Travelling to Olympia, now and in 480 BC
Entrance to stadium in ancient city of Olympia, Greece. (BBC)
Travel back in time to visit Olympia in 480 BC for the famous Greek games, and get tips on visiting the present day historic site.
When to go
Readers with the latest computational devices will know already that this is an Olympic year – to be precise, the year of the 75th Olympiad. So, come August, Olympia in Greece will be simply the place to be – and to be seen. And maybe even compete – so long as you are not a woman, of course! Don’t let a small thing like the impending Persian invasion put you off. It hasn’t deterred the organisers, who’ve been putting on the Games here in honour of Zeus of Mount Olympus for the past 296 years – well, every four years anyway. Zeus will provide! So, come one, come all – all Greeks, that is, wherever you happen to live in the Greek world, to this most truly all-and only-Greek extravaganza. It all happens in a remote backwater of the north-west Peloponnese.
What to take with you
Be sure to travel light – you don’t want a barbarian cutpurse to rob you within an inch of your life, do you? (Or to rob you of your life for that matter). Indeed, why not take a barbarian (slave) with you for personal security – and service. And besides, there’ll be a sacred truce in place to guarantee you safe passage to the venue. Well, fairly safe. There haven’t been too many recorded deaths on this pilgrimage.
Costs and money
You won’t need much cash – five drachmas for each of the festival’s five days should do more than just nicely. And you don’t have to bring coins – in fact, watch out for speculative money changers. It’s better to bring uncoined silver or other goods to barter, because you will want to make your offerings to the gods for good luck – and maybe buy your own private water supply too.
You shouldn’t expect 5-star accommodation at any price, unless you happen to be a VIP, an ambassador or someone like that. Do remember there could be as many as 40,000 of you crammed together in a small space at the height of summer – darlings, the smell FUN AND (THE) GAMES But every four years, at the second full moon after the summer solstice, Olympia itself – as well as the athletes of course – really jumps. If you arrive a bit early, you can watch potential competitors in training, hoping to be selected for their chosen events on the big day. The full programme includes sprint and middle distance running, the ‘heavy’ events: boxing, wrestling, all-in fighting; and field events: discus, javelin, doesn’t even bear thinking about. So whatever you do, don’t forget the aryballos (perfume-fl ask) or sponge.
Eat and drink
But there will be compensations, believe me, many and various. Lots of temporary stall holders offering sweetmeats and alcoholic beverages, not to mention other more, shall we say, fleshly delights. (When I said ‘no women allowed’, I meant no free Greek citizen women, naturally).
Some of you may have already visited Olympia off-season. To you I say that you are in for a big surprise. Some of the buildings are lovely, no doubt, any year, any time of year – the temple of Hera, for instance (but it so needs a temple to the patron god Zeus to go with it, don’t you think?), and there are lots of gorgeous statues to gaze at. But frankly there’s not a lot else to do – apart from consult Zeus’s oracle, say, or pay your pious respects to the host of other gods and heroes who have their shrines and altars here.