The site of Olympia, in a Peloponnese valley, has been inhabited since the 3rd millennium BCE. In the 10th century BCE, Olympia became a center of worship to Zeus, after whose abode on Mount Olympus the site was named. The sanctuary spreads around the green wooded feet of the Kronion hill at the confluence of the Alfeiós and Kládeos rivers. The valley amongst the two rivers was in ancient times full of wild olive trees, poplars, oaks, pines and plane trees and it was these trees that gave the center of the sanctuary the name Altis, the sacred grove (from alsos, meaning grove). The temples and religious buildings were located inside the Altis, the sanctuary to the gods. The sports structures designed for the events of the Olympic Games honoring Zeus as well as dwellings for the priests, baths, guest houses, etc. were outside of the Altis.

Although the first Olympiad is thought to have been in 776 BCE, bronze votive figures of the Geometric period (10th - 8th centuries BCE) reveal that the sanctuary was in use before that date. The festival took place every four years over a five day period in the late summer during a sacred truce observed by all Greek cities. Victors in the games were crowned with a branch of the "beautiful crowned wild olive tree" that stood near the temple of Zeus. This crown bestowed the greatest honor on the athlete, his family and his native city. The sanctuary flourished until 426 CE, the year in which Emperor Theodosius II closed all of the ancient pagan sanctuaries.

Click on the thumbnails below in order to see pictures of Olympia.  Use your browser's back button to return to this page.

The eastern part of the GymnasiumThe Gymnasium, located to the northwest of the Altis, is a 2nd century BCE building that consists of an open area surrounded by stoas on all four sides. This was were athletes trained for events that required a lot of space, such as the javelin, discus and running. The SW corner of the PalaestraThe Palaestra, erected during the 3rd century BCE, was used for the practice of wrestling, boxing and long jumping. The south side of the PalaestraMuch of the colonnade surrounding the central court of the  Palaestra has been reconstructed
The rooms of the PalaestraThe  Palaestra was roughly square in shape (66.35 x 66.75 m) with a peristyle court, surrounded by covered areas sectioned into special rooms for undressing, anointing the body with oil, powdering it with dust, bathing, and rooms with benches for lessons in theory. The east side of the PalaestraThe Palaestra is located to the west of the Altis, near the Kládeos river. It is south of the Gymnasium and adjoining it. Greek BathsThe Greek Baths were built in the 5th century BCE and modified in later periods. The Palaestra is visible to the left.
The PhilippeionThe Philippeion (foreground) and the Palaestra (background). The Philippeion, a circular building begun by Philip II, king of Macedonia, and completed by his son, Alexander the Great, housed 5 statues of Alexander and his forefathers by the sculptor Leochares. The PrytaneionThe Prytaneion, official residence of the prytaneis, in which was the sacred hearth and the fire that was never extinguished. The Prytaneion, located in the northwest corner of the Altis, is a 5th century BCE building. The Temple of Hera is also visible in the background. The Heraion from the eastThe Temple of Hera, a.k.a. the Heraion, stands at the foot of Kronion. The Doric temple was begun in the 7th century BCE.
The columns of the HeraionThe columns of the Heraion were originally made of wood. Each column was replaced by a stone one, over a period of some centuries, in the style of the current period resulting in columns that reflect the complete development of the Doric column, and especially the capital, from the Archaic period to Roman times. The Heraion from the SWThe Heraion, which is long and narrow and has heavy proportions, is one of the earliest examples of monumental temple construction in Greece. The cella of the HeraionThe cella of the  Heraion from the southwest.
The Alter of HerculesThe Alter of Hercules in the foreground and the Nymphaeum and Heraion in the background. The Nymphaeum and HeraionThe Nymphaeum (foreground), and the Heraion (background) from the east. The NymphaeumThe Nymphaeum was an aqueduct built by Herodes Atticus in 160 CE. It channeled the waters of a copious spring, 4 km east of Olympia, into the imposing Nymphaeum, or Exedra. It was semicircular in shape and had two small circular temples in front of it. Statues stood in the niches of the face of the (probably) two story wall.
The Metroon & The TreasuriesThe Metroon (foreground) and the Treasuries (background) from the south. The Metroon, Temple of Cybele (Mother of the Gods), dates to the 4th century BCE. The treasuries were erected on the natural terrace on the southern slopes of Kronion. Part of the stepped retaining wall of the Treasuries is visible at left. A TreasuryOne of the  Treasuries, small temples in the shape of the "megaron" dedicated by the Greek cities, dating from the 6th and 5th century BCE. They stood in a row, one next  to the other, and formed the northern limit of the Altis. Originally these treasuries probably served a cult purpose, but later were used to house valuable votives. Temple of ZeusThe Temple of Zeus was erected on the southern part of the Altis, on a free section of land. The largest temple in the Peloponnese, it was considered the perfect expression, or "canon" of the Doric temple. Today, only column bases and tumbled sections remain.
The cella of the Temple of ZeusTemple of Zeus was a Doric peripteral building with 6x13 columns built between 470 and 456 BCE. It was the work of Libon, an architect from Elis.  Temple of ZeusTemple of Zeus. A chryselephantine status of Zeus, sculpted by Pheidias, was set inside the cella in about 430 BCE. The famous sculptural compositions from the pediments are on display in the Olympia Museum. Fallen columns of the Temple of ZeusFallen column drums from the peristyle of the temple of Zeus
Pheidias' workshopPheidias' workshop where the statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was sculpted. Pheidias' workshopPheidias' workshop. In the 5th century CE, a Christian basilica was erected on its ruins. Pheidias' workshopPheidias' workshop was built to house work carried out on the gold and ivory statue of Zeus. In and around the workshop, tools, terra-cotta moulds and other artifacts relating to the work of the artist have been found.
The rooms & column bases of the LeonidaionThe  Leonidaion was a guest house built in c. 330 BCE in the western part of the sanctuary. It was named after its donor and architect, Leonidas of Naxos. All four sides had rooms that faced inwards into a peristyle court with Doric columns. The clover shaped water garden of the LeonidaionThe  Leonidaion, with its clover shaped water garden in the center, was where important foreign guest and officials stayed during their visits. It was converted into a dwelling for Roman officials in the Roman period. Olympia from the SWView of Olympia from the southwest, just east of the Leonidaion. The column bases of the Ionic colonnade that surrounded the Leonidaion are visible at left.
SW buildingsThe  remains of buildings located in the southwest section of the sanctuary. The Leonidaion is located to the right (west) of these buildings. The Bouleuterion is located to the left (west). The BouleuterionThe Bouleuterion, or council house, was the seat of the Olympian senate. It is made up of two buildings which date from the mid 6th and the 5th centuries BCE. Between the two buildings stood the altar of Zeus Horkios, where the athletes were sworn in before the games. House of NeroThe House of Nero, a 1st century villa off the southeastern corner of the Altis, was hurriedly built for his visit.
Echo StoaAn ionic column fragment from the Echo Stoa located along the east side of the Altis. It was built about 350 BCE. The  entrance to the stadium is visible in the background. HeptaechosThe remains of the Echo Stoa that separated the Altis from the stadium. The stoa was also called Heptaëchos because sounds re-echoed seven times in it. To the left is one of the 12 bases of the Zanes, or statues of Zeus, that were dedicated by athletes who were fined for cheating during the games. The CryptThe Crypt, a vaulted passageway linking the stadium with the Altis, was built at the end of the 3rd century BCE.
The Crypt and the stadiumThe Crypt and the stadium. The stadium, where the athletic games were held, was 212.54m long and 28.50m wide. The existing stadium was the third laid out at Olympia. The stadium from the westThe stadium from the west. On the stadium's southern slope there is a stone platform for the Hellanodikes (the judges) and on the northern embankment is an altar to Demeter Chamyne. The starting and finishing lines are still in place, 600 Olympic feet apart. The finish lineThe finish line. The stadium had no seats, apart from the stone exedra of the Hellanodikai. The embankment could easily seat 45,000 spectators.

Back to the Peloponnese

Rings page   Grisel's Home Page   Email Grisel

Go to the Olympia Museum

Sign Guestbook   Guestbook   View Guestbook

© All pictures are Copyright 2000 Grisel Gonzalez and Jeff Prosise