Thursday, October 1, 2015


We floated into the small Greek village of Katakolon this morning about 9:00. By 9:45 we were clamoring onto one of five buses that would take us to the site of the ancient Olympic Games and then for lunch and wine/food sampling at Agriturismo Magna Grecia. Another ten buses would join us in Olympia – one of the pleasures of large cruise ships is that you are seldom alone. Even had we chosen to arrive at Olympia on our own, we would still have been joined by these other 500 friends and not had the benefit of a local guide. One does have to make choices.

We were impressed by this site. 150 years ago when they began the excavations, nothing was visible, not even the 30 foot tall columns. Today, we are able to walk on the same ground the original Olympic athletes and their fans enjoyed thousands of years ago. Except for a few sensitive areas, the entire excavation is open for exploration. The only rule is that you may not climb onto the stones. This freedom of movement allows one to fully enjoy the site. You can even race in the stadium as the athletes did so long ago. Or, if you prefer, you can just sit on the grass embankment and watch these pseudo-Olympians show off their talent.

Entrance to the stadium. The arch extended the entire distance of the path.
Remains of Zeus's Temple. Note the pieces of columns.
Earthquakes and time have destroyed the buildings, but a little imagination aided by the interpretive signs allows the visitor to go back in time and get a sense of the importance of the games. I knew that the Olympics were a time of peace, but had no idea that this period lasted for three months each year. Games were not held just at Olympia, but also at three other sites in Greece. It is incredible to think that these warring city states would agree to lay down their arms for three months each year when we see the security necessary to stage the games today. This does not seem like we are getting any smarter.

The Olympic Flame starts here for each Olympics
Cheaters were 'honored' here. The inscription included the name of the athlete, his family, and his town.
We aren't the first to honor sponsors for their gifts.
A highlight for me was seeing the water system they had for the athletes and spectators. A small aqueduct system fed running water the full length of the stadium so that people had easy access to water for drinking at any time, something necessary in this hot, humid climate.

Columns from Zeus's Temple
Olympia was also the site of one of a massive statue of Zeus, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. I’m not sure of the dates, but at some point it was moved to Constantinople where it would be destroyed by Christians eliminating the competing gods. Built with a wooden frame covered in gold and bronze, the metals would be removed and the framework burned. Today, we westerners (most of us anyway) see this kind of destruction as a reprehensible destruction of our history and heritage, but we can see with ISIS and the Taliban that there are still people today who see anything not of their religion as a threat.

We visited the archaeological museum after our tour of the site itself. This museum is well-organized and interpreted with good signage in three languages. The most important piece is the superb statue of Hermes of Praxiteles, one of the best examples of sculptures from the period. I was most impressed by the impediments from the Temple of Zeus. These are the sculptures that adorned the triangular space above the front and rear of the temple. One of these tells the story of a chariot race for the daughter of the king. The other shows a classic mythological battle between the Centaurs and the Lapis.

We followed our trip to the Olympic Games with a visit at a more modern agritourism business, the Magna Grecia farm where we sampled olive oils and wines and were treated to a Greek meal and dancing. It wasn’t Zorba the Greek, but it was fun and tasty and sated us for the time being.

Our day ended with a walk down the one street of Katakolon for some final shopping in Greece where we were able to finish our Greek Christmas shopping and Linda was able to complete her jewelry set. She started with a t shirt in Corfu and then needed gold jewelry to complete the ensemble so she got something from each of our three other stops on this cruise. Be sure to ask her to show it off when we return. 

Olive Tree

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