Greece is a country that just oozes history. Many of the people that visit only ever visit the white sandy beaches or perhaps the Parthenon/Acropolis…maybe a ruin that happens to be close to their resort. For me, I wanted to see more than just the typical and easy to reach attractions, though I will admit that the Parthenon should not be missed. More about that later…but for now, I wanted to see ancient Olympia.
We ended up reaching Greece at the seaside port of Patras, a busy shipping hub and the main port of call for those traveling from Italy and points west. After hopping back on the Goldwing we wound our way out of the busy town and started for the mountains of the Peloponnese. I was instantly captured by the huge snow-capped, rugged-peaked mountains of the interior of the Peloponnese. They looked like they were ripped from the greatest mountain chains of the world. They were tree lined up to a point, above which it was just green grasses and then barren dolimitic rock to the top. It was mesmerizing to watch them change as we wound our way up and through the mountain roads on our way to our first stop, Olympia.
The Original Starting Line
I was fascinated to learn a little more about the city from which the Olypmics gets its name. The site was first used for Olympic sport dating back to 800 BC! The Olympics were held every four years, more or less continuously until 400 AD in this very spot. The first buildings were constructed around 600 BC and included temples, treasuries, baths, a hippodrome for chariot races, and of course the Temple of Zeus. The highlight for me was to see the starting line at the stadium. Basically a modest size “field” of sorts surrounded on all sides by a sloping hillside for spectators, the stadium had a dramatic entryway for the competitors. It gave me the chills to walk through that breezeway to think of the thousands of ancients that walked the path before me to compete at the highest level.
Ancient Olympia lost to Time and the Elements
For centuries the ancient site of Olympia was lost to history. The whole area was covered by sand and silt over hundreds of years. At first it was thought it was covered by floods of the neighboring Alfios Potamos (river), and that may be partly true. But with the discovery of many layers of marine mollusks and gastropods, the current theory is that it was buried by multiple tsunamis during the very violent recent geologic past. Imagine that, nearly 30 feet of ocean deposits more than 300 feet above the level of the sea, from tsunamis!
Walking the Ancient Site
In walking around ancient Olympia, I couldn’t stop thinking about the tens of thousands that made a daily life here hundreds and even a thousand or more years ago. To see them toiling away, building temples, growing food, raising families, competing in athletic events, welcoming people from around Europe and beyond, what a fascinating place this must have been for hundreds of years. The extensive buildings and infrastructure they built evince a very sacred and popular place for generations.