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Cultural Pilgrimage Part II


Olympia Archaeological Site

According to the World Heritage website, there is probably no ancient archaeological site anywhere in the world that has more relevance to today΄s world than Olympia. The stadium of Olympia, where the ancient Olympic Games were held, and the impressive temple of Zeus, the largest temple in the Peloponnese, are some of the attractions of the site. The best way to get the most out of your visit is to actually race in the stadium like the athletes used to do and feel the vibes! The Altis, the sacred enclosure and core of the sanctuary, with its temples, buildings and treasuries, occupies the centre of the site. The Classical Temple of Zeus and the earlier Temple of Hera dominate the Altis. The remaining space inside the Altis was filled with numerous altars and statues of gods, heroes and Olympic winners offered by Greek cities or wealthy individuals, such as the Nike of Paionios. Outside the sacred precinct of the Altis, to its south, are the Bouleutherion and the South Stoa, the southernmost building of the greater sanctuary and its main entrance from the south. West of the Altis and separated from it by the Sacred Road is a series of buildings for the sanctuary personnel, the athletes and the distinguished visitors: the gymnasium and palaestra, exercise grounds, the Workshop of Pheidias which in Late Antiquity was transformed into a Christian church, the Greek baths with their swimming pool, the Roman hot baths, the Theokoleion or priests’ residence, the Leonidaion or officials’ quarters, and the Roman hostels. East of the Altis lies the stadium where the Olympic Games were held. South of the stadium was the hippodrome, of which no trace remains as it was swept away by the Alpheios river. South of the hippodrome is a group of mansions and baths, including the famous House of Nero, built by the emperor for his stay at Olympia during his participation in the games. In 1829 the French Scientific Expedition of the Peloponnese partially excavated the Temple of Zeus, taking several fragments of the pediments to the Musee du Louvre.

Mycenae – the city of the legendary Agamemnon

Homer and other writers of ancient Greek tragedy helped salvage memories and moments which have passed into the collective unconscious of humanity. Agamemnon and Menelaus, Danaë and Perseus, Pelops and Atreus are the apparent forefathers of all of Europe, and the birthplace of all of these historical figures, is Mycenae. The apogee of the Mycenaean’s, with their majestic architecture, inscribed monuments and sophisticated civilisation, occurred in the Late Bronze Age, between 1350 and 1200 BC. The first hegemonic factions appeared as early as 1700 BC, that is, in an historical period for which is difficult to determine exact details. But around this same period construction began on the first monumental tombs. After this, expansion developed at a very fast pace. Palatial complexes, Cyclopean masonry which is aweinspiring even today, the famous “Tomb of Agamemnon” (also known as the “Treasury of Atreus”), huge arches, fountains and ramparts comprise one of the greatest architectural complexes known to the ancient world. The decline of Mycenae occurred around 1100 BC, possibly due to repeated damage from earthquakes and fires. They had managed, however, to have once been a truly great empire, which has indelibly left its mark on the history not only of Greece, but the entire world. The archaeological site of Mycenae is 140km from Athens and 24km from Nafplio.

Tiryns – a city built by the Cyclopes

The fortification of the hill of Tiryns (8km from Argos) which protects the palace complex, is such an impressive structure that the ancient Greeks could not believe that it was built by human hands. Legend has it that the architects of Tiryns were said to be the Cyclopes, who came to the city with Proetus, its legendary founder, from distant Lycia. Τhe construction of the wall is impressive and a challenge to logic, even for today’s visitors. One stands in awe in front of the perfect assembly of these huge boulders, unable to understand either how or who could have performed such a great feat of engineering. The circular building, 27 metres in diameter which dominates the hilltop, bears witness to the undeniable power of the city. The fortifications of Tiryns were completed in stages, to protect the palace complex, their places of worship and burial sites. Warehouses, workshops and houses complement the city which flourished for almost 2000 years, until the 5th century BC. Becoming familiar with Mycenaean civilisation involves a descent into the deepest reaches of human history. Looking at Mycenae and Tiryns, one loses all sense of time. Legend and history intertwine in a dreamlike motif. The gods, already immortalised by name in the Mycenaean syllabic inscriptions, seem somehow familiar. The heroes still walk the citadel of Mycenae, guardians of a past gone but not forgotten.




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