The wider world: Olympia

The stadium, Olympia

The stadium, Olympia

Olympia
Olympia, a sanctuary of Zeus and Hera in Elis on the Peloponnese, is famous for having been the site of the Olympic Games in classical times. Below the distinctive conical Hill of Kronos, the Olympic Games were held every four years throughout classical antiquity. The first formal Olympic Games in 776 BC were in honour of Zeus; the games then continued for 1200 years until they were stopped in 393 AD by the Christian emperor Theodosius I. The poet Pindar wrote victory odes for 14 of the Olympic winners.

Creatures for a day! What is a man?
What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days. (Pindar – Pythian 8)

The classical period, between the 5th and 4th centuries BC, was the golden age of the site at Olympia. A wide range of new religious and secular buildings and structures was constructed. For example, the Temple of Zeus was built in the middle of the 5th century BC. Its size, scale and ornamentation was beyond that of anything previously constructed on the site: the seated statue of Zeus by Phidias became one of the wonders of the ancient world. Further sporting facilities, including the final layout of the stadium, and the hippodrome (for chariot-racing) were also constructed.

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