March 04, 2008

Attractions at Ancient Olympia

1. Gymnasium:
The Gymnasium was build in the 2nd century BC and at the end of the 2nd century columns at each end of the Gymnasium were added which allowed the athletes who required ample space for training in discus, javelin and running. The Gymnasium has not been completely excavated and its west side was swept away the river Kladeos. It measures 120m x 220m.

2. The Palaestra:
Attractions at Ancient Olympia
The Palaestra which is a sports ground or gymnasium was built in the 3rd century BC and was where the athletes trained for sports such as boxing, wrestling and jumping, situated west of the Altis. It is a courtyard encircled by a line of columns and surrounded by...
dressing rooms, baths, classrooms with benches, and special rooms such as the eleothession and the konistrion, one to cover the athlete with olive oil and the other to dust or sand the bodies of the athletes, respectively. This building measures about 66m x 68m. Only recently was the Palaestra excavated resulting in the recovery of the lower parts which were made of stone as well as about half of the peristyle columns which were restored.

3. The Theokeleon
This was the official residence of the priests of Olympia and was built in two stages: the 4th century and in Roman times. It is situated on the west side of the sanctuary. This building also consists of a peristyle courtyard and is surrounded by several rooms. The priests conducted the sacrifices and cared for the sanctuary. This structure is not open to the public.

4. The Heroon
This building was dedicated to an unknown hero and contains an inscription with the word Heroos or Hero. It is a circular building, built in the second half of the 5th century BC believed to have originally served as the sweatroom of the baths before its conversion to a memorial which housed an alter. Another alter in the same space, records show, was dedicated to Pan.

5. The Workshop of Pheidias
This building was built in about 440 BC and was where Phedidias created the enormous statue of Zeus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It is rectangular in shape with two colonnades. Several of Phedidias’ tools were discovered in this building as well as glass jewelery and clay matrices that he used to build the statue of Zeus. The workshop was turned into a place of worship in the 2nd century BC and finally a Christian basilica was built atop the ruins for worship in the 5th century AD which was destroyed by the earthquakes of AD 551/552.

6. The Bouleuterion (Council Chamber)
With construction beginning in the 6th century and its completion in the 4th century BC, this very important building served to accommodate the Olympic council who were responsible for the organization of the Games and consists of two rectangular buildings adjoined by a square building which contained the statue of Zeus. It is here where the athletes took their oaths prior to the start of the Games as well as pleas and penalties were decided. The official archives of the Olympic winners were probably kept there. Unfortunately, only the foundation of the structure remains.

7. The Temple of Zeus
The most renowned building in the sanctuary was built by Libon of Elis between 470 and 456 BC, measuring 64m x 27m x 20m approximately. It has 13 columns at each side. The floors, in the Hellenistic mosaic representative of tritons still remain. It is here where the victors of the Games were crowned. The temple of Zeus is the largest temple in the Peloponnese and housed the statue of Zeus which was 12m tall, where he is sitting on his throne holding a scepter in one hand and Nike in the other. The statue of Zeus, made of gold and ivory, was moved to Constantinople when the games were abolished in AD 393 and was unfortunately destroyed by fire in the year AD 475. The temple was burned by Theodosius II in AD 426 and was finally knocked down by earthquakes in AD 551 and 552. Some pieces are displayed in the museum of Olympia and others in the Louvre in France.

8. The Leonidaion

Built by Leonidas in 330 BC this building served as a guest house for official visitors. It is square in shape, is surrounded by pillars and has a peristyle courtyard and is located outside the sacred area of the sanctuary. A partially preserved inscription on the outer stoa shows that the structure was built by Leonidas of Naxos. Later in Roman Times, it served as a guest house for Roman officials where the Romans added a large pool.

9. The Baths.
These were built in different areas of the sanctuary during the Roman Times and, again, adorned by mosaic floors which are in fair condition. The early baths were located by the bank of the river Kladeos, date to the 5th century BC and were named Greek baths. Oblong in shape with a well at the end, the athletes were able to draw water to bathe. Throughout the 5th century BC, another room was added with tubs. Again, in the 4th century BC, yet another room was erected on the west side with bathtubs on three sides and hot water. Lastly, in the 1st century BC, a large room was built on the south side along with hypocausts: a system of central heating in which hot air from an underground furnace circulated beneath floors and between double walls During the Roman Times, it is likely that the Greek baths were abandoned because of the newer complexes that were constructed in the sanctuary. This area is not opened to the public.

10. The Stadium
The stadium we see is not the original but actually the third one built in the 5th century BC. It measures 212.54m x 28.5m., and is situated east of the Altis enclosure. The original stadium was created in the mid 6th century BC, also known as the Archaic Period. The second stadium was created toward the end of the 6th century BC. This is where the Ancient Olympic Games took place. The Heraia Games, the womens games, were also held here in honor of Hera. It has stone boundaries which mark the starting and finishing lines. The stadium had a capacity of 45,000 who sat on the ground as there was no seating except for a few stone seats reserved for dignitaries.

11. The Hippodrome
The hippodrome was where horse and chariot races took place. It is believed that it measured 600m x 200m however its actual location is unknown because it was buried in the silty soil it was built on.

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