Ultra Race - Delphi - Olympia - 255 kms

Olympia

In the middle of a valley where the rivers Alphios and its tributary Kladeos flow, at the foot of the pine covered Kronion, where all is peaceful and harmonious there developed one of the most renowned sanctuaries of the ancient world and cradle of the Olympic Games, OLYMPIA.

The Altis, the sacred grove at Olympia took shape in the 10th – 9th c. B.C. and was devoted mainly to Zeus. The first magnificent structures were erected in the Archaic Period (7th – 6th  c. B.C.) and since 576 B.C. the prestige and glory surrounding the institution had reached their peak.
Philosophers, politicians, poets, writers, rhetors, sculptors, they all assembled here for there was  the largest  forum for their works and ideas to be heard and spread: Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Lysius, Alchiviades, Themistocles, Pindarus, Alexander the Great...

The most magnificent among the buildings was the temple devoted to Zeus (460 B.C. – 467 B.C.) erected in the middle of the sacred Altis, a masterpiece by the great architect from Elis, Livon. According to Pausanias “the eastern pediment commemorated the chariot race between Oenomaus  and Pelops with Zeus standing in the middle. On his right hand side stands Oenomoaus with a helmet on his head and next to him his wife Steropi. The western pediment depicts the fight between the Lapiths and the Centaurs”. The exquisite figure of Apollo stands in the middle. These two pediments are among the most brilliant examples of ancient Greek sculpture and are exhibited at the Olympia’s Archeological Museum. In the middle of the temple stood the colossal statue of Zeus, made of gold and ivory, a work  by the greatest sculptor of the 5th c. B.C., Phidias.

Another two masterpieces of the 5th c. B.C., and 4th c.B.C., unearthed in good condition ornate Olympia’s Archeological Museum. Hermes of Praxiteles  and Niki or Victory of Peonios.

The statue of Hermes was found under the ruins of the temple of Hera in Olympia during the excavations conducted by the German  Archeo-
logical Institute in 1877. The statue is dated to 343 B.C.,and was sculpted out of white marble from the island of Paros in the Cyclades.
It is the original masterpiece by Praxiteles, the greatest sculptor of the 4th c.B.C.

It represents Hermes, vigorous and most handsome youth with infant Dionysus in his arms offering him a bunch of grapes.

The contemplative  look in the eyes gazing calmly at the infinite, the smile hardly designed on the lips, the  refinement of the mouth, the untidy mass of hair, the brilliance of the marble, show the perfection of beauty and gracefulness as revealed in Praxiteles’ unrivalled art.
“It is the clearest and most manifest outward sight of an innermost
dreaming” – C. Waldstein- Director of the American School Athens -1882.

The statue of Hermes is the most celebrated ornament in the Archeological Museum of Olympia and one of the world’s most celebrated sculptures as it is the unique  original masterpiece by Praxiteles to be preserved up to the present time.

The other statue of Niki or Victory, sculptured by  the famous 5th c.B.C. sculptor Peonios, suggests the idea of Niki swaying, as she descends from heaven in triumph, conveying the idea of flying with her gossamer  chiton delicately clinging to her body and her veil floating away by the wind. Next  to her, with its wings wide open, flies an eagle, a Zeus’ messenger, as she prepares to crown
the victors.

The famous Stadium was located on the East side of the Altis. The athletes entered the Stadium through the Crypte, an arched passage 32m. long, 3.7m wide and 4.4m high. Two pillars of Corinthian rhythm stood at each side of the entrance. The Stadium is a rectangular parallelogram with a capacity of 45,000 spectators seating directly on the inclined ground closing the Stadium on all sides. The flat surface of the stadium was 212m long and 28.6m – 29.7m and 30.7m wide. The running area was 197.27m long as long as the distance of a “stadion”, the outstanding foot race contest for centuries. The athletes taking part in the foot race lined up along the starting line and by means of a system of ropes and stakes called “ysplix” they all started at the same time. This was achieved when  the person standing behind them pulled the ropes which caused the stakes to fall.
Other foot race contests were: diaulos 384.5m introduced on the 14th c. B.C., dolichos 4,600m introduced in 720B.C. and hoplitodromos 384.5m with helmet and shield.

The races held since prehistoric times were reorganized during the 8thc. B.C., the sacred “truce” had been installed, the games were held every four years and acquired a pan-Hellenic character.
Victors in the games were crowned with a branch of the “beautiful crowned wild olive tree” which bestowed the greatest honor upon the competitor and his native city and could not be compensated for by either money or higher office.
Since 776 B.C. when the official recording of the races started, the institution of the Olympic Games flourished for twelve centuries and made a brilliant contribution to the history of sport.

The Olympic idea that the aesthetics of the body are inseparable from the intellectual fulfilment has had a long standing impact on the entire world, which explains why the sacred flame that burned at the Altis had never gone out for twelve centuries. However, it did go out when temples were destroyed and pagan religions abolished in 426 A.D. by Theodosius II decree  marking the advent of Christianity.

Nowadays, in spite of whatever historical-political agitations or alterations worldwide, we consider that the flame is still burning whenever and wherever Olympic Games are being held and this is a very significant oecumenical heritage bestowed upon us by Olympia’s splendour.

 
 

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