Olympia – the history of a city in Greece

(ORDO NEWS) — Olympus, the sacred mountain on which the gods lived, is located on the border of Thessaly and Macedonia. The small town of Olympia, located in the west of the Peloponnese, has nothing to do with the divine Olympus. But it was this Olympia that gained worldwide fame and eclipsed the northern Olympia. The Olympic Games have been held here for centuries, during which wars stopped and peace came.

Olympia – a city in Greece

According to myth, Olympia existed even before the birth of Zeus. And in the city there was already a temple dedicated to the father of Zeus – Kronos. Kronos was a powerful god and a hideous father: he ate his children. It is not surprising that his wife Rhea hurried to hide the child away from his father’s mouth. And I found a nice dry cave in Crete. And so that this cannibal does not harm the baby, she put in a reliable guard of five demonic creatures. When they got tired of guarding Zeus, they began to compete in running. And one day they went to Olympia for this.

Zeus or Pelop?

According to another version of this myth, not five kurets competed in Olympia, but the entire elite of Olympus. But first, the grown-up Zeus lured Kronos into the sacred grove of Olympia, fought with him and won, and then made him spit out all the swallowed offspring alive and unharmed. To celebrate, he arranged a holiday where the gods competed with each other in strength and dexterity. Apollo emerged victorious, and they crowned him with either a laurel wreath or just a branch of a wild olive.

True, there are other contenders for the role of organizer of the first Olympic Games. Klymen, who was the first to think of lighting a sacrificial fire in Olympia and organizing sports. Endymion, who, through competitions, decided which of his sons was worthy to take the throne after his death. Pelop, who really wanted to marry the daughter of King Enomai – Hippodamia. But the father believed in the prophecies, and the prophecies spoke unambiguously: the one who becomes his son-in-law will kill him.

So Enomai arranged competitions in Olympia and a possible son-in-law, who overtook him in a chariot, simply pierced him with a spear. Pelop bribed the driver and replaced the iron fixture with a wax one. During the competition, the wax melted and Enomai died, and Pelop, of course, married a Greek lady, although he was already her 13th fiancé. Another legend gives the palm to Hercules – they say, it was he who established the sports games in Olympia. And the historian Eusebius even named the date exactly when it happened – 1210 BC.

From legends to history

True, less than a century had passed since the whole of Greece was drawn into long systematic wars. Obviously, everyone was so tired of it that after another 300 years, the Delphic Oracle to the question of the ruler of Elis “What to do?” gave an unequivocal answer: “Revive the Olympics in Olympia.” So it was decided to hold the games every four years, at this time to stop all wars and not let anyone in Olympia with weapons in their hands. However, at first Olympia had to be rebuilt. It was already a very unpresentable town then. Who will go to such a remote place, even for a good purpose? Rebuilt. And they began to hold games. A total of 293 Olympiads are known. The philosopher Hippias of Elis was the first to count the games.

And the first Olympics took place in 776 BC, and the athlete Koreb became the winner. He won the Olympic race. The glory of Olympia grew, the city grew prettier and richer. Olympia acquired not only a sports complex, which had no equal in Greece, but also relics – a sanctuary was erected in the sacred grove over the bone of Pelop himself, a crack in the ground opened at Mount Kronos and his own Olympic oracle appeared, and the master Phidias made such a statue for the temple of Zeus that Pausanias exclaimed with trepidation: “In all Hellas I know only two places where the divine presence is perceptible – Olympia and Eleusis.” Indeed, the statue was considered the seventh wonder of the world for a reason: it was 14 meters high and made entirely of gold with ivory inlay – Zeus himself, and his throne, and his cloak, and his shoes, and a bird in his hand, and a scepter, on where she sits. And Zeus was reflected in all his glory in the waters of a pool filled with a mixture of water and olive oil. Everyone who enters the temple, let him prostrate himself.

Games, albeit intermittently, continued throughout the history of Hellas. The Romans did not feel such piety, but they did not forbid their conduct either. However, some emperors took to the wealth of Olympia and periodically took away some valuable jewelry to the capital. Particularly ill fame was entrenched for Nero, he took 3,000 statues from Olympia. But the end of the ancient Olympic movement was put by the Christian emperor Theodosius the Great. In 394, he banned them on pain of death as pagan games. And in 426, Olympia itself came to an end. It either burned out, or was washed away by a giant wave, or it died during a strong earthquake, or it was destroyed by order of Theodosius II, another Christian emperor.

In search of the lost

Olympia was well known in the Middle Ages, only no one remembered where she was. A little later, historians even tried to find it, then everything antique began to come into fashion. The first tourists went to gaze at the ancient ruins. But the information was extremely inaccurate. The name became the main reference point for lovers of antiquities. If Olympia is right, it’s right next to Olympus. Alas, besides Olympus of Thessaly, there were a dozen more mountains of the same name.

Olympia was discovered by the English antiquary Richard Chandrell in 1766. After 20 years, the French traveler Louis Fauvel went there, who described the city in detail and made sketches. In 1788, the first plan for the ruins of Olympia was published. In 1829, French archaeologists appeared there and began excavations. The Temple of Zeus was cleared of debris and earth, scientists removed metopes, that is, stone slabs with reliefs depicting the exploits of Hercules, rejoiced at their good preservation, loaded onto a ship and sent to France.

The second stage of the study of Olympia came 40 years later. Now it was the German expedition of Ernst Curtius. The Greeks, taught by bitter experience, set a condition: all finds will not leave the country. There were many finds, and at first they were sent to Athens, and in 1877 a museum was created in Olympia itself. The Germans turned out to be much more successful than the French – and more efficient. For six field seasons, they cleared almost the entire center of the complex – the sanctuary of Pelope, the temple of Hera, the stadium, the bouleuterion, and found many artifacts. With short breaks, one German expedition followed another. A sacred grove, a gymnasium and the remains of a triumphal arch from Roman times were found.

It turned out that the earliest temple complexes of Olympia date back to the 6th century BC. It was then that the temple of Hera, the treasury and the bouleuterion were built. In the 5th century BC, a portico appeared over the tomb of Pelop and the temple of Olympian Zeus, at the same time the portico of Echo was built, which the ancients called the Poikile picture gallery, and the stone-cutting workshop where Phidias worked was also built at the same time.

A century later, a wall was erected around the sacred Altis grove, the sanctuary of the Mother of All Gods, a stadium and a hotel for visitors. In the next three centuries, the area of ​​the sports complex increased significantly, baths for athletes appeared, a swimming pool, the sanctuary of the Mother of All Gods turned into a temple to Augustus. From the beginning of the new era, construction and rebuilding became insignificant. Perhaps the remains of the arch of Nero have survived. And the upper layers, dating back to the beginning of Christianity, are a pile of stone fragments and charred wood.

Open-air museum

Today, on the site of Olympia, there is an archaeological park, where you can see the preserved remains of the temples of Olympian Zeus, Hera, the Mother of all gods, visit the round Philippeyon building in the sacred grove, dedicated to Alexander the Great and his family. There is a Pelopeion with an altar on which sacrifices were made, Prytaneion, where a hearth with a sacred fire burned, the first stadium, where the Olympic torch is still lit today, the ruins of Leonidio, that is, an ancient hotel where eminent guests stayed.

But the main finds that cannot be entrusted to an open-air museum are kept in the nearby Olympia Museum, which has 12 rooms. Basically, these are fragments of stone pediment decorations, metopes, numerous statues, stucco moldings, zoomorphic bronze items, busts with inlaid eyes, bronze door handles and stands for cauldrons, masks, vases, ceramic toys and dishes, excellent stone sculpture, as well as votive and votive figurines.

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