Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Let the Games Begin

We are on our way to see the original site of the Olympic Games--you know, the ones that were first recorded to have been held in 776 B.C. While in Athens, we did see the "original" Olympic Stadium, but that was the one built for the games which were re-instituted by Baron Pierre de Coubertin. Seeing that stadium, where the Games were held in Athens in 1896, was most interesting, but the site of the original games had far more impact.

Along the way, we crossed the Rion-Antirion bridge that "crosses the Corinth strait near the city of Patras, connecting Peloponnese with mainland Greece." (More information here.) From a distance, the bridge looks like a small fleet of sailboats. As you cross it, you can see the suspension superstructure. The bridge was built in time for the most recent Olympics, in 2004. Prior to its being built, the main connection between the mainland and the western end of the Peloponnesian peninsula was a ferry ride.

We noted that even on two-lane highways, traffic makes a way for vehicles to pass. Invariably, drivers straddled the solid outside line with their vehicles, making it possible for cars or trucks to pass by.

As we neared the ancient Olympic site, we saw many burned trees--evidence of the serious fires last summer. A brief explanation of the name Olympia--it is NOT near Mt. Olympos (which is in Northern Greece, the highest mountain in Greece, and the place in mythology where the gods resided), but was named Olympia because the rural site was dedicated to the worship of Zeus.

Just as today, the original Olympic games were held every four years. The games were a mixture of athletic events, and religious worship. When the games first began, the only athletic event was the stadion race, a foot race of 600 feet long. Stadion means standing place, and is the source of the word stadium. Below, you see the entrance to the stadium.

The small box of stones is the place where the judges stood.
And here is the starting line! Predictably, people always get down "on their marks" ready to run.

Among the ruins we saw was the main floor for the temple to Zeus, which was one of the wonders of the ancient world. The statue was built by the sculptor Phidias, whose workshop still stands on the site. Nothing remains of the statue itself. Below is a photo of a portion of one of the columns that made up the temple. My husband standing next to one of these pieces gives you some comparison. The next photo shows a pile of column pieces. Greece is very earthquake prone (in fact, an earthquake hit Patras, Greece, one week after we had driven through), and the temple of Zeus was destroyed, as was most of the Olympic site.

The outline of many buildings can be detected by the standing columns.

The original games were restricted to men only. Presumably to enforce this restriction, athletes performed in the nude. Women were not permitted anywhere within the entire complex.

Much like a modern day Olympic village, the ancient site included--in addition to the temple, and the stadium--housing for athletes, dining halls, baths, and swimming pools. When the Romans ruled the known world, they opened the games to "all citizens of the world." Earthquakes damaged the area, but Christianity had more of an impact on the demise of the games. A Christian emperor decreed the games cease. The buildings that were still there were turned into Christian sites, including Phidias' workshop which became a basilica.

Then, two rivers in the area flooded, depositing massive quantities of silt, and the ancient site of the Olympic games disappeared from view. It was rediscovered in 1766, but no excavation began until 1829.

Today, in addition to being an obvious tourist destination, the site is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage site. And, with each Olympiad, the Olympic flame is once again lit with the sun's rays providing the spark.


JeanMac said...

I love your pics and the informative posts.

NCmountainwoman said...

Wonderful photos and descriptions. Better than a PBS documentary, since you seem to know exactly what we want to hear. I'm eagerly awaiting more.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

Thanks forc the tour. Some things you mentioned I did not know.

Ruth said...

I didn't know about the site of the original Olympic Games. So interesting to see links with the present and ancient past together.

dguzman said...

Wow, it was like I was there with you, minus the heat! It's always been a dream of mine to visit Greece, to see the ruins. Thanks for this little mental trip, Donna.

Ginnie said...

Yes, I felt like I was on tour also. Your pictures are fabulous and I loved the stone entrance. I sure didn't know that the original athletes performed nude...somehow that conjures us some pretty funny images !

Mary said...

Thanks, Donna. The Olympic Games are something I always look forward to and I enjoy seeing their history. You are a great story teller/historian!

RuthieJ said...

Good stuff Donna!
I bet when people from Greece come to the US they're shocked by how rude some of our drivers are....