Olympia Archaeological Site

The ancient stadium at Olympia.

Olympia (Ολυμπία) is one of the most influential ancient Greek sanctuaries, located in western Peloponnese, in Elis. It is is positioned in a serene and rich valley at the confluence of the Alpheios and the Kladeos rivers. In antiquity it was famous beyond the borders of mainland Greece for hosting the Olympic Games every four years, starting in 776 BCE.

The archaeological site is located withing walking distance of the modern village called Ancient Olympia and it includes ruins from Bronze Age to the Byzantine eras. The site covers an expanded area of ruins scattered among low trees, as well as the ancient stadium where the Olympics took place. An impressive array of artifacts which were unearthed during excavations are on exhibition at the nearby Olympia Museum.

Next: History of Olympia

Photo Gallery

  • The very ancient Doric temple of Hera (Heraion) is located at the foot of the Kronios hill, in the holiest spot of the Altis (Andronicos, 32).
    Late 7th c. BCE
  • Views of the Temple of Hera
  • The Heraion Peristyle, one of its Doric columns, and the setting in the sanctuary.
  • Apsidal Building III.
    Several Apsidal Buildings dating back to the Middle Bronze Age. Most are located near the Temple of Hera.

  • The Palaistra was the training ground for athletes who competed in the wrestling events. It also served as the athletes' living quarters during training.

    It was built in the Hellenistic Era.
  • The Philippeion.
    338 BCE

    The first photo shows the ruins of the Philippeion as they appeared in 2003 with minimal reconstruction. By 2004, the ruins were dressed with restored marble (second photo). This photo shows the monument as it was restored by 2006.
  • The ruins of the Nymphaion--a fresh water fountain.

    It was erected in 153 CE by Herodus Atticus to be the terminal of a newly constructed aqueduct.

  • Ruins of the Temple of Zeus.

    The architect of the temple was Libon of Elis, and it was dedicated in 457 BCE when the Lakedaimonians, in celebration of their victory against the Athenians in Tanagra, placed a solid gold shield on the acroterion of the temple.
  • While today it appears in ruins, the Temple of Zeus was the largest one in the Peloponnese, measuring 27.68 m x 64.12 m (Andronicos, 18).

  • The Krypte, was the official entrance to the stadion. It was used by both the judges and the athletes. The arched passageway was built in the Hellenistic era, and Pausanias called it the "secret entrance".
  • The Stadion (or stadium) of Olympia.
    As it was customary in early Greek stadiums, the spectators sat on the slopes and the only stone seats were for the judges (hellanodikai).

    The stadium's course is about 200 yards long, which is equivalent to 600 Olympic feet (Andronicos, 41), or 191.78 meters long (Mee & Spawforth, 291). The capacity of the stadium is estimated at 40,000 spectators.

    The present restoration emulates a 4th c. BCE version with later additions, which was built on an earlier, smaller stadium.

  • The starting lines at the Olympic stadium were made of marble and had notches cut where runners would place their feet. The bases of the hysplex--a catapult-like mechanism of posts and rope that ensured no runner jumped ahead before the staring command.
  • The stone drain surrounding the track of the ancient stadium. It was interrupted at intervals by small basins where water was collected.
  • A line of stones cuts across the ancient stadium at Olympia, and extends up on both sides to the slopes where the spectators sat.
  • The platform and seats of the Hellanodikai, the judges of the events.
  • The ruins of the Leonidaion.
    It was a large guest house for visiting officials, and it was the donation of a wealthy Naxian, Leonidas in the 4th c. BCE.
  • Pheidias' workshop was identified by a cup unearthed in excavations with the notation "Φειδιο ειμι" (I belong to Pheidias) was found in the ruins of this later Christian basilica.
  • Two photos of the Pheidias' workshop interior.
  • One of the joys of visiting archaeological sites is the revelation of tiny details like the one depicted on this photo. It is a closeup of an eroded limestone column from Phedias' workshop interior. The weathering of the outer, finished surface has exposed the shells of crustaceans that created the original rock millennia before it was quarried for the purposes of making temple columns.
  • A nice model of the archaeological site which is on exhibit inside the Olympia museum gives visitors a good idea what the sanctuary looked like in ancient times. The two photos here show the stadium and the temple of Zeus as they would have been.
  • These very informative signs provides the first orientation point at the entrance of the Olympia archaeological site. Signs and information is sparse once you enter the sanctuary however. One would be hard pressed to understand the maze of scattered ruins without prior knowledge or a guide.
  • Plan, elevation, and reconstruction of the temple of Hera from the Museum.
  • A beautifully drawn plan of apsidal building III, on view at the Olympia museum.

Also see:


Ancient Greece map