Olympia, the Olympics and the Olympic flame

olympia and olympic games

Olympia, the Olympics and the Olympic flame; how it all started and what still exists?

Let’s start with Olympia, the birthplace of the Olympic Games!

Olympia, located in the western Peloponnese, is probably one of Greece’s most known archaeological sites.
This ancient sanctuary, dedicated to Zeus, the king of the Olympian gods, is most renowned as the birthplace of the Olympic Games, a tradition that began in 776 BCE and continues to inspire the modern world.
Today, Olympia is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

olympia map

The rediscovery and excavation of Olympia began in the 19th century, led by German archaeologists.
These efforts have uncovered a wealth of artifacts, including statues, pottery, and inscriptions, providing invaluable insights into ancient Greek society and the significance of the Olympic Games.
The most significant temple, was the Temple of Zeus, which once held one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the massive statue of Zeus, crafted by the sculptor Phidias.
This statue, made of ivory and gold, epitomized the artistic and cultural achievements of ancient Greece.

temple of zeus  temple of zeus in olympia

Besides the Temple of Zeus, the site includes the Temple of Hera, dating back to the 7th century BCE, the Philippeion, an Ionic circular memorial built by Philip II of Macedon, and the Echo Stoa, known for its impressive acoustics. In addition to temples, there are the remains of all the sports structures erected for the Olympic Games, which were held in Olympia every four years beginning in 776 B.C.

The Stadium

Central to Olympia’s fame is the stadium, which could accommodate around 45,000 spectators. The athletes competed in events such as running, long jump, shot put, javelin, boxing, pankration, and equestrian events. The Hippodrome, where the chariot races were held, and the gymnasium, where athletes trained, are further highlights of this ancient sports complex.


Historical Significance of Olympia

Olympia was more than just a sports complex; it was a major religious center.
The sanctuary housed numerous temples, altars, and statues dedicated to various deities. 

In Ancient Greek Mythology there were 12 main Gods and Goddesses known as the Olympian Gods.
These were said to live on Mount Olympus. More info here.

The site’s origins date back to at least the 10th century BCE, but it was during the Classical period (5th–4th centuries BCE) that Olympia reached its peak.
The Olympic Games, held every four years, were not just athletic contests but also a unifying event for the often-warring Greek city-states.
Athletes from across the Greek world would gather to compete, bringing a temporary truce to conflicts and fostering a sense of shared Hellenic identity.

Protection of the archaeological site

The archaeological site of Olympia is protected at all times, something that is not really the case for other sites, or important buildings.
The fire protection infrastructure is checked and preserved annually for effectiveness.
The dikes that have been constructed along the banks of Alpheios river, south of the sanctuary, protect the archaeological site effectively from the river’s flooding phenomena..

How to get there?

Olympia is easily accessible from many Greek areas. It is less than 4 hours away from Athens and only 1 hour from the Port of Patras, or the Kalamata International Airport. There are daily bus and train services to and from Athens and other destinations. You can also drive, rent a car or arrange your trip through a travel agency.


Olympic Truce

One of the interesting facts was the city-states were often attacking one another.
This could have presented problems for athletes traveling to the Games in far away Olympia, so a period of truce or ekecheiria in Greek, was introduced.
The tradition of the “Olympic Truce”, was established in Ancient Greece in the ninth century BC.

Runners, known as spondophoroi, were sent from Olympia to the participant cities  to announce the beginning of the truce.

During this time, armies were forbidden from entering Olympia, and participants and their spectators could move freely to the Games.


Also today…

In 1992, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) renewed this tradition by calling upon all nations to observe the Truce during the modern Games.
The Truce was revived by United Nations Resolution in October of 1993.

Since then, the United Nations (UN) has repeatedly expressed its support for the Olympic Truce ideal and for the IOC’s mission “Building a peaceful and better world through sport and the Olympic ideal”.

In the framework of promoting peace through sport and the Olympic ideal, the International Olympic Truce Centre (IOTC) was founded in July 2000 by a joint initiative of the IOC and Greece.
Its headquarters are in Athens, with a symbolic office in Olympia.

 As of 2022, the modern Olympic Truce starts one week before the main opening ceremony of the Olympic Games and ends one week after the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games.
Unfortunately, the Truce has been violated already.

More info and details at https://olympics.com/ioc/olympic-truce

Olympic truce The LOGO of the Olympic Truce



The Olympic Flame Ceremony

The modern Olympic flame, which is lit in Olympia before every Olympic Games, symbolizes the enduring legacy of this ancient site.

The Olympic Flame ceremony is a tradition that begins in Olympia.
The flame is ignited by the rays of the sun, using a parabolic mirror, at the Temple of Hera, symbolizing purity and the eternal spirit of the Games.

Once lit, the flame embarks on a relay journey, carried by a series of torchbearers, each selected for their inspirational qualities and achievements.
The relay travels through various locations, including significant historical and cultural sites in Greece, culminating in a grand ceremony at the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens.
Here, the flame is handed over to representatives of the host city of the upcoming Olympic Games.
From Athens, the flame continues its journey across the globe, visiting iconic landmarks and engaging diverse communities, before reaching the Olympic Stadium of the host city, where it is used to ignite the cauldron during the Opening Ceremony, marking the official start of the Games.

This journey not only connects the modern world with ancient traditions but also symbolizes peace, unity, and the enduring human spirit.

olympic ringsThe Kaliimarmaro stadiom in Atheneskalimarmaro athens



The First Modern Olympics

kalimarmaro athens olympicsInspired by the ancient Greek tradition, the French Coubertin proposed the idea of a modern Olympic Games at a conference in Paris in 1894.
His vision was to create an event where athletes from around the world could compete in the spirit of friendship and fair play.

 Coubertin’s dream became a reality with the inaugural modern Olympic Games, held in Athens, Greece, in 1896. This choice of location paid homage to the origins of the ancient Olympics.
The 1896 Games featured 241 athletes from 14 countries, competing in 43 events across nine sports, including athletics, cycling, fencing, gymnastics, and swimming.
The event was taking place in the Kallimarmaro stadium in Athens, and a big success. It set the stage for the continuation and expansion of the Olympic movement.


Good to know! They Olympic Museum in Maroussi

Athens has a new Olympic museum  in Maroussi (North Athens), the very district which was  home to 1896 Olympic marathon champion Spiros Louis.

The Athens Olympic Museum is an international museum that showcases the history of the Games highlighting the Hellenic Influence in the formation of the Olympic Movement.
There is a special space dedicated to the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and of course the Athens 2004 Olympic Games.
There is a special area in the Museum dedicated to Olympia and the Olympic Games of  antiquity.”

It is within walking distance of the 2004 Olympic stadium which was named in honour of Louis. It occupies  buildings used by television and radio broadcasters during Athens 2004 on a  site known as  the “Golden Hall”. This complex now also includes a shopping centre.
More info at



Improve your Greek and listen to a story related to the Olympics

greek story olympic flameYou love the Olympics, but you also like to visit Greece and learn Greek?
Then you will love to listen to the Easy Greek Podcast Story (for intermediate levels) ; The Olympic Flame travels

Click to purchase its digital notebook, and listen to the podcast on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, etc…



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *