Ancient Olympian Spirit Inspiring the Revival of Modern Olympic Games

Olympia is one of the most important archaeological sites in all of Greece. You will find it in the western part of Peloponnese. This is where the Olympic Games took place in the ancient years. The spirit of the ancient Olympic Games inspired the revival of the Games in modern times.

Why visit Ancient Olympia?

The Olympic Games were held in honour of Zeus, the greatest Greek god, and it included a series of athletic competitions with representatives from all Greek city-states. Giving birth to Olympic winners was a huge honour for a city-state, and the only prize for the winner was an olive branch. Among the interesting sights in Olympia Greece today are the Stadium, the temples of Zeus and Hera, the old palestra, and the workshop of Phidias. If going during your holidays, do not miss a visit to the Archaeological Museum where you will see impressive sculptures like Hermes of Praxiteles.

The archaeological site of ancient Olympia. The place where olympic games were born in classical times and where the Olympic torch today is ignited, Peloponnese, Greece
The archaeological site of ancient Olympia. The place where olympic games were born in classical times and where the Olympic torch today is ignited.

What is Olympia Greece famous for?

Olympia is also famous for the gigantic ivory and gold statue of Zeus that used to stand there, sculpted by Pheidias, which was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World by Antipater of Sidon. Very close to the Temple of Zeus which housed this statue, the studio of Pheidias was excavated in the 1950s. Evidence found there, such as sculptor’s tools, corroborates this opinion. The ancient ruins sit north of the Alfeios River and Mount Kronos (named after the Greek deity Kronos). The Kladeos, a tributary of the Alfeios, flows around the area. It’s located in Peloponnese. In Ancient Greece, Olympia was sacred ground to the Greeks.

When was Olympia Greece founded?

Aerial view of the archaeological site of Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the world famous Olympic games, Peloponnese, Greece
Aerial view of the archaeological site of Ancient Olympia, birthplace of the world famous Olympic games

Both games were held every Olympiad (i.e., every four years), the Olympic Games dating back possibly further than 776 BC. In 394 A.D., (after exactly 1170 years) emperor Theodosius abolished them as they were then considered reminiscent of paganism. They started again many centuries later, in 1896, originally an idea by the French baron Pierre de Coubertin.

The sanctuary, known as the Altis, consists of an unordered arrangement of various buildings. Enclosed within the temenos (sacred enclosure) are the Temple of Hera (or Heraion/Heraeum) and Temple of Zeus, the Pelopion and the area of the altar, where the sacrifices were made. The hippodrome and later stadium were also to the east.

Olympia archeological site Peloponnese Greece

To the north of the sanctuary can be found the Prytaneion and the Philippeion, as well as the array of treasuries representing the various city states. The Metroon lies to the south of these treasuries, with the Echo Stoa to the East. To the south of the sanctuary is the South Stoa and the Bouleuterion, whereas the West side houses the Palaestra, the workshop of Pheidias, the Gymnasion and the Leonidaion.

Sightseeing in Olympia

The stadium of Ancient Olympia, Peloponnese Greece
The stadium of Ancient Olympia
  • Ancient Stadium – is the spot where most ancient Olympic Games used to take place. The racetrack is more than 200 meters long, and 30-34 meters wide.
  • Temple of Hera – this temple dedicated to the goddess Hera is one of the oldest temples in Greece. It was constructed in the 7th century B.C. in the Dorian style. This is the altar where the Olympic Flame is lit today before the games.
  • Temple of Zeus – is located near the stadium. It was built of marble and limestone in the 5th century B.C. by a local architect. According to historical records it was inside this temple the giant golden statue of Zeus was found.
  • Palestra – the palestra is located near the river of Kladeos, west of the Altis enclosure. It was built in the third century B.C. as part of the gymnasium complex, where it was used for practicing wrestling, boxing, and jumping.
  • Philippeion – this temple is the only circular building inside the Altis. This fine example of ancient Greek architecture was dedicated to Zeus by Philip II of Macedon. It is located west of the temple of Hera.
  • Archaeological Museum of Olympia – is considered one of the best museums in Greece, hosting findings from the ancient site and other excavations in the surrounding area. It has many rooms, all well labelled. It is here you will find the statues of Hermes of Praxiteles and of Nike Paionios.
  • Museum of Ancient Olympic Games – is housed in the old archaeological museum in Ancient Olympia. Here all findings related to the ancient games from the entire area is on display.
  • Archimedes Museum – if you have time enough you should visit this explanatory museum where the exhibits are accompanied by audio-visual material, in Greek and English, with a lot of information, photos, detailed diagrams, and bibliographical references.
  • Olympic Flame Lighting – is taking place several months before the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games every four years.

Site plan of Ancient Olympia

Site plan of ancient Olympia, Peloponnese Greece
1: North-East Propylon – 2: Prytaneion – 3: Philippeion – 4: Temple of Hera – 5: Pelopion – 6: Nymphaeum of Herodes Atticus – 7: Metroon – 8: Treasuries – 9: Crypt (arched way to the stadium) – 10: Stadium – 11: Echo stoa – 12: Building of Ptolemy II and Arsinoe – 13: Hestia stoa – 14: Hellenistic building – 15: Temple of Zeus – 16: Altar of Zeus – 17: Ex-voto of Achaeans – 18: Ex-voto of Mikythos – 19: Nike of Paeonius – 20: Gymnasion – 21: Palaestra – 22: Theokoleon – 23: Heroon – 24: Phidias’ workshop and paleochristian basilica – 25: Baths of Kladeos – 26: Greek baths – 27 and 28: Hostels – 29: Leonidaion – 30: South baths – 31: Bouleuterion – 32: South stoa – 33: Villa of Nero
Greece Olympia, ancient ruins of the important Philippeion in Olympia, birthplace of the olympic games - UNESCO world heritage site
The ancient ruins of the important Philippeion in Olympia, birthplace of the olympic games – UNESCO world heritage site

Where is Olympia Greece?

Olympia is a small town in western Peloponnese peninsula in Greece, famous for its nearby archaeological site. It lies in the valley of the river Alfeiós, about 20 km from Pyrgos, 50 km southwest of Lampeia and 4 km north of Krestena. The highway along the coast passes the ancient ruins.

Map of western Peloponnese

Map of northwestern Peloponnese and Kastro-Kyllini in Greece
Map of northwestern Peloponnese and Kastro-Kyllini – Click to enlarge map

How to reach Olympia Greece?

You have different options to reach the archaeological site of ancient Olympia.

Nearest airport to Olympia Greece

The nearest airports to Olympia are the ones in Patra, Kalamata, and Athens. The airports of Patra and Kalamata are operating only during the summer, receiving chart flights and low-cost flights from abroad. The international airport of Athens “Eleftherios Venizelos” receives domestic and international flights all year. You can reach Olympia from all three cities by bus or car.

Bus to Olympia

Olympia is connected to Pyrgos by the KTEL buses. If you come from Athens or any other place in Peloponnese first, you therefore need to reach Pyrgos first.

Katakolo port

Panorama of Katakolo port, where cruise ships land for ancient Olympia, Greece
Panorama of Katakolo port, where cruise ships land for ancient Olympia

Many summer guests arrive during their cruise trip in the Mediterranean at Katakolo on the west coast of Peloponnese, Usually, the stop is for a single day to visit ancient Olympia.

The ruins of the Doric temple of Hera, the largest religious building archaic time in Olympia. Before this temple with the help of modern mirrors lit the Olympic flame. Ancient Olympia, Peloponnese Greece

Olympia Tour


Train to Olympia

During the summer season you can travel from Katakolo port to the ancient site of Olympia on special routes carried out by train. The journey lasts approx. 45 min. Timetables and itineraries

By car to Olympia

If you go by car from Athens, you need to follow the Greek National Road to Patra and from there to follow the route for Pyrgos and Olympia. The distance from Athens to Olympia is approximately 340 km.

Olympia archeological site Peloponnese Greece

Olympia – Full day Tour


Things to do in the region of Olympia

In the village of Olympia located just outside the archaeological site is a cozy tourist village with many facilities, restaurants, rooms for rent and shops. It is pretty village set in lush green. Activities to do in the region include cycling and hiking.

Discovery and excavations

Hermes takes the infant Dionysos to the Nymphs to nurse him, Hermes of Praxitelous, Olympia Museum, Peloponnese, Greece
Hermes and the Infant Dionysos, Archaeological Museum of Olympia

Over time the site was buried under layers of sand and other deposits, up to 8 meters deep, long thought to be the result of river flooding. Modern research hypothesizes instead—based on the presence of mollusc and gastropod shells and foraminifera— that the site was buried by ocean waters resulting from repeated tsunamis.

The exact site was re-discovered in 1766 by the English antiquarian Richard Chandler. The first excavation of the sanctuary at Olympia was not carried out until 1829, by the French “Expedition Scientifique de Moree”.

Hermes of Praxiteles

Hermes and the Infant Dionysos, also known as the Hermes of Praxiteles is an ancient Greek sculpture of Hermes and the infant Dionysus discovered in 1877 in the ruins of the Temple of Hera at Olympia. It is displayed at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia.

It is traditionally attributed to Praxiteles and dated to the 4th century BC, based on a remark by the 2nd century Greek traveller Pausanias, and has made a major contribution to the definition of Praxitelean style. Its attribution is, however, the object of fierce controversy among art historians.
The sculpture is unlikely to have been one of Praxiteles’ famous works, as no ancient replicas of it have been identified. The documentary evidence associating the work with Praxiteles is based on a passing mention by the 2nd-century AD traveller Pausanias.