Because of the destruction of the site by Theodosius and several earthquakes, there is not much left in the way of buildings besides foundations, steps and columns but these are impressive and are in a beautiful setting near the Kladeos river. The area is called The Altis which means The Area Sacred To Zeus; the reason there is anything left is because the flooding of the river buried it until 1875 when archaeologists rediscovered it. The most outstanding building in the site of the Ancient Games is the 5th century Temple of Zeus, built by Livon, which contained the 12-meter-high statue by Phideas, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, which was removed to Constantinople by Theodocious and destroyed in a fire.
The stadium, which could seat at least 20,000 people, was the largest of its kind. The Temple of Hera is where the Olympic flame is lit from the sun and then taken by runners to light the torch wherever the games are being held, a tradition which dates all the way back to 1936 AD. Even today you will notice runners using the area for fun and for practice. The museum is across the road and contains the 4th century BC Statue of Hermes by Praxiteles, familiar to anyone who has taken art history, plus a number of other finds from the excavations including the Nike of Victory by Paeonios. According to Olympic legend, she used to come down from the sky to hand a palm leaf to the winners.
The entire archaeological site of Olympia won't make you stare in awe and marvel at the ancient architecture, however it is a beautiful place to visit and unlike most archaeological sites in Greece which are exposed to the sun and surrounded by vegetation that barely reaches your knees, Olympia is shaded by tall trees and walking through the ruins can be a peaceful and profound experience. Olympia is a place you can visit any time of year and if you can come here when the rest of the tourists are gone you will find it even more enjoyable.
Run The Planet thanks the Greece Travel Guide website (www.greecetravel.com) for the permission to reprint part of the article on Olympia by Matt Barrett.