Adapted from Eyewitness Travel Guide, Greece


Site Plan of Ancient Olympia

(from )


  • began in 776 B. C.
    • oldest recorded date in western history

  • first games were said to consist of a foot race the length of the stadium&–and nothing more

  • a religious festival dedicated to Zeus

  • women were not allowed to participate or even attend

  • victors won a crown of olive

  • during period of Olympic Games, hostilities between city-states were suspended, armies were prohibited from entering Elis, and criminals were not to be executed


  • tumulus (artificial mound) over the presumed grave of Pelops
    • the Peloponnese is named for Pelops


Pelops Competes in a Chariot Race
for the Hand of Hippodamia


  • the central area of Olympia (surrounding the Temple of Zeus)
    • called the Altis
    • from Elean word alsos (‘grove’)

  • victors’ olive wreaths made from olive tree in the sanctuary


  • ruins are from the 3rd century B. C.

  • walkway up to the entrance was lined with statues (called zanes) erected by athletes as a consequence of violating their Olympic oath


  • said to have been laid out by one step of Herakles

  • only seats were for the officials of the Games
    • everyone else sat on the ground


  • built 470 - 457 B. C.

  • one of largest Greek temples

  • Doric style

  • architect was Libon, an Elean

  • made from local limestone

  • destroyed by an earthquake in the 5th century A. D.

  • east pediment had sculptures depicting chariot race of Oinomaus and Pelops

  • west pediment depicted Battle of Lapiths and Centaurs

  • metopes from pronaos and opisthodomos depicted labors of Herakles


  • begun in 7th century B. C.

  • one of oldest temples in Greece

  • originally a temple to both Hera and Zeus

  • housed:
    • cedar chest inlaid with ivory and gold, and covered with 5 rows of reliefs and inscriptions
    • bronze discus inscribed with Sacred Truce
    • ivory and gold table on which victors’ crowns were placed


  • commissioned by Philip II

  • honors dynasty of Macedonian kings


  • housed an altar to an unknown hero


  • exercise/training yard

    much of the surrounding colonnade has been reconstructed in modern era


  • Pheidias was the sculptor who created the huge Athena statue for the Parthenon and a huge statue of Zeus for Olympia
    • both now lost
    • (click here for a modern painting of Pheidias and the Parthenon frieze [Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1868, oil on canvas, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery])

  • the workshop was converted to a Christian church in the 5th century

  • identification of this structure as Pheidias’ workshop was uncertain until archaeologists discovered shards of marble, casts for portions of the Zeus statue, and a cup inscribed pheidio eimi (‘I belong to Pheidias’)
    • the cup was discovered in 1958


Pheidias’ cup with inscription