Olympia is a region located in the modern municipality of Ilia in North-West Peloponnese where an ancient city of the same name once existed. It is hypothesised that the site has been inhabited since 3,000 BC but it became of great importance during classical times, from around 776 BC to 394 AD, because this is where the Olympic Games were held every four years. The site was completely abandoned just before 1000 AD and was re-discovered by an Englishman, Richard Chandler, in the 1700’s although archaeological digging at the site did not begin until 1829.
Archaeological finds suggest that Olympia was a ceremonial place from before the establishment of the games. Its fame was widespread all over Greece, reaching as far as the Middle East. When the kings of Sparta and Ilis came to an agreement to hold ceremonial games at Olympia, the site became a center of culture that attracted even larger crowds from all over the ancient world.
Today, Olympia is an archaeological park where one can see some of the ancient building that existed at the site. One of the major archaeological landmarks in Olympia is the temple of Zeus, where the god’s gold and ivory statue – one of the seven ancient wonders – was kept. One can also admire the ruins of the entrance to the stadium, where the games were held, as well as the ruins of the gymnasium, where the athletes exercised. The first modern Olympic Games were held in Olympia when they were re-established in 1896. A ceremony is still held at Olympia on the year of the modern Olympics, during which the Olympic flame is lit and transported to the hosting country.
The modern village of Olympia is located near the archaeological site. Numerous places offering accommodation as well as cafes and restaurants exist in the village that has developed a hospitality industry to accommodate the large numbers of visitors. Pyrgos, the capital city of the municipality of Ilia is located at a distance of 23 Km from the archaeological site.
If you are flying to Athens, you may take the bus or drive for approximately 3 hours to Olympia. You can also fly to Patra and then drive for a little less than 2 hours. The municipality of Ilia has more to offer in terms of country-side excursions as it is for the most part rural. Many beaches can be found along the East coast; one of your best options for beaches is the Zacharo beach, located less than 30 Km South-East of Olympia.