In western Peloponnese, in the “Valley of Gods”, lies the most celebrated sanctuary of ancient Greece and the birthplace of the Olympic Games, the most significant athletic event of all times. Olympia is one of the most well known destinations in Greece and one of the most powerful brand names worldwide. Visit the archaeological site of Olympia, which includes two museums and the buildings of the sacred Altis: the ancient Gymnasium, the Palaestra, the Vouleuterion, the Temples of Hera and Zeus. East of the Altis lies the stadium of Olympia, where the Olympic Games were held in a spirit of noble emulation. During the games a sacred truce was established between the participating city-states. The prize for the winners was an olive wreath also known as kotinos. Visitors can walk through the impressive ruins, where ancient Olympians used to honor their gods or train for athletic events. They can also visit the museum and get the chance to see some of the most renowned exhibits, such as Hermes of Praxiteles, Nike of Paeonius as well as the sculpted decoration of the Temple of Zeus. The west pediment of the Temple of Zeus depicts a battle between the Lapith Greeks and the Centaurs.
Altis, the sacred grove with its olive trees, pine trees, planes, poplars and oaks was first formed during the tenth and ninth centuries BC, when the cult of Zeus was probably established and Olympia was subsequently devoted exclusively to worship.
In 775 BC, Iphitos, king of Elis, Kleosthenes of Pisa and Lykourgos of Sparta reorganized the Olympic Games in honor of Zeus and instituted the sacred truce. Soon the quadrennial event acquired a Panhellenic character. Only free male Greek citizens were allowed to participate in the festival. Greeks from the Caspian Sea, the Pillars of Hercules or even Africa converged on Olympia either to attend the athletic event or to compete. Among them were philosophers, heroes and renowned men of antiquity. According to the Olympic Truce, wars were suspended during the Games. The truce was respected by all city-states for many centuries. Moreover, the Statue of Iphitos crowned by a woman, Ekecheiria, in the Temple of Zeus is a symbol of the Sacred Truce and the cessation of hostilities. The Games lasted five days and included foot race, equestrian events, discus throw, javelin throw, long jump, boxing, wrestling as well as the pentathlon. The prize for the winner was an olive wreath also known as kotinos. Furthermore, champions were honored as heroes, poets and musicians sang paeans of praise for them and sculptors made their statues, which were erected in a prominent location.
During the Archaic Period monumental buildings, such as the Temple of Hera, the Prytaneion, the Vouleuterion, were constructed. The sanctuary continued to flourish during the Classical Period, when the glorious Temple of Zeus (470-456 BC) as well as baths, treasuries and the Stoas were erected and the stadium moved outside the sacred Altis. Around 430 BC the Statue of Zeus, a sculpture of ivory plates and gold panels, was made by the famous Greek sculptor Phidias and erected in the Temple of Zeus in Olympia. The statue was regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
During the Hellenistic period the construction of buildings, such as the Gymnasium and the Palaestra continued, while in Roman times numerous luxurious residences, hot baths and an aqueduct were built. The countless statues, monuments and precious religious objects were lost, since the sacred area of Altis was repeatedly pillaged. The sanctuary continued to function during the first years of Christian rule under Constantine the Great. The last Olympic Games were held in 393 AD since Theodosius I banned them for being pagan.