Ancient Olympia is the birth place of Olympic Games. Here, athletes from all over the world gathered to compete. But was it “Games”? Let’s clarify this.
The real meaning of the word “Games”
This is crash course in Greek language.
Games, in Greek language when translated from English, means the things we play to have fun. Greeks use the word “paihnidia” when they speak about Games. For Greeks football is a game, as basketball is; for Greeks chess is a game and backgammon is too.
But Greeks don’t use the word games when it comes to archery, or track, or marathon running or even boxing and wresting.
The word they use is “Athlimata” or “Agones”. The closest translation to that is Sports for the first word, while for the second some use the word “Races”. But “races” means something different per country (outside Greece). The word race usually means something where people (or horses, or dogs) run. But, as you know, original Olympic “Games” were not just about running.
So “races” is not the exact word. Greek language has words where word and its meaning are of single value, even when used in different sentences.
We suppose, at some point non-Greeks were thinking on how to translate the whole thing, and they thought of the word “Games” as the most “neutral” one.
Anyway, you understand what you mean, or maybe it’s all Greek to you too.
This place is of great importance, and not just for Greeks. Here, the Olympic Flame is lit, so to declare the beginning of the Olympic Games, that were held in honor of Zeus. A ceremony takes place where the flame is lit by using the heat and light of Sun.
This ceremony is the same one that was used thousands of years ago and is modest but quite emotional. Here (below) is the ceremony location inside the ancient site (front of photo), while at the back are the ruins of the Temple of Hera.
It is proper for the visitor of Ancient Olympia to come prepared, reading the history of this place and its historical importance.
To new generations it may be unthinkable to comprehend how the conflicts in the -back then- whole world stopped during the Olympic Games. That alone is huge.
Think of it for a while. Every single war and battle stopped.
The best athletes from different locations from every corner of the Greek world, coming from as far away as Iberia (Spain) in the west and the Black Sea (Turkey) in the east, traveled to Ancient Olympia to compete in a variety of things (and they were more difficult as you see right here). They competed in:
- Running (the stade race, the diaulos race and the dolichos race)
- Discus throw
- Pankration (Greek Martial Art)
- Equestrian Events (horse and chariot races)
- Long jump
- Javelin throw
Five of the above consisted the Pentathlon (from the Greek word “Pente” which means “five”). No mountain bike or windsurfing back then… No table tennis or tennis either. You may be surprised but even Marathon running is also a modern addition.
Museum of Ancient Olympia
The museum is not rather big, but there are lots of exhibits.
We had the opportunity to enjoy a bunch of tourists who really wanted to run across the stadium as ancient Greeks did. These youngsters really put all their effort while running.
Here is the entrance to the Stadium. It was called “Krypti”, meaning “that what is hidden”.
Just imagine all those ancient athletes competing there.
The area before the Stadium
Before the stadium were all the buildings that were supportive to the religious and organizational part of the site. The remains of Phidias Workshop are there too.
This below is part of the Palaestra.
Below is the workshop of Phidias
This (below) is called “Philippeion”. It contained the chryselephantine (gold and ivory) statues of Philip’s family; himself, Alexander the Great, Olympias, Amyntas III and Eurydice I.
The site of Ancient Olympia is located at the Prefecture of Ilia, in Peloponnese, about 3.5 hours driving time from Athens. Do read here, about another stadium in Peloponnese where additional Olympic Games were taking place.
If you plan your vacations in Peloponnese then you have to arrange for a visit. That is the way to understand why the pictures of Ancient Olympia and Olympic games echo through the centuries.