Olympia - History and Facts | History Hit


Ancient Olympia, Peloponnese, West Greece and Ionian Sea, Greece

Olympia was a city in Ancient Greece from which today’s Olympic Games originate and is now an important archaeological site protected by UNESCO.

Image Credit: Shutterstock

About Olympia

Olympia was a vibrant Ancient Greek city. It is believed that the site of Olympia was inhabited from 3000 BC, however it was after the fall of the Mycenaean civilisation that the city began to flourish and, by 900 BC it was already considered an important religious site.

Olympia history

In 776 BC the first Olympic Games were held in the city in honour of the Greek deity, Zeus. The games at Olympia were a national event and attracted participants and spectators from around the country, raising Olympia’s status. They would continue until 394 AD when  Roman Emperor Theodosius I, seeing them as a “pagan cult”, put them to an end.

Over time, the city began to develop and grow. Today the result of this gradual growth can be seen at Olympia through sites such as the Treasuries, the Temple of Hera, both of religious importance and contained in the sacred precinct known as the Altis and the Pelopion, the supposed tomb of the mythical Pelops. These were built in around 600BC.

Even the stadium in which the Olympic Games were played was upgraded, a purpose built area being built in around 560 BC and able to seat approximately 50,000 people. The remains of this impressive stadium are still visible today.

Olympia reached its peak during the classical period and it was at this time that many of the other sites which can be seen there now were built, most notably the Temple of Zeus. This was a vast religious structure the ruins of which were located in the Altis area.

The Temple of Zeus was later entirely destroyed, first by fire and then in an earthquake. Archaeologists were however able to excavate several sculptures and artefacts believed to have originated from the building, which are now on show at the nearby Olympia Archaeological Museum.

Other impressive sites at Olympia were built later during the Hellenistic Period. These include the remains of the 4th century BC Philippeion memorial, dedicated to King Philip II of Macedon and his family (which included Alexander the Great, Philip’s son).

There are also several other impressive sites, many of them built during the Roman period.

Olympia today

Olympia is well signposted, making it easy to tour the site and understand how it might have looked in its heyday. If you want to know more about Olympia, you can visit the Olympia Archaeological Museum.

The ancient stadium is one of the must see attractions, with many visitors testing their speed in running races to this day. It was here that the shot put event was held, during the 2004 Olympic Games.

There is also a Museum of the History of the Olympic Games at Olympia.

Getting to Olympia

Reaching Olympia from Athens takes roughly 4 hours by car. Buses also run between Olympia and the Greek capital, although one day tours are not feasible given the distance.

Olympia is roughly 2 hours drive from Patras and 2 hours drive from Tripoli in the Central Peloponnese.

Parking is available at the site.

Featured In

Ancient Greek Ruins

Immerse yourself in classical history by stepping into the world of Ancient Greece. Here's our pick of 10 essential sites to visit.

Greece Historic Sites

Alongside its contributions to philosophy, astrology, and medicine, Greece's sites from classical antiquity have stood the test of time. Here are 10 must-see sites for any visiting history enthusiast.

Roman Ruins Greece

Along with Ancient Greek ruins, Greece's Roman ruins hold a unique insight into the country's changeable past. Enjoy our pick of 10 that you can't miss.

Greek Temples

The ultimate guide to the very best Greek temples in the world, from Agrigento to Paestum and more, includes an interactive map surviving temples from Ancient Greece.