After the spectacular scenery of Santorini, we headed to the home of one of the world’s biggest sporting events. With blue skies and warm sunshine, we sat back and enjoyed our trip down the Greek coast to the small port of Katakolon or Katakolo.
After departing the ship, we walked through a shopping parade with plenty of taxi drivers and bus companies offering to take you to Olympia. We had decided to take the local train but finding the station was not that easy because it is only has two small platforms and does not stand out from other buildings. There was a little kiosk where you buy your ticket which is a very reasonable 10 Euros for the return journey and waited for the train. There are generally three trains a day to Olympia and three trains back, so you do need to find out the timetables.
Eventually the quite modern train arrived and we began our 45 minute ride to Olympia. One of the joys of train travel is that you sit back and look at the various landscapes. The train went through the quite large town of Pyrgos and then it was fields and countryside till we finally arrived at Olympia.
From the station it is a short walk to the archaeological site and museums. You will see groups of people going onto the site but before you are allowed in, you must get a ticket from the wooden booking office. The tickets are a very reasonable 6 Euros which gives you admission to the archaeological site and museums.
Olympia was a major religious sanctuary of ancient Greece, where the ancient Olympic Games were held every four years from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. The archaeological site is within a wide valley next to the small Alfeiós River.
Despite the thousands of people, the setting is very peaceful with trees, woodland and hills in the distance. Before fully investigating the site, it is worth looking at the boards which show the buildings before they were ruins. On the site in its prime were over 70 major buildings, and ruins give some idea of the enormous scale of the temples and other important buildings.
One of the biggest buildings was the Temple of Zeus which had a statue of Zeus that was the cult image in his temple, sculpted by Pheidias and considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Unfortunately the statue is long gone but the size of the stones give some indication of its enormous size of the temple.
The first Olympic festival took place in around 776 BC, but the site was continually redeveloped over the centuries. One of the most familiar parts of the site is the stadium which provided the template for all the other stadiums that followed.
When you go through the vaulted archway into the stadium, you do get a sense of the history of the place. The large banked grass terraces would have been covered by thousands of people watching the action on the track.
The stone starting line is still there and I offered to give Mrs Nice a race over the course. Instead she raced over to a stone where the victors used to stand and said she was the winner.
We spent quite a lot of time in the stadium which is in a lovely setting before making our way out, just outside the stadium is a row of stones called the Bases of Zane which were statues of Zeus paid by fines from athletes that had cheated. Somethings never change, we said as we thought how the modern games had fallen prey to doping and cheating.
The boards in front of the ruins provided lots of interesting information about the buildings like the Philippeion, Temple of Hera, Palaestra, Metroon and Treasuries. However we thought it time to visit the museums before making our way back to the station.
When we got to the museums, we were surprised to see long queues. We had visited Athens some years ago and visited many museums so was not too disappointed to get in. Instead we decided to wander back into the town and have a cup of coffee at one of the many cafes near the station.
As we sat down, we both suggested that unlike many tourist sites, Olympia was inexpensive and happy to let the visitors imagination do the work recreating some of the excitement of the ancient Olympic games.
The train back to Katakolo was a little busier but we quickly got back to the port and had a look around the shops before go back on board.
Even from the ancient times, people realised that sport was better than going around killing each other and although the site is now in ruins, its ideals are still with us and stronger than ever.
Old Fogies Travels are the adventures of two elderly Londoners (The Old Fogies) as they explore their home town and travel around the world looking out for the strange, unusual and absurd.
Our articles are published on our blog but also listed on the website of our friends at Visiting London Guide.com here