Olympia & Landscape

Ancient Olympia

Olympia, ancient cradle of excellence, of noble competition and peace

  • Birth place of the Olympic Games (776 BC – today)
  • The Games were dedicated to Zeus and the ancient Greek gods
  • Every 4 years, the best men of all ancient civilized world gathered to compete for honor and glory
  • The price: an olive laurel (kotinos) and some olive oil, from Olympia’s ancient olive grove
  • As always, today the Olympic flame is lighten in Olympia to travel all over the world, every 2 years
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The history of Olympia is strongly connected to the Olympic Games. Historical records indicate that the games began in 776 BC as a local festival to honor god Zeus. However, along the centuries, these games gained more and more popularity and all city-states of Greece would send their finest men to participate in the games. This event was so important for the ancient world that even all warfares would stop for a month so that the towns would send their best youth to participate in the games.

This athletic festival occurred every four years and lasted for five days, including wrestling, chariot and horse racing, the pentathlon (discus throwing, javelin throwing, long jump, running and pancratium). However, the athletes would stay for 1 or 2 months before the games in Olympia to practice their sports in Palaestra. Before the games, the high priestess of Olympia marked the beginning of the games lighting the Olympic flame. Also, offerings and ceremonies in the temple of Zeus and the temple of Hera were practiced to ask for the favor of the gods.

The games would take place in the stadium and people would watch them from the hills around it. All athletes were male and would take part in the games in total nudity. Women were forbidden under the penalty of death to part take in the games or even watch them as a spectator. The only woman who could watch the games, and in fact from a privileged spot, was the priestess of the temple of Demeter in Olympia.

There were no seats for the spectators and all people regardless of their social state would sit on the earth. The Hellanodikae, a body of priests, were responsible to name the winners. The reward of the winning athletes was a crown of a wild olive tree, which was enough to honor him, his family and his city for decades. In fact, it was such an honor for a town to born an Olympic winner that they pulled down even a part of their city walls, as the town would be protected by the winner.

At the same time, the political personalities from different parts of Greece took advantage of the games to make speeches and try to resolve differences with each other. The games were also a good opportunity for traders to make business deals.

Unfortunately, in 393 AD, the Olympic Games were suspended by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius, as it was considered a pagan custom. It was the time when Christianity was the dominant religion of the Byzantine empire and everything connected to the ancient Greek spirit was considered pagan. Thus the games were stopped, the temples of Olympic were turned to churches and important statues, among which the golden statue of Zeus, a miracle of the ancient world, was transferred to Constantinople.

The revival of the Olympic Games in the modern era was an idea of the French Baron Pierre de Coubertin, who founded the International Olympic Committee in 1894 and only two years later, in 1896, the first modern Olympic Games took place in Athens, at the renovated Panathenaic Stadium. Since then, the games take place every 4 years in a different place in the world every time.



Olympia and Olive tree, an eternal bond of spirit and nature

  • Olympia, Olive tree and Greece are identical concepts through the ages
  • Olive trees occupied the hills of Olympia since ever. And still do!
  • Olive tree was the integral symbol of health, victory, honor and unity
  • Valuable, indispensable, considered “divine” even, olive tree was interlaced with every aspect of ancient Greek civilization
  • Its fruits and their juice, are the foundations of the renowned Greek diet, or of the “Mediterranean diet” as we know it today.

The olive tree has been an integral symbol of Peace, Victory, Honor and Unity since ancient times. It was also a symbol of the Olympic ideal as an olive branch was the only prize for the Olympic victors, nevertheless very valuable and important.

The institution of the Olympic Games began in 776 BC. in ancient Olympia in honor of the god Zeus, at a time when Greece was disrupted by civil wars, a holy truce was put in place so that athletes and pilgrims could arrive safely. In the beginning the prize for the winners was a sacred apple, but after the prophecy from the Oracle of Delphi, the winners had to be crowned with a wreath of ‘’kotino” wild fertile olive.

Also very well-known is the relationship of the olive tree with sports competitions and ceremonies in ancient Greece.

Athletes anointed their bodies with oil, which they removed at the end of the race with the help of a metal ‘blade’, called a Strigel (στλεγγίδα).

The history of important Greek cities such as Ancient Olympia, Delphi, Mycenae and more cannot be fully understood without a thorough and detailed analysis of their landscape. Their grandeur is due to the constant attention to their land and communities.

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Olympian Valley, uniquely serene and fertile land

  • Lies between two rivers, Alpheios and Kladeos, in the Western Peloponnese
  • Low hills and smooth fields forms a breathtaking landscape of unmistakable beauty
  • The climate is typical Mediterranean: snowless humid winters with constant rain followed by dry sunny Greek summers
  • A place so ideal for the cultivation of the olive tree, as if it was “designed” just for that!
  • No question why the olive tree is a “native inhabitant” in this land for centuries
Olympia & Landscape
Olympia & Landscape

Ancient Olympia is positioned in a serene and fertile valley between the Alpheios and the Kladeos rivers in western Peloponnese, in Elis. It was the host of the Olympic games for a thousand years in antiquity.

The terrain’s morphology is with low hills and plains in which flows as mentioned above 2 historical rivers of Olympia. Alphaeus and Cladeus, a source of life, prosperity and inspiration for Mythology from ancient times till today.The climate is strictly Mediterranean with many rains in winter and dry summers with the simultaneous absence of snow and ice which makes it ideal for growing olives. This is the main reason that olive trees are preserved for over a thousand years. Three of them belong to the Karabela family, one you can admire if you choose to visit Agriturismo Magna Grecia and The Olive Temple.