Olympia Archaeological Site and Two Museums

Activities today included visiting the archaeological site in Olympia and two museums, The Archaeological Museum of Olympia and The Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity.

Olympia Archaeological Site


The Phillipeion at the Olympia Archaeological Site
The Phillipeion at the Olympia Archaeological Site

When I went to the ticket booth at the Olympia Archaeological Site, the ticket seller asked me, “One ticket?”

Is it obvious from just looking at me that I’m anglophone and traveling solo?

Rather than asking him that question, I simply responded, “Yes.”

“It’s free today. I will give you your free ticket.”

He gave me my €0 ticket, but he didn’t have to. Some people arrived ahead of me at the site entrance, without first stopping at the ticket booth. The person scanning ticket QR codes simply handed them free tickets from a stack she had.

Why have tickets at all if they were just handing them out for free? I guess it’s so they can report attendance.

Why free? It turns out that today, October 28, is Ohi Day, a holiday and feast day throughout Greece to celebrate the Greek Prime Minister of the day’s rejection in 1940 of Mussolini’s demand that Axis forces be allowed to enter Greece and occupy some strategic territory.

In celebration of Ohi Day, they gave me free admission to the Archaeological Site of Olympia and the related museums.

At least, they said that’s why they made admission free today. I have another theory. I think they heard about my harrowing driving experience yesterday and gave me free admission in sympathy.

They gave everyone else free admission too so I wouldn’t realize they considered me an object of pity. But the joke was on them. We people of low self-esteem always realize that we’re objects of pity, even when it’s not true. But I’m sure it’s true this time.

Despite it being free and a holiday here, the crowds were light at the site. There was hardly a heavy person among them. There weren’t many light people, for that matter, either.

It wasn’t empty, but the site is large and easily accommodated the visitors without congesting the site. That’s a particularly good thing because I’ve read that congestion is a symptom of COVID and, in the usage in the preceding sentence, a cause of its spread.

A few tour groups trudged through, making the requisite stops. But again, the site was more than large enough to accommodate them easily.

Warning: Irrelevant tangent ahead

The tour groups induced one of my rare thoughts. It’s no more consequential than any of my other trifling thoughts, i.e., all of them, but bear with me. It won’t take long.

I occasionally rant about some of our modern technologies. In fact, in an earlier life, I made a weekly paid habit of it, as someone who I think reads this knows all too well.

That notwithstanding, I feel the need to give credit to modern technology for its contribution to the tour business.

When I first started travelling, tour guides droned on to their minions in very loud voices. Sometimes, they even amplified their voices using a boombox type device. This greatly disturbed the unaffiliated tourists near them. Or, at least one of them. Me. Although, having said that, I occasionally found some of the English-speaking ones interesting and entertaining. In those rare cases, I’d hang back and eavesdrop. But those cases were too rare for me to want that practice to continue considering the annoyance caused by all of the other loud guides.

These days, fortunately, many tour guides use a microphone. But their minions listen through earbuds attached to small receivers they wear on lanyards. The tour guides speak in normal speaking voices. And they sometimes lower their voices to not much above a whisper.

Some guides still use the non-electronic, loud-talking technique but, thankfully, they seem to be getting scarcer.

So, kudos to technology for that. Oh, and the technologies I use to type and publish this journal have their good moments too.

Oh yeah, the Olympia Archeological Site

Ruins jam pack the site. In some sections, they’re almost as thick on the ground as gravestones in modern, full-up cemeteries for people who weren’t particularly rich in life—or whose beneficiaries want to hold on to more of the estate. (Personally, when I’m gone, I won’t care where my remains end up. While I’m alive, I’d like to think the dumpster won’t be too rusted out. But, if it is, I won’t know or care after I’m gone.)

The large number of ruins triggered a thought. What is the collective noun for ruins? I just Googled it. A few websites tell me it’s “heap.” However, when I look up “heap” in the dictionary it doesn’t say it is a collective noun for ruins.

Besides, heap doesn’t sound right to me. It invokes an image of someone gathering up all the ruins and dumping them in an unorganized pile. That doesn’t describe the ruins at the Olympia Archaeological Site. They are spread across the site in situ or close to it.

A ruin of ruins at the Olympia Archaeological Site
A ruin of ruins at the Olympia Archaeological Site

Because I don’t think a heap is right, and I can’t find another accepted word, I’m going to coin my own collective noun for ruins. I don’t know if I’ll need it again in this post, but I’m on a roll. Don’t stop me.

To my mind, simple is best. Considering the nature of my mind, it’s not surprising that it would think simple is best. But never mind that.

Simple being best, I recommend “ruin” as the collective noun for ruins. I.e., “a ruin of ruins.” So, ruin it is.

Wait. Where was I before I distracted myself with more nonsense?

Oh, yeah. I’m still on the Olympia Archaeological Site

The gymnasium, or what’s left of it, is the largest former building on the site and the closest to the modern-day entrance. That’s where Olympic athletes trained in the old days. The really, really, really old days.

The temple of Zeus
The temple of Zeus

In ancient Olympian times, Olympian athletes trained in the nude. They competed in the nude too. I knew that long before coming to Greece. I heard it years ago, so the signs at the site and the guidebooks providing me with that information were superfluous in that regard.

And I’d prefer that they not remind me of it because I’m trying to forget the fundamental concern that raises for the potential for uncomfortable jiggling and the abrasion of a body part that shall remain nameless. So, let’s move on.

Nevertheless, I did learn one related fact. I didn’t know until I read it in one of my guidebooks that the word “gymnasium” comes from the Greek word “gymnos,” which translates to “naked” in English. Thank goodness my gym teachers in school either didn’t know that or pretended they didn’t. I was always a chubby child and youth. Nude gym classes would have mortified me to death, possibly literally.

Stadium entrance
Stadium entrance

Fortunately, I grew out of my chubby child and youth stages to become a plump adult. However, I never grew out of my public nudity inhibition, probably because of my continuing plumpness.

Pretty well all that’s left of the gymnasium is the lower portions of its Doric columns. And I doubt all of the original columns are still there. Lest a certain art historian be impressed that I finally remember what style of columns are Doric, nope. I can read signs and guidebooks, you know. At least I have that skill.

Other ruins include the temple of Zeus, temples of lesser gods and goddesses, a temporary residence for Emperor Nero, a building to house Olympic officials, a building to house priests, a workshop for the sculptor who created the sculpture of Zeus, baths, the stadium, and others I’ve forgotten.

According to the sign by the stadium, the stadium didn’t have stands. Spectators watched from the grassy embankments on all four sides of the competition field.

The stadium
The stadium

Based on that information, I’m going to declare the stadium almost fully intact and, therefore, not really a ruin. The embankments and field are all there today. Then again, there’s not much to crumble in a flat field and grassy embankments. So, the stadium has an advantage over the structures on the rest of the Olympia archaeological site when it comes to ruining, or lack thereof.

One ruin I didn’t mention above, but didn’t forget is Hera’s Altar. It’s a big rock with a large indentation in its top. It didn’t look like much, so I didn’t take a picture. The reason I remember it is, according to the sign beside it, that’s where the lighting of the Olympic flame for the torch relay to the host city of the contemporary Olympics takes place. Again according to the sign, the lighting ceremony started in 1936 for the Berlin Olympics. I didn’t know that.

I’m sorry. I doubt Hitler had anything to do with deciding to launch that ceremony, but I’d prefer that any ceremony that started with Hitler’s Olympics didn’t endure. I know that’s not rational, but I don’t care.

The Archaeological Museum of Olympia

Admission to the Archaeological Museum of Olympia is included with the ticket to the archaeological site. So I held on to my precious €0 ticket to get me in there free too.

The architectural elements, such as remaining columns, stone blocks and such of old Olympia, reside outside at the archaeological site. However, most of the other relics found on the site now reside in the archaeological museum.

The museum routes visitors through the building in a circle from the entrance to the adjacent exit. The museum arranges its exhibits in generally chronological order along that route.

The earliest artifacts in the museum date from the “Final Neolithic (Chalcolithic) period (4300-3100 BC and Early Helladic I period (3100-2700 BC.)”

A statue at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia
A statue at the Archaeological Museum of Olympia

(No, don’t be silly. Of course I didn’t know about the Final Neolithic (Chalcolithic) period or Early Helladic I period and their vintages. That’s why it’s in quotes. I took a picture of the accompanying placard and transcribed that verbatim.)

At then end of the circle through the museum, the final exhibits are circa 602-610 AD.

Exhibits include statues of varying sizes and completeness, figurines, vases, jugs, lamps, implements and jewelry. Some of the smaller, but still valuable relics came from tombs, where the ancients placed them as funeral offerings.

(Note to the executor of my will: Don’t bury my belongings with me when I die. Give my stuff to my beneficiary. Or, probably, throw them out. I don’t have much of value other than my electronics. And if there is an afterlife, I’m sure the latest models of MacBooks, iPads and iPhones will be handed out for free there.)

Many of the statues were of people wearing togas. Despite all of their other well-sculpted features, one of the things that impressed me most were the many folds in each toga. Some of those folds are relatively thin. Some of the statues lost their heads or parts of arms, but the folds survived largely intact.

I can’t help forming a mental image of a certain art historian rolling her eyes when I say things like that.

It occurred to me that maybe the folds are intact after all of these centuries due to restoration work. However, some of the folds have small chips knocked out of them. Not a lot and not large, but some. If the intact folds are the work of restoration, why would they fill in some chips and not others? I mean, other than to fool dupes like me into thinking the statues hadn’t undergone massive restoration work.

Maybe the above-mentioned certain art historian can fill me in on that.

Temple of Zeus Statuary

Statuary on the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus
Statuary on the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus

On one wall of the length of the largest room in the museum, they mounted all of the statuary they have from the west pediment of the Temple of Zeus. The did the same thing with the statuary from the east pediment on the opposing wall. They arranged the statuary as it appeared on the pediments.

None of the statues are complete. But some come closer than others. Some are missing an arm or two or part thereof, a leg or two or part thereof, the head, or some combination thereof. In a few cases, there is a head or a hand or a leg part, but it’s attached to the rest of the sculpture by a rod the length of the missing piece.

Statuary on the east pediment of the Temple of Zeus
Statuary on the east pediment of the Temple of Zeus

There are also some small statuary fragments on either side of the entrances that are in the short walls on the ends of the room. Placards by the pieces say what they are, but not where they came from. I assume they came from elsewhere in the Temple of Zeus, but I didn’t see any signage confirming that. Maybe I just missed it.

The Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity

Admission to the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games is also included with the ticket to the archaeological site. So I held onto my, well, you know. I did that bit already.

Ancient discuses at the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity
Ancient discuses at the Museum of the History of the Olympic Games of Antiquity

The museum has signage describing the competitions held at the ancient Olympics and the history and staging of the games.

Some events held at the modern Olympic Games were held at the ancient ones too, such as, among others, running, discus throwing, boxing and wrestling. But other events seem to have lost popularity.

For example, one event in the ancient Olympics was a race in armour. Contestants had to sprint wearing a helmet and greaves and carrying a heavy shield. (Disclosure: I had to look up “greaves.” It’s a piece of armour to protect the shins.) I’d have enough trouble sprinting without all that weight. So, bravo to them.

Although, starting in the 5th century BC, the ancient Olympics eliminated the need for contestants to wear greaves. And in the 4th century BC, they eliminated the need for the helmet and only required a heavy shield. And now they don’t run that race at all in the modern Olympics at all. This just goes to prove that young folk are weak.

Another event of the ancient Olympics was the pankration. Not only is it, to the best of my knowledge, not part of the modern Games, but I’d never heard of it before. Pankration combined wrestling and boxing, I assume because they thought it would be fun to watch multiple forms of violence against another person simultaneously.

The ancient Olympics were staged every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD, without fail. I wonder if the modern Olympics will last for 1,169 years. I also wonder why anyone would want to fund all of those modern Olympics if it did.


Mosaic floor
Mosaic floor

In addition to descriptive text, the museum also displays artifacts. Some of them have obvious connections to the ancient Olympics, such as ancient discuses. There is also a statue of Zeus, because, after all, he was the God of Gods at the time and had a place of prominence in Olympia back then. And there is a statue of Nike. I think that is a sponsorship deal. But I might be wrong.

One room has an indented section in the floor that takes up most of the room. Glass covers the indentation at the normal floor level. There is no barrier, so I assume it is the type of glass one can walk on, but I didn’t test it. Beneath the glass sits a long, ancient mosaic tile floor depicting the Olympic games. The mosaic is in excellent condition.

I understood how the above fit in, but there were also some artifacts, such as vases, for which I couldn’t figure out their connection to the ancient Olympics. The placards beside them said what they were, but not how they fit with the ancient Olympics.

Archimedes Update

Yesterday, I told you about my confusion regarding the Archimedes Museum versus the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. Today, I went back to the museum I was at yesterday to ask. There was a different staff person there today.

I asked him if this was the Archimedes Museum. “Yes, yes. See, [pointing] Archimedes, Archimedes.”

I asked him, “So there isn’t another Archimedes Museum here?”

He said no. So that clears that up. The Archimedes Museum and the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology are the same museum under different names.


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