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.
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.
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.
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.
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.