After lunch in Mycenae we left for the province of Elia on the western side of the
Peloponnese. Along the way we drove through the province of Arcadia which is very
mountainous and sparsely populated. We spent some time there exploring the area of
the Lousious Gorge which has several monasteries clinging to its cliffs. We also
visited Dimitsana and Stemnitsa, a couple of very well preserved, remote medieval
towns. The temperatures at that altitude had droppped to nearly freezing. Had we
had more time we probably would've stayed in one of those two towns for the night as
there were trails to many of the monasteries and the views were spectacular.
We arrived in Olympia just as dusk was falling. It was a Friday during Orthodox Lent and
the church services were being broadcast across the city. Modern Olympia is just a
kilometer or so from the ancient site and it's a relatively small town that caters to the
tourists who come to see the ruins. Despite that it has a pleasant atmosphere. We found
another shockingly affordable hotel overlooking the main square and wandered through the
town that evening. We found some exceedingly friendly shop owners and spent much of the
evening talking to them about soccer and philosophy which are of course the two main
subjects of Greek conversation. An election rally was also in progress blocking much of
the main street. We ate nearby where we could hear the speeches (and fail to understand
most of it). Melanie sampled briam for dinner which is a multi-layered vegetable sort of
dish. We also had feta here which was roasted with peppers, onions and marinara sauce.
Yum. Realistically we had feta as an appetizer at pretty much every meal but this won the
award for best feta experience. This was also the night we decided we were really quite
sick of Greek wines.
Olympia is of course famous as the site of the original Olympic games. Naturally the
most visited site is the stadium. It looks like most of the ancient Greek stadiums with
a long rectangular sand area and grassy slopes surrounding it for viewing. One difference
at Olympia is that there is only one seat and that was reserved for the Priestess/Judge
who presided over the games. This is the archway and tunnel which lead into the stadium.
The buildings at Olympia cater to the games. There are a variety of gymnasiums and
practice rings for wrestling and track events. There are also quite a few bath houses.
Each of the practice rings is surrounded by a columned walkway which led to various
rooms, most prevalent were those where athletes would get olive oil massages while
training. Olypic champions here returned to their home towns with considerable glory
and automatically were accorded high rank for life.
Olympia was also home to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - the truly
awesome Temple of Zeus. This is one of the collapsed columns from it. Notice the size
of the tree in comparison.
Or maybe Melanie provides a better sense of scale. These columns stood over 12 meters
(40 feet) high and inside the Doric temple was the seated statue of Zeus. Sculpted by
Phidias (whose workshop nearby yielded among other things a cup with the words 'Phidias
owns me' carved into it.), the statue was of ivory with Zeus' robe, crown and sceptre
made out of gold. This is actually the only of the seven wonders located in mainland
Greece. The temple was destroyed over the years by earthquakes, fires and floods. None
of the columns are still standing although scaffolding was in place for the
reconstruction of one while we were there. The statue was moved to Istanbul in the 4th
century AD where it was later destroyed in a fire.
From Olympia we drove to Pyrgos, the uninspiring capital of Elia and then along the
Ionian coast to the city of Patra. Patra is the capital of Achaia and is the third
largest city in Greece (after Athens and Thessalonika). From here, ferries leave
to the rest of Greece, Italy and even Israel. The one we took was just right across
the Gulf of Corinth to Andirio. A 15-minute car ferry, they tend to pack in the
vehicles pretty tightly as you might notice from this picture. The window was the
only option out of the car and luckily this flat bed truck was kind enough to be
parked next to us.