Peloponnese-Elia

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General Information for Elia

Elia Olympia - in the western Peloponnese - is located about one third of a mile east of the modern village of Olympia, which has taken advantage of the popularity of the ancient site and it is congested with souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants, cafes and everything that caters to tourism. Although it is over commercialized it retains a very pleasant and serene atmosphere due to its position. Huddled in a concave in the midst of imposing cypress trees, lovely meadows, colourful wild flowers and surrounded by Mt Kronos's verdant foothills. The privileged location of this place is owed to the fact that the Nome Elias is the most fertile part of the Peloponnese, which is irrigated by Alfeios. That beautiful landscape along with the history and tradition of Ancient Olympia prompted Nikos Kazantzakis to write in his ''Report to Greco'': There is no other landscape in Greece that incites so sweetly and persistently peace and reconciliation and continues. With an unerring eye the Greeks had designated it to gather here - all the Greek tribes - in brotherhood, and by choosing it they filled it with meaning, increased its serenity and its conciliatory meekness Ancient Olympia - this sacred space - is the most famous internationally mainly because of the Olympic Games. It had been inhabited since pre-historic times and it took its name due to the fact the Olympian gods resided here. As to when exactly the Olympic Games began is not very clear. It is widely believed that the year was 776 BC and they peaked between the 6th and 4th century BC and continued even later. They had lost, however, their religious character. In 394 AD Emperor Theodossios issued a decree prohibiting all idolatrous festivals while in 426 AD Theodossios II decreed all idolatrous temples be destroyed. The sacred site, originally, gained its fame as a sanctuary of Zeus and Hera although it contained many more shrines, temples, altars, gymnasiums, wrestling schools and sculptors' workshops.

There are two components to Olympia:
the religious shrines and the sports complex. The sacred territory - known as Altis - contained all kinds of shrines and religious sanctifications. The most famous was the Temple of Zeus where Pheidias' great statue (12 metre high) was standing. Theodossios II moved the statue to Constantinople where it was destroyed by a fire in 475 BC.

East of the Altis is the stadium which is entered through an archway. North is the most intact monument of Olympia and that is the 6th-century Temple of Hera of Doric style. East of the temple is the Numphaeum, erected by Herodes Atticus, the wealthy Roman who had built so many other monuments in Athens. Statues of Atticus and his family were housed inside the monument. It also served as a reservoir supplying Olympia with spring water. Between the Numphaeum and the famous stadium 12 treasuries - which resembled miniature temples - were located. West of the Temple of Hera is a circular structure with Ionic columns called the Philippeion - which was built by King Philip (father of Alexander the Great).
The site is enormous, one needs many hours to thoroughly explore everything. Before you begin your tour you should go through the new museum and have a look at the model of the Ancient Olympia, it should be helpful in determining which monuments to visit.

The new Archeological Museum will greatly impress you with its wealth of findings. It is about 220 yards north of the site. The most impressive and the star statue of the museum is the 4th-century masterpiece of Hermes of Praxitelis. The three expressions on his face of: joy, deep thought and sadness (depending at which side you are looking), will overwhelm you. Other important items exhibited are: pediments from the Temple of Zeus, one depicting the chariot race between Pelops and Oinomeos and the other the battle between the Centaurs and Lapiths. There are also metopes depicting the Twelve Labors of Hercules. The terracotta head of Hera is worth-seeing as well.

The museum is open Tue-Fri from 8am to 7pm, Sat and Sun from 8:30 am to 9 pm. Mon 11am to 7pm. Admission appr. $5. Leaving Olympia you could either return to Pyrgos (Elias) where you can make all major (bus and train) connections, or you could continue your travel through Amaliatha, from there it is easy to visit (due to its proximity) the Ionian island of Zakynthos or you go on to Patra.