As you cruise along the western coast of mainland Greece, in the Peloponnese region, you could make a stop in the port of Katakolo, near Pyrgos, where you can hire a taxi to take you the 35 kilometers or so to Olympia. We did this on Wednesday and I can wholeheartedly recommend it. To visit the place where the Olympic games originated and to imagine yourself surrounded by athletes training, preparing, and participating in various sports is almost certain to be a moving experience.
Ever since early Mycenaean times (about 4,000 years ago), sporting games have been an important part of life. Religious ceremonies, in honor of whatever gods were in favor at any given time, would often include games. Olympia became a sacred place during this early period, dedicated to Zeus. Much later, in 776 BC, still in honor of Zeus, the first official Panhellenic Olympic Games were held, following the rules of noble rivalry. A truce amongst all competitors was strictly adhered to, so even otherwise warring regions could send competitors.
Standing in the old stadium, where as many as 45,000 spectators would be watching and cheering, and imagining the well trained athletes entering through the Krypte (not unlike the athletes' entry into modern stadiums) was a thrilling experience. Wandering through the entire archeological site with Vincent, who is fluent in ancient Greek and can read the inscriptions from 2,500 years ago, and who was immersed in archeology at the age of 8, was an unparalleled experience. The corresponding archeological museum was also quite a treat. For those of us with wooden boats it is interesting to see that so many of the tools used back in those times have survived almost unchanged.
Most of the buildings have been destroyed by earthquakes and by deliberate destruction (primarily by Christians who saw the place as hedonistic). While this is sad, it allows an insight into the building techniques used. Carefully chiseled mortises and dowels in the stones were used to protect against earthquake damage. The massive stones used in the walls were held together with iron "staples", set in lead (to prevent corrosion). I was surprised not just with the incredibly fine craftsmanship, but also with the very sound engineering principles, showing an excellent understanding of architectural principles.