OlympiaOlympia – the origin of the Games that we still hold today, and where the Olympic Flame still begins its worldwide travel. This flame is lit by a reflection of sunlight in a mirror in front of the Temple of Hera – where the ancient Eternal Flame dwelled. We spent all afternoon wandering around the ruins. The most famous item from ancient history no longer exists today – this was where the gigantic statue of Zeus by the sculptor Pheidias resided (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World).

DSC_0649It was a warm but blustery day and we braved the elements to walk around and view the Temple of Hera, the Philippeion, the Temple of Zeus, and (of course) the Olympic stadium. Every four years, starting in the 8th century, BC, the Greeks paused their continuous warring and gathered here to watch the famed athletes compete for glory. Along the way to the stadium you pass a wall of statues all of Zeus. These were funded by fines leveed on cheaters and bore their name … as a warning to other competitors and to forever shame those who cheated.

DSC_0656There was one cheater whose name was not embossed on a statue. Nero, a huge fan of the Greeks, attempted to start his own competitive games but the world didn’t show much interest. So instead the emperor scheduled all the Hellenic games to happen in the same year and competed in all of them. He spent an exorbitant amount of money to bribe all the judges, ensuring a win. Nero built himself a house in Olympia, right next to the stadium, and delayed the 211th Olympic Games so he could practice chariot racing. He also issued an edict that the games would include poetry and drama as well as chariot racing – and, of course, entered his name in all the events.

DSC_0658On the day of the race, Nero had ten horses on his chariot (6 more than usual) but was thrown off the chariot twice and was unable to finish. He complained to the judges, “I have paid you, after all,” and argued that if he had been able to finish he would have won. Nero went on to sweep the rest of the games. After his death a couple years later, all the statues he had erected of himself to commemorate his wins were destroyed, Rome demanded return of the bribes he had paid the judges, and the 211th Olympics were nullified. So much for reputation.

DSC_0686We also got to view the Olympia museum with its beautiful statues of Hermes carrying baby Dionysos, the Nike of Paionions, and Hadrian (among the vast collection). The most striking collection in the museum is from the Temple of Zeus. On one pediment the Centaurs and the Lapiths are fighting it out while Apollo serenely looks on, on the other a chariot race is depicted with Zeus as the judge. The metopes depict the labors of Hercules including one stunning marble of Hercules struggling to uphold the sky, Athena easily lifting a single hand to help and Atlas offering Hercules two handfuls of apples.