On with the cruise! Our next stop was Katakolon, Greece, or Katakolo in Greek, located in the part of Greece called the Pelponesse. What's there? Not a whole heck of a lot except overpriced Greek trinkets. What makes Katakolon a note worthy stop is it's proximity to Ancient Olympia.
Olympia is the site of the original Olympics held from 800 BC to 400 BC. The cruise ship dropped us off in Katakolon where we had a rental car, a tiny beat-up Fiat, waiting for us. We piled into it and raced down the highway, trying to follow a taxi because we weren't quite sure of the accuracy of the hand drawn map the car rental place (I really wouldn't call it a car rental agency) gave us. This taxi was hauling you-know-what and we eventually lost him at a red light. We followed a tour bus that passed us (that's how little and slow this Fiat was, tour buses were over taking us) and made it to the site.
We had absolutely perfect weather. Per-fect. When we left Germany, spring was just barely peeping it's little head out and about. Read about that here. But here, spring and Greece were having a full-fledged merry romp in the hay together. Wild flowers and trees bloomed as far as the eye could see. Blue skies and golden sunshine greeted us at every turn. Butterflies flitted around the site and landed on you if held still. I wanted to lay down in the grass and just laugh and roll around, sit and make daisy-chains (like this) and probably even sing Kumbaya. But I didn't, and my children are very glad I managed to restrain myself.
Ancient Olympia is described as a sanctuary and began to take shape in 1000 BC. 1000 BC! That makes the things we've seen in Europe that are around 800 years old look new. The sanctuary was dedicated to Zeus, and the early Olympics which followed were in his honor.
The site of Ancient Olympia is home to a host of buildings. Temples, priest's homes, baths, a gymnasium, and hostels were all found here. Hostels. It would seem that tourism was alive and well in Ancient Greece.
There were several centuries of building that took place here. From the Archaic period which started in 800 BC to the Classical period (500 BC - 400 BC) when the majority of the buildings were completed. Construction continued through until the Roman period in 150 AD.
This is the Phillipeion, built in 338 BC. It was left incomplete. Alexander the Great had it finished and even furnished the inside with busts of his ancestors. After reading that, I had visions of Colin Farrell in a skirt chiseling columns of stone. See what I'm talking about here.
An earthquake in the 3rd century AD caused major damage to the majority of the site. But it was still in use. Invading tribes began to rob the site of building materials and its monuments. The last Olympic festival was held here in 393 AD when the emperor Theodosius banned the games.
River flooding over a thousand year period caused the site to be covered with 25 feet soil and sediment. It was lost until 1766 when an English explorer went poking around. The majority of the excavation has been done by the German Archaeological Institute (Go Germany!) since 1875. Lets hope these Germans archaeologists didn't look like this, or this, or especially this.
Probably the most impressive of the buildings that were here was the Temple of Zeus. See what it used to look like here. This is what is left of it now.
In a museum next door to the ancient site, they have the statues that used to adorn the peaks of the temple which told stories about Zeus and what a great guy he was. In this scene, some centaurs were invited to a wedding, got drunk, and then proceed to kidnap the women. I think I hear a possible story line for My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Part 2.
The scene was much more civilized as it shows people lining up for a chariot race.
Back outside we continued to explore the ruins.
"It's all Greek to me..."
Here is some evidence of Roman influence in building. If someone today came and added some current architecture, it would border on vandalism, something they take very seriously here. That and looting. There are "guards" that walk all around the site keeping an eye on you and they have very loud whistles that they blow at you if you are committing any infractions. This is what happened when one of my kids picked up a small pebble from the trail and jiggled it in his palm while we looked around. Tweeeeeeet!!!! We got the whistle. And of course everyone looks around at you and my poor son is standing there and the guard takes the whistle out of her mouth and yells "Put down the artifact!" All eyes watched him drop the pebble back on the trail and turn five shades of red and go hide behind a tree. So if you ever decide to travel here, touch absolutely nothing. Not even the pebbles on the trails beneath your shoes. You never know, Zeus himself may have walked on them or something.
That's our story of Ancient Olympia. We saw beautiful, old, meaningful things. We learned that the flame for the modern Olympic torch is lit here by sunlight reflected off of a mirror. Upon hearing that, Matt started asking questions like, "What if it's cloudy that day?" Or "What if it's raining? Do they have a Bic lighter in their pocket just in case?" To which I answered with a deep sigh and telling him to go ask the lady with the whistle. All in all, a fabulous day. And we managed to only piss off one Greek the whole time we were there (Don't touch the pebbles!)
Off to Athens next! (Yes, I know I look stupid with those white sunglasses on. No need to tell me. My kids already did.)
αvτío - Greek for good bye. Pronounced athio.
* Stole no artifacts on her trip to Olympia. May have picked up some illegal ancient dust on her shoes though.