Around the block from the hotel we come to the archaeological site at Olympia, where the Olympic Games were first held in the 8th century BC as a tribute to Zeus. They were held every four years and it was the only purpose of the town. It was a pilgrimage for athletes (just men….in the nude…) to both compete and worship Zeus and Hera. It was fairly easy to imagine the layout while walking the grounds: the Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Temple of Zeus (one full corner column was reconstructed in honor of the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece and the statue of Zeus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), the Temple of Hera, and of course the Stadium. The stadium’s only seats were for the judges, while everyone else got comfy on the grassy banks. And it was not an oval race track, but a straight one. We of course had to run the ancient stadium. The Altar of Hera was the other cool site as it is still used today to light the torch for the Olympic Games every four years – which is interesting since women were not allowed even as spectators. They did eventually have their own Heraean Games.
We then walked to the archaeological museum on the site. They found an incredible number of artifacts and were able to put together a lot of pieces. The east and west pediments from the Temple of Zeus are there and our guide, Elena, explained in exciting detail the stories the pediments are depicting. The West Pediment depicts the battle of the Lapiths and centaurs, with Apollo in the middle looking on. The East Pediment depicts men preparing to race King Oenomaus in a chariot race in order to win his daughter’s hand in marriage. The King has cheated to win every race due to a prophecy that his son-in-law would kill him, but Pelops outsmarts the King, wins, and eventually creates the Olympic Games. Another beautiful statue that was originally in the Temple of Hera: Hermes carries his orphaned little brother, Dionysus, who is reaching for a bunch of grapes as they travel past some vineyards. If you know your mythology, you know the Dionysus is also Bacchus, the God of wine. I definitely did not find mythology so interesting in high school, but now I need to find a book!
We had another delicious Greek lunch then stopped for an olive oil and wine tasting (and time for shopping) before heading North towards Delphi. To reach Delphi, we had to cross from the Peloponnese Peninsula to the mainland of Greece over the Rio-Antirrio Bridge, a very impressive bridge opened in 2004 in time for the Olympic Games. One last stop at a rest stop at sunset on the coast of the Gulf of Corinth before finishing the drive to the Amalia Hotel.