Olympia on your Own
Tour Participation Requirements
To get the most out of this ancient Olympic experience, exercise your imagination.
Imagine the sights: The 42-ft. ivory and gold statue of Zeus in his temple. The glittering mounds of tribute (some of which you can see in the museum) stored in the 12 treasury buildings. You pass by the Palaestra and the Gymnasium, where the athletes lived and trained for 10 months. There's the stately Theokoleon, where the priests live, and the fancy Leionidaion, where dignitaries unwind in grandeur after the exhaustion of watching other people's exertions. But you're just an anonymous Hieronymos; you sleep in a field. And you don't mind.
Now imagine this very site teeming with 40,000 people, maybe more: athletes, their wealthy sponsors, trainers, hangers-on, groupies, pickpockets (or whatever they were called before pockets were invented), politicians looking to press the flesh, prostitutes (of both genders) looking to sell their flesh, celebrities, religious officials, poets, philosophers, and, of course, the unwashed masses, centuries before the invention of soap.
Add to that heaps of garbage, including the remains of 100 oxen sacrificed to Zeus, and conditions were ripe for ... let's just say conditions were ripe. But you don't mind.
You don't mind because as you finally step into that stadium, where sprinters have crouched at those very starting blocks every four years for centuries, you know you're part of something important: the ancient world's biggest event, honoring its biggest god. And when you get back home, you can tell people that you were there. At Olympia. Which was a big deal then, and still pretty cool now.
Cleaning up the Olympics
The Romans brought better hygiene and new extravagance to the Olympic festival, and then killed it. They built much-needed aqueducts and baths, as well as grand villas (Nero had one) decorated with plunder from the temples and treasuries. They may have begun orgies, a favored form of worship, in the Temple of Rhea. But Zeus's games were banned by now-Christian Rome in 393 A.D., when orgies and other pagan practices were no longer fashionable. At least publicly.
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