When Ruin is a Good Thing: Visiting Ancient Olympia
It's sometimes difficult for people to understand why I would want to work for
free on my vacation.
And while this trip isn't technically a vacation, I
could have made the choice to spend less time on the road by skipping the farmwork and simply visiting a city and moving on.
Looking toward the Philippeion, the colonnaded structure toward the right
But nobody ever learned anything by skipping class, and by the end of this
trip I'll have learned so much from the locals and their respective cultures that volunteering will have been like going back to school for free.
The ruins of the Temple of Zeus (470- 457 BC)
The archway, or Krypte, leading to the stadium
More importantly, if you plan your farms out carefully and based on
location, you might be able to work in a free sight-seeing trip.
The Stadium, which dates back to mid-5th century BC, has dimensions of 192x28.5 meters. There were no seats on the embankments save for a stone platform for the judges. Stadium capacity was estimated to be around 45,000. Yes, John and I ran the whole dash.
Charles and Ellie, the British expat hosts at our most recent farm in
Zacharo, Greece, were particularly generous when it came to the understanding
that volunteering should be a sort of symbiosis. They ask us to work about five
hours a day with one day off per week, and during the rest of the time we can
hang out with the family, take a walk, or sit on the floor and stare at the
wall. Anything goes.
On the aforementioned day off, instead of washing their hands of us, they
offered to drive us the 40 minutes to nearby Olympia and come back for us when
we were finished. And yes, I'm talking about the Olympia.
The "Octagon" with its peristyle courtyard and view of a temporary residence of the Emperor Nero in 1st century AD
A piece of an old column with original Latin writing
It's great to find a host who actually cares about your entire experience
at their farm, and unfortunately it's not always the case. But there
have been no real horror stories yet for us. Only stories of mild annoyance.
But back to the frolicking grounds of the gods and early fitness buffs. Have a look:
The huge Gymnasion, an area for practice in foot race, javelin, discus throwing, etc. Competitors were required to train here for at least one month before the games.
The workshop of Pheidias, wherein the huge gold-and ivory chryselephantine Statue of Zeus was sculpted
The Statue of Zeus, at about 36 feet high, became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
Olympia was known as the sacred place of Zeus and is where the Olympic games originated. Even today, the Olympic flame is lit here before it travels the world to reach the site of the games. Supposedly the games began around 776 BC and the surrounding buildings were used to facilitate the games or worship the gods. Religious in nature, many of the activities were based on or influenced by stories of Greek Mythology.
The Temple of Hera, an example of Doric architecture. According to legend, this is where the discus of the Sacred Truce, which protected travelers as they journeyed to and from the games, was kept
A few of the Temple of Hera's 22 columns
The original base of Paeonios' Victory, upon which stood the statue of the Winged Victory
The Philippeion, dating back to 338 BC, was donated by Philip II
Alexander the Great finished the Philippeion and decorated the interior with his ancestors' busts.
Lunchtime among the ruins
Very few structures still remain because when Christian Emperor Theodocious ruled in 393 AD, he deemed the games Pagan and banned them after nearly 12 centuries. That abandonment combined with a series of floods and earthquakes destroyed many of the structures and buried most of the city until it was later unearthed in the 1700s. After excavations began a few years after the rediscovery, the games began again in 1896. Despite all the destruction, it's easy to channel the magic and energy of what once was while walking through the ruins of a phenomenal history.
The Leonidaion Thermae, a bathhouse and guest room
Leaving the stadium behind
The entry fee for the Olympia ruins is six euros, and the nearby museum is also six. A combo ticket sets you back nine euros, and a little bird told me that the museum is worth a visit, although we opted for a walk and an overpriced coffee in the nearby tourist town instead.
This website has some great extra information on Olympia and how to get there. And if you go, you have to do the 100 meter dash, obviously.
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