This quaint town, nestled in the mountains of Peloponnese peninsula is the birth place of the Olympic games. A UNESCO world heritage site, Olympia is of considerable historic significance, and one of the most important Panhellenic sites, the other being Delphi, about which you can know more in my post day-trip to Delphi from Athens. It receives bus loads of tourists by the day, who leave the city after visiting the site and the main museum. In this post, I share my experience in this endearing town and things to do in a day in Olympia.
How to reach?
Nafplios to Tripoli bus ticket cost= € 7.70
Tripoli to Olympia bus ticket cost= € 13.50
I visited Olympia from Nafplios. You can go to Tripoli and from the bus terminal, hop on a bus going to Olympia. The way to Olympia is scenic, a narrow winding road makes its way through the mountains and is marked by the absence of traffic. The weather was dreamy with the sun peeking out of the clouds every now and then.
It was May 1, Labor day and there were very few buses that were running. When travelling, try making no plans for labor day as most places would be closed.
Where to stay?
I booked Leonidaion guest house through Airbnb and paid Rs. 4122 for one night. Of all the bnbs I had booked, I think this was the most expensive. It was a wonderful stay and I highly recommend it if it fits your budget. The breakfast was delicious and everything was fresh and organic. I couldn’t find many options online, and was skeptical of reaching there without a booking.
Olympia is a traditional town and on reaching there I saw many places providing lodging for tourists. I am clueless about what they charged. I just want you to know that options are available. To know about how much I spent on my 15 days trip to Greece, read my blog post How expensive is Greece.
Things to do in a day in Olympia
Now that we have got the tasks out of way, let’s get to exploring the city. The city itself has one main road, with a number of small shops and art galleries in addition to the site and museums. There are plenty of things to do in a day in Olympia
Ancient site of the Olympic games and the Archaeological museum of Olympia
Ticket price to the site and museum- € 12 (€ 6 for students)
A pleasant 10 minutes walk will take you to the city of ancient Olympia.
A botanical garden leads to the entrance of the museum. The garden is a repository of a number of medicinal and ornamental plants and is worth a visit.
The museum houses a number of artifacts including bronze objects, artworks made of terracotta, from 13th and 14th century BC. They belong to the Mycenaean civilization. It is home to many sculptures excavated from the site. The most famous among those are the statue of Hermes with infant Dionysus, Nike of Paionios and pediments and metopes from the temple of Zeus.
Covered with poppy and chamomile flowers, the ruins of once flourishing civilization remind of the glory of the now lost Greek civilization. The Olympics united the several warring Greek cities and promoted the ideals of ‘noble rivalry and fair playing.’ Keep a look out for the temple of Zeus, the temple of Hera, the Echo Stoa and the entrance to the stadium.
Temple of Zeus
Olympia, a sanctuary of Zeus, was home to the impressive temple of Zeus. A model of the ‘Doric order’, it had six columns in the narrow side and thirteen on the long side. Marble sculptures depicting mythological scenes decorated the two pediments. The East pediment depicts the struggle between the Pelips and Oinomaos and the West pediment, the fight between Lapiths and centaurs. The twelve interior slabs (metopae) depict the twelve labours of Hercules. Earthquakes in the 6th centuryAD destroyed the temple(Source: informational slab at site). A single marble column remains standing at the site now.
This temple housed the colossal thirteen meter tall statue of Zeus. It was built by the renowned Athenian sculptor Phidias. Regarded as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, gold, ivory, and precious stones adorned it and it finds mention in several historical texts. It is believed that the statue was burnt in the fire of Constantinople in the 5th century AD.
Temple of Hera
Only a few columns survive at the restored site but this temple, dedicated to Hera, the queen of Greek Gods, is one of the most venerable. The Olympic flame was lit at the altar of this temple and carried to the rest of the world.
During excavation, a covered walkway, typically colonnaded, was discovered. It derives its name because a word used to echo seven times when spoken. It is built next to the stadium.
Museum of the history of the Olympic Games of Antiquity
Entry ticket: € 2, reduced: € 1
The museum contains a collection of artifacts related to the ancient Olympic games. There are urns with depictions of games on them, coins with related images and the objects that were used for practice. The core competitions held were foot racing, wrestling, boxing and chariot racing. The participants underwent a tough training regimen and the winners were treated as glorious heroes. Only unmarried women were allowed to watch the games, married women were punishable by death (misogyny is as old as so called ‘patriarchal civilizations’). Women weren’t allowed to participate in games.
The museum has a number of working models based on principles given by Archimedes, many of them being interactive. You can easily spend a couple of hours there. I had the bus leaving on the same day so I could barely spend half an hour there but I highly recommend visiting it. It is on the main road. Most places were closed on the day I reached as it was Labor day, so I couldn’t utilize my time very well.
Sightseeing around the town
There are plenty of art galleries, jewelry shops with traditional Greek designs and cafes on the main street. You can spend a pleasant evening strolling. I even won a lottery in one of the shops. For €2, the shop owner offered me to draw out a paper slip. I won a sterling silver ring and a chance to draw again. As I drew the second time around, I won a beautiful pendant.
I had a bus to Kalamata, about which you can read here, via Pyrgos that afternoon, but the bus was running late but that is a story for another time. I hope this post helps you in planning some of the things to do in a day in Olympia.