Attractions and Activities in Ancient Olympia

OLYMPIA

In western Peloponnese, in the “Valley of Gods”, lies the most celebrated sanctuary of ancient Greece and the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the most significant athletic event of all times. Olympia is one of the most well known destinations in Greece and one of the most powerful brand names worldwide. Visit the archaeological site of Olympia, which includes two museums and the buildings of the sacred Altis: the ancient Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Vouleuterion, the Temples of Hera and Zeus. East of the Altis lies the stadium of Olympia, where the Olympic Games were held in a spirit of noble emulation. During the games a sacred truce was established between the participating city-states. The prize for the winners was an olive wreath also known as kotinos. Visitors can walk through the impressive ruins, where ancient Olympians used to honor their gods or train for athletic events.

They can also visit the museum and get the chance to see some of the most renowned exhibits, such as Hermes of Praxiteles, Nike of Paeonius as well as the sculpted decoration of the Temple of Zeus. The west pediment of the Temple of Zeus depicts a battle between the Lapith Greeks and the Centaurs. Altis, the sacred grove with its olive trees, pine trees, planes, poplars and oaks was first formed during the tenth and ninth centuries BC, when the cult of Zeus was probably established and Olympia was subsequently devoted exclusively to worship. In 775 BC, Iphitos, king of Elis, Kleosthenes of Pisa and Lykourgos of Sparta reorganized the Olympic Games in honor of Zeus and instituted the sacred truce. Soon the quadrennial event acquired a Panhellenic character. Only free male Greek citizens were allowed to participate in the festival. Greeks from the Caspian Sea, the Pillars of Hercules or even Africa converged on Olympia either to attend the athletic event or to compete. Among them were philosophers, heroes and renowned men of antiquity. According to the Olympic Truce, wars were suspended during the Games. The truce was respected by all city-states for many centuries. Moreover, the Statue of Iphitos crowned by a woman, Ekecheiria, in the Temple of Zeus is a symbol of the Sacred Truce and the cessation of hostilities. The Games lasted five days and included foot race, equestrian events, discus throw, javelin throw, long jump, boxing, wrestling as well as the pentathlon. The prize for the winner was an olive wreath also known as kotinos. Furthermore, champions were honored as heroes, poets and musicians sang paeans of praise for them and sculptors made their statues, which were erected in a prominent location.

During the Archaic Period monumental buildings, such s the Temple of Hera, the Prytaneion, the Vouleuterion, were constructed. The sanctuary continued to flourish during the Classical Period, when the glorious Temple of Zeus (470-456 BC) as well as baths, treasuries and the Stoas were erected and the stadium moved outside the sacred Altis. Around 430 BC the Statue of Zeus, a sculpture of ivory plates and gold panels, was made by the famous Greek sculptor Phidias and erected in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. The statue was regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. During the Hellenistic period the construction of buildings, such as the Gymnasium and the Palaestra continued, while in Roman times numerous luxurious residences, hot baths and an aqueduct were built. The countless statues, monuments and precious religious objects were lost, since the sacred area of Altis was repeatedly pillaged. The sanctuary continued to function during the first years of Christian rule under Constantine the Great. The last Olympic Games were held in 393 AD since Theodosius I banned them for being pagan.
Visit The Hellenic Ministry of Culture Ancient Olympia

THE ALPHEUS RIVER

The Alpheus river is the largest river in Peloponnese. Ancient Greeks believed that Alpheus was a brave young man who loved hunting. Therefore, he wandered in the dense forests and killed with his arrow deer, wild boars and other wild animals. One day he met a beautiful nymph. He was stunned by her beauty but she left quickly without telling a single word. He started looking for her and heard that her name was Arethousa. In the following days, they met again and talked for hours. Alpheus fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. However, Arethousa refused his proposal and chose to remain single. In order to avoid Alpheus she decided to travel to Sicily. But she started feeling homesick and longed for her return. One day a god spared her and turned her into a spring of crystal water, which flowed into the sea in an attempt to reach Peloponnese. Alpheus was looking for her in vain until the same god spared him, as well transforming him into a river.

The waters of the river flowed through Olympia and emptied into the Ionian Sea, in order to mix with the waters from Arethousa’s spring. Consequently, the two young people who did not manage to become a couple, when they were still alive, were united after their death into the depths of the sea. This myth is an indication of the way the great ecosystem of Alpheus should be managed in order to lead to a successful combination of economic development and environmental protection. The Alpheus river is the longest and most important river in Peloponnese. It is 116 km long and forms valleys, lakes and tributaries creating an amazing scenery. The river flows through places of great cultural and historical significance, such as ancient Olympia. The most significant human values were born at its banks. Since 776 BC and for more than a thousand years, the Alpheus played a key part in Olympia’s legends, myths, heroic deeds, memories and secrets. Then, the excavations of the German Archaeological Institute started in the area of the sacred Altis and the magnificent treasures of Olympia were brought to light. Following, thus, the river’s flow is like reliving the most glorious moments in Greek history.

CLADEUS

The Cladeus is a river in Elis and a tributary of the Alpheus river. The Cladeus river was personified and depicted on statues in the temple of Zeus in Olympia. The river’s headwaters are located in Lala. Just a stone’s throw from there, the river forms a beautiful gorge and a natural bridge called ‘Theogefiro’. The Cladeus flows through Olympia and empties into the river Alpheus, next to the conical Kronios hill. In antiquity, there were olive groves along the riverbanks close to Olympia. Nearby, there were bathing facilities for athletes built during the Roman period, the so-called ‘Thermes Kladeos’. Excavations brought to light flood control dams, which were built in antiquity and the Roman period in order to prevent flooding.

FOLOI / PHOLOE

The plateau of Foloi or Pholoe is situated in Elis, which borders Arcadia and Achaea and on the foot of Mt. Erymanthos. It is part of the municipality Ancient Olympia and took its name from the king of Centaurs, Pholus, who was a friend of Hercules. The plateau, which is 650m above sea level and covers an area of 42.000 square meters, is named by the locals as ‘the Balcony of Ilia’. The Foloi oak forest is situated on the plateau. It is an ecosystem unique in the Balkan Peninsula and has been designated the status of a protected area enlisted in the Natura 2000 ecological network of the E.U. Some of the oaks are tall like cypresses whilst others are thicker and many-branched. Near the inhabited areas and gorges you can find chestnuts, planes, holm oaks, walnut trees, arbutuses, and other fruit-bearing trees. The headwaters of the river Piniakos (Eliakos) Ladonas or Sellieis are located in the area and also a gorge of historical and ecological value. This is also the place that Hercules caught the Erymanthian Boar. This idyllic landscape is complemented by the emerald green and blue colors of the sea near Olympia.
Visit Foloi Official Site

ANDRITSENA – APOLLO EPICURIUS

Andritsena is a traditional small town featuring stone fountains, shady plane trees and cobbled streets. The town is built on a hillside, northwest of Mt. Lykaion. Andritsena is 60 km from Olympia and boasts an exceptional library with old books, manuscripts from the period of the Greek War of Independence and a folklore museum. In Bassae or Vassai, northeast of Figaleia and southwest of Andritsena stands the Temple of Apollo Epicurius, one of the most important and imposing temples of antiquity. The temple was dedicated by the inhabitants of Figaleia to Apollo, who came to their aid when they were beset by the plague. The temple rises to a height of 1.130m in the heart of Peloponnese. The building was erected in the second half of the 5th century BC (c.420-410) and is believed to be a work of Iktinos, one of the architects of the Parthenon. The temple is considered to be one of the best preserved classic monuments in Greece. This architectural gem was recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1986. The temple’s main decorative feature was the marble Ionic frieze. This frieze was unearthed by foreign antiquaries and transferred to the British Museum.
Visit the Hellenic Ministry of Culture

KARYTENA

Karytena is a picturesque village in Arcadia situated 500 m above sea level. The village is 20 km from Megalopoli. The most important site is the 13th century Frankish castle. The area was one of the 12 Baronies of Franks in Peloponnese. Karytena was successively ruled by Byzantine Greeks, Venetians and Ottomans until the Greek War of Independence in 1821. In 1826, it was used by Theodoros Kolokotronis as a military base for his operations against Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt.

KAIAFAS LAKE AND SEA

Relax and rejuvenate your spirit in the therapeutic waters of Kaiafas Thermal Springs or enjoy the sandy beaches of the Ionian Sea admiring the lurid red and orange sunset.
Visit the Official Site

NEMOUTA – ERYMANTHOS (waterfalls)

Erymanthos is a river in the western part of Peloponnese. Its headwaters are located on the southern slope of Mt. Erymanthos. The river forms a natural border between Elis and Achaea. This stunning setting features multihued flowers, crystal clear waters, wild animals, olive and plane trees as well as an array of native mountain plants. .3 the path of Hercules, the Centaurs and the Erymanthian Boar The path is 12km long. Visitors can follow the path from the Environmental Museum of Foloi, which is located in woodland Loutsa, through the unique oak forest of Foloi until they reach the gorge of the Erymanthos river. This is an area of outstanding natural beauty boasting impressive waterfalls and a wide range of wild fauna and flora. On their way to the picturesque Nemuta village visitors can admire eight spectacular waterfalls, from 15 to 42m high known as the Haratsari waterfalls. This gem of nature was unknown to the public up until now. Another way to reach Nemouta is through the waterfalls of Abula, 17 amazing waterfalls from 15 to 52m high. Visitors can admire many species of birds, insects, wild animals, an abundance of trees such as willows, oaks, planes and pines as well as the remains of old watermills and gunpowder mills.
Read the Nemouta Blog

NEDA WATERFALLS

The Neda is a river in western Peloponnese and one of the few rivers in Greece, which has been given a female name. According to the myth, the river was created by Rhea, Zeus mothers and it owes its name to the nymph Neda, who nurtured young Zeus and protected him from his father Kronos. The landscape with its lush vegetation, the majestic cliffs and the natural beauties is ideal for trekking. Neda waterfalls form a natural pool, like a blue lagoon, where you can take a dip into the cool waters and get immersed in Greek mythology.

AGIOS ANDREAS-KATAKOLO

The area of Katakolo-Agios Andreas 20 km from Olympia offers spectacular beaches and scenic bays, where you can enjoy the sea and the sun. Pick one of the bars or taverns by the sea and taste delicious seafood along with ouzo or cold beer.

CHLEMOUTSI CASTLE

Chlemoutsi castle stands on the top of a hill overlooking the valley of Elis and the Ionian Sea. It was built between 1220 and 1223 during the rule of Geoffrey I of Villehardouin as the main stronghold of the Principality of Achaea. Chlemoutsi was ruled successively by Greeks, Venetians and Ottomans until the Greek War of Independence. The castle maintains its Frankish character intact and remains one of the best preserved Frankish fortresses in Peloponnese.

KALAVRYTA – HELMOS – SKI RESORT

Kalavryta is one of the most scenic destinations in Peloponnese built on the slopes of Mt. Helmos 750m above sea level. The picturesque houses, the cobbled streets and the plane trees create a dreamy setting. Just a stone’s throw from the village upon a rocky mountain stands the Venetian Castle of Orias. Visit the Monastery of Agia Lavra, which was built in 961 AD at an altitude of 961m and housed 961 monks. In 1689, a new monastery was built. It was here that the call for 'Freedom or Death' was first heard launching the Greek War of Independence. Another famous attraction is Mega Spileon, which was built on 362 AD at an altitude of 1000m. The temple of the monastery features amazing frescoes, mosaic floors and a copper carved door. Helmos ski resort is located 14 km from Kalavryta on Mt. Helmos and comprises 12 ski runs, 2 chair lifts, 5 ski lifts as well as special grounds for snowboarding and extreme games.