of Zeus by the great sculptor Phidias. The fame of this statue in the ancient world was exceptionally great. More than sixty ancient writers have mentioned this outstanding monument.

The statue of Zeus amazed the Roman conqueror of Greece, Paul Emilius. By order of the emperor Caligula, they were going to transport her to Rome, and Caligula ordered to replace the head of Zeus with his own. This transportation did not take place.

The fate of this great work of Phidias is not exactly known. In written sources, mentions of him are found up to 384 AD. After that, all information about Zeus from Olympia disappears. According to some reports, the statue was transported to Constantinople and burned there in a fire.

In 426 AD Emperor Theodosius II issued an edict on the destruction of pagan buildings, and the temple of Zeus, according to sources, was burned, and its remains were destroyed by earthquakes.

The temple of the goddess Hera (Heraion), built at the end of the 7th century BC, was located on the periphery of the sacred site of the temple of Olympian Zeus. Once the temple of Hera, as well as twelve richly decorated treasuries, served as a frame for the central shrine of the city. From the temples that existed here, the foundations, the remains of the colonnade, part of the walls with fragments of ceramic decorations have survived to this day.

In Olympia, many significant historical and artistic monuments have been discovered. All of them are distinguished by power and grandeur, severe simplicity and monumental solemnity. Almost all of the excavated objects have been left in place and, although dilapidated, now flaunt under their usual sky, on the same land where they were created.