Picture of oly_title 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.
Picture of olympia 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.
Picture of stadium 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.
Picture of column 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.
Picture of pediment 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.
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Picture of ferry 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.
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