In the bright green valley of Alphaeus, in western Peloponnese, prospered the famous religious centre of antiquity, the most ancient sanctum of Greece: Olympia.
In Ilia's prefecture, tourism is extremely animated in virtue of Ancient Olympia which constitutes one of the most frequented archaeological centres of the country.
Olympia has been sacred land of worship of the gods since mythical age.There, Olympian Zeus, the supreme of gods, was worshiped, in honour of whose the celebration of the Olympic Games was sanctioned every four years.In the Games, all the greek city-states took place, even the colonies.
The historical place consists of the museum, where in its halls finds of inestimable value are brought together, as well as the remains of the ancient town.
The Sacred Grove of Ancient Olympia was surrounded by the wall which separates the temples and the religious structures from the secular ones.
The temple of Zeus took an eminent place among the structures. It was built by the architect Livona in 470 BC with the spoils of Ilia's residents from the wars against Pisa and Trifilia.The frontages and the gabled sculptures were marble. In the temple, sitting on a throne, was situated the gold and ivory statue of Zeus, work of Phidias.
At the foot of the mountain Kronion the temple of Hera rises: Heraion. It was built in 650 BC. In the interior of the temple, the statue of Hermes of Praxiteles was found in 1877.
In the beginning of the 5th century BC the Prytaneion was built at the north-western nook of the Grove, seat of the Deaus, the sanctum dignitaries.In a particular room was sheltered the inextinguishable fire.
The Stadium, the largest of its age, with seating capacity of 45000 spectators, with track of race 212.54 metres long.The Stadium was connected, in its north-western nook, with the Sanctum, by a narrow arched corridor, the Krypti.
Further structures outside the grove are: the Palaistra, where the athletes used to exercise in wrestling, fist and jump.
Contiguous to it was built the Gymnasion, an open-air area, surrounded by arcades in its four sides.Here, the athletes used to exercise in races when the weather conditions were bad.
In Olympia, every summer, different cultural shows and performances are organized, such as the well-known International Festival of Ancient Olympia.
The performances take place in the Theatre of Olympia or Floka with seating capacity of 3700 spectators, in the small theatre of Drouva with seating capacity of 1000 spectators and, in certain occasions, in the Ancient Stadium or the open-air space of the museum.
The finds that were brought to light during the excavations are exhibited in the archaeological museum of Olympia.
The two pediments of the temple of Zeus are from the most brilliant samples of the ancient greek sculpture and mainly from the age of its prosperity. The eastern pediment represent the preparation of the mythical chariot race between Pelops and Oenomaos, king of the mythical Pisa, whereas in the western pediment is represented the favourite subject of the wrestling between the Centaurs and the Lapiths with the excellent figure of Apollo in the centre. The frontages of the temple represent the 12 labours of Heracles.
The statue of the Winged Victory of Paeonion, as she is coming down from the sky, is from the most important sculptures of the classic years, and it was a votive offering of the Messinion and Nafpactiaion in 421 BC.
Other exhibits of the museum are: the earthen cluster of Zeus and Ganymedes, the giant head that is attributed to the worshiped statue of Hera and at last, the famous statue of Hermes, with the new-born Dionysus, original work of Praxiteles, which is exhibited in a private hall of the museum.
Among the objects, which had been offered to Zeus from the city-states in token of gratitude for their victories, are the copper votive offerings: tripod boilers, panoplies, helmets, shields and vessels.
Today, the International Olympic Academy and the museum of the Olympic Games reside in Olympia. The museum exhibits commemoratives from the Olympic Games and the unique worldwide collection of stamps from Papastefanaki-Provataki with subjects from these Games.
The Olympic Games were one of the earliest important events in Greek history. They started as early as 776 BC and they were held every four years in honour of Zeus, at Ancient Olympia.
The Olympic festival lasted five days and included a lot of athletic events such as Pentathlon, chariot races, force races, matches of wrestling and races as well as religious functions and ceremonies: sacrifices, prayers, celebrations because the Games never lost their religious character. Philosophers and poets demonstrated their masterpieces during the Games.
Athletes from all over the Greek world took part in the Games, but only Greek free men, not slaves. Women were not allowed to take part.
The Olympic Games represented an ideal which through honorable and noble competition sought to develop the mind and strengthen the body in order to create a superior character. The contest didn't take place for simple exhibition of riches but for the harmonious development of body and mind, for the worship of beauty and nobility.
The winners were not awarded money but crowns of wild olive. They fought for glory, ideals and virtue. They were adored and honored by everybody and especially by those who lived in the same town with them. When they returned to their country a part of the walls was demolished because the town with such brave men didn't need any walls.
Today, the Olympic Games are held every four years in different parts of the world since Pierre de Couberden revived them in 1896. Athletes from all over the world regardless of race, class, politics or religious belief take part in the contest and everyone can attend them.
The aim is still to promote peace and cooperation between the nations, to forge bonds of international goodwill and understanding but unfortunately there is not ceasefire during the Games, the hostilities go on.
At Ancient Olympia, the Olympic flame symbolizing peace and life will be lit again from the sun's rays reflected on a concave mirror.