Exploring Ruins of Ancient Greece – Olympia

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The Original Olympic Track 

The most important cultural and spiritual holiday on the Ancient Greek calendar, the Olympics, was a ginormous ceremony. Held every 4 years from 700 BCE to 393 CE, these ceremonies celebrated athleticism and paid tribute to the Gods. Over 50000 athletes and citizens would gather to celebrate. The Olympic games grew so important that time was eventually marked by the Olympics – called Olympiads.

 

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Platform for Judges on the Track

During these Olympic games a variety of different events were held: javelin, discus, running and wrestling were few of many. The Greeks also invented an event called “free for all”, which was basically an early gladiatorial performance. Two athletes would fight to the death with only two rules – no eye poking and no biting. For the most part, the Olympics were for men. Unmarried women were only permitted to compete in one event; an event dedicated to Hera.

 

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Temple of Zeus with Reconstructed Column

The Greeks glorified the human body and so the male athletes competed in the nude. All male participants, and eventual trainers of the male athletes, had to be naked. The rule about nudity of the trainers was created when one of the trainers was found to have been a female who had pretended to be a male. From that point on, all people involved – except spectators – were obligated to be undressed. Nearly 1200 years after their creation, the Christian Emperor Theodosius III ended the Olympics because he considered the games a pagan celebration.

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Columns in the Temple of Hera

 

As the Olympics weren’t just a celebration of sport but also of the Gods and Goddesses, there were many temples and shrines on the site that honored the Gods. The temples of Zeus and Hera were amongst the biggest. The grand temple of Zeus was constructed of imported white marble from Paros. It would still be erect today, if Theodosius III had not knocked it down after he ended the Olympic games. The remains of the columns can be seen scattered near and around its original base. This temple, also once held the legendary 13-meter tall marble statue of Zeus that is now considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately, this statue was stolen, and like the Athena Parthenos, was carted off to Constantinople where it disappeared into the ravages of time. The temple of Hera is older then that of Zeus, but was created with the porous local stone before the Greeks were able to move marble over large distances. Because Hera’s temple was made of a lighter stone, it degraded overtime but fortunately parts are still standing and visible today.

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Matt and I on the Starting Line, Olympic Track

Unfortunately, we were only able to spend about 1½ hours at the site itself, as it was a very, very rainy day. Luckily, the rain had stopped for a bit, and Matthew and I got to run on the remains of the original 200-meter Olympic running track. It was amazing to run on such an old and important track and to imagine myself participating in the 200-meter finals over 2500 years ago. Also, as I stood under my umbrella, in front of the temple of Zeus, I wondered where the great statue of the king of the gods was today. Maybe it had been broken up into pieces, or bought by a very wealthy collector, but I doubt that we will ever know what really happened.

I highly enjoyed visiting the ancient site of Olympia, running on the first Olympic track ever and exploring its very old ruins. The experience I had was definitely worth being soaked through and muddy by the end of the visit.

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Arch that Athletes Would Take to Enter the Track

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Triangular Column Outside the Temple of Zeus that Survived

Exploring Ruins of Ancient Greece: Mycenae

View of Mycenae

View of Mycenae

Mycenae, the civilization that followed the Minoans but essentially founded Greece. Accredited with creation of the Greek language, influence future myths and production of magnificent structures, some of which can still be seen today. In a mere 400 years, from 1600 BCE to 1100 BCE, the Mycenaean civilization thrived and conquered most of modern Greece. We were lucky enough to visit the archeological site of Mycenae.

 

 

Remains of the old town and view

Remains of the old town and view

This site houses the most popular set of ancient Mycenaean ruins in Greece, receiving 1000s of tourists every day. We left for our adventure through these 3500 year old ruins early in the morning on a free shuttle. As there was no local bus running to the site and it happened that there was a half marathon on the day we visited, there were free shuttles leaving Argos to transport runners to the starting line. We happily hopped on one, pretending, horribly I might add, that we were actually planning to run the race. I was surprised that we weren’t turfed from the bus instantly, as our acting skills are terrible.

 

The Lion Gate

The Lion Gate

We arrived at the Mycenaean site by 8:15 – only a few minutes after it had opened, and because it was early we were some of the first visitors. We were able to enjoy the most impressive parts alone, whereas my mom, who had visited the year before, had said that there were thousands of other tourists at that time.

All that can bee seen today are the remains of a fortress, the ruins of a small town and many tombs of the Mycenaeans. The main entrance to the ruins has been nicknamed the Lion Gate. Probably the most recognizable part of the entire site, this famous gate is known for the depiction of two lionesses standing in a heraldic pose, just above the lintel. It was amazing to take pictures of this gate with no one else in the background, unlike all of my mom’s photos from last year. The first area along the path after the gate was Grave Circle A, where Heinrich Schliemann found the supposed “Death Mask of Agamemnon”, which is now housed in the National Museum of Greece. It has recently been proven unlikely that this mask actually belonged to this particular King of Mycenae, as Agamemnon was supposedly alive 300 years earlier then the mask dates, and is now also thought that he was probably no more then a myth.

Tholos dome

Tholos Dome

After exploring the graves, we continued to wander through the fortress, seeing the remains of the castle, the cistern and the artisan’s workshops. We had the chance to see some half-worked chips of ivory, gold, semi-precious and precious stones from about 1300 BCE that had been used by the artists in these workshops. Our last stops in Mycenae were the tholos tombs. Shaped like beehives on the inside, these grand burial sites for royalty rivaled the Egyptian pyramids. The builders used stones with an average weight of 10 tones, whereas the pyramids stones are a maximum of 5 tones. The doors alone were about 8m x 5m x 1m, with lintels of over 125 tones – in other words – ginormous! As the space was shaped like a cone, the acoustics in these tombs were amazing. Even by stepping on the ground a sound would be created that was incredibly loud, and echo for a long time.

A fortress of the ages, Mycenae was one of my favourite places in Greece, along with Olympia. Stay tuned for my exploration of the place where the first Olympic games were held.

Pieces of gold jewelry found in Grave Circle A

Pieces of gold jewelry found in Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A

Grave Circle A - Close Up

Grave Circle A – Close Up

"The Death Mask of Agamemnon", found in Grave Circle A

“The Death Mask of Agamemnon”, found in Grave Circle A – National Museum of Greece

Golden Bull found in Grave Circle A

Golden Bull found in Grave Circle A

Entrance to Tholos Tomb

Entrance to Tholos Tomb