Olympics in Olympic Olympia
4th March 2015
Greece has long been a popular tourist destination, renowned for its warm weather, fresh cuisine, charming locals and extensive mythology with focus on the Greek gods. A cruise around the East Mediterranean region will take you to Katakolon, which provides the perfect gateway to Olympia in Greece. With the perfect combination of strong winds and warm weather, your Star Clippers wind sail ship will allow you to effortlessly glide across the waters on a journey filled with history and wonder.
After travelling from Katakolon to Olympia, you will be greeted with a beautiful array of pine and plain trees that make the area very pleasant to walk around. This site is significant in the history of the Olympics and for Greece as a whole.
The history of Olympia stretches far back in time – when it was known as Altis; a sacred grove dedicated to the Mother Goddess before moving to the flanks of Mount Kronon and dedicated to Kronos, God of time. Kronos was supplanted by his son, Zeus, and the site became a place of pilgrimage.
Historical records suggest the Ancient Olympics started between 950 – 776BC in Olympia and the beginning of each Olympic Games was marked by the lighting of the sacred flames, which would remain lit for a month in late summer every four years. This soon became the most important religious festival and cultural event of the Greek world.
In ancient times, the Olympic Games were one of four great game festivals were held in Greece including: The Isthmian Games; Nemean Games; and Pythian Games. These events would alternate in a four year cycle between the Olympic Games and became known as an Olympiad.
All hostilities stopped during the month of the games and as many as 200,000 people from around the known world at the time were thought to have attended the games. The event became so important that even wars were stopped during the games.
The flame which burns throughout the games has become the iconic sight of the Olympics and is duly put out to mark the end of competition. In ancient times, an altar was placed in Olympia and dedicated to the goddess Hera. This altar maintained a continuous flame and fire was considered to have divine connotations by Greeks as it was thought to have been stolen from the gods by Prometheus.
The games only lasted five days and competitors participated in sports that included: wrestling, boxing, running, javelin and discus throwing, horseback racing and chariot racing. These games also attracted many poets, artists and cult religion followers gathered during the event and many temples were erected over the years including the Temple of Zeus – one of the Ancient Wonders of the World.
The games continued for over 1,000 years before suffering decline in the Roman period, particularly after Emperor Theodosius outlawed the pagan cults. As a result of this, the last Ancient Olympic Games were held in 393 AD.
Over 1,500 years passed by until it was decided that the Olympic Games be revived and opened up to the world in a bid to help promote friendship between nations. The first of these Modern Olympic Games was held in Olympia but it wasn’t until 1900 that female athletes were allowed to participate. Throughout ancient Olympic history, the Herea Games, named after Zeus’ wife Hera, were held every four years and allowed female athletes the chance to compete.
Traditionally, as was the case with the ancient Olympics, the modern Olympic flame of today is ignited at the site where the temple of Hera once stood. It is lit several months before the games are due to commence by 11 women who represent the Vestal Virgins. The torch is lit by the concentration of the sun’s rays, using a parabolic mirror. The torch is then taking a short relay of Greece during which it is taken to the Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens for a ceremony.
It is amazing to think that the grandiose Olympic opening ceremonies which have gone by all involved a flame created in Olympia. This blog, however, is merely scraping the surface of the history of the Olympic torch in Olympia.
The best way to find out more is to experience it for yourself! Climb aboard a beautiful Star Clippers traditional sailing ship and experience the Mediterranean, and other regions of the world such as the Caribbean and South America, like never before.