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October 19th 2016
Published: October 19th 2016
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Day 28 - Wed. Oct. 19 - Port of call: Katakolon, Greece. Weather: Partly sunny - temperatures of 70°F/21°C

Today we stopped in the town of Katakolon, which is situated in the northwest portion of the Peloponnese. This town serves as the harbour for the regional capital of Pyrgos but also provides the gateway to Olympia, birthplace of the Olympic Games in 776 BC. The Olympic games were considered an integral part of ancient Greek society. Every four years men from every city state would travel to Olympia to compete in athletic competitions to honour the king of the gods, Zeus. Due to natural disasters and the destruction of the site by Theodosius, Ancient Olympia is mostly comprised of foundations, columns and steps, or as the Location Guide Brett says “piles of stone some more organized than others”.

The sheer size of Olympia symbolizes the importance of this archaeological site. The stadium alone had a standing capacity of 40,000+ spectators, making it one of the largest of its kind in the ancient world.

Our excursion for the day “Ancient Olympia & the Village” took us out to the ancient ruins of Olympia. The sanctuary of Olympia feels like a very busy park with crowds of tourists and school classes milling about, very much like it was back in ancient days when it was filled with crowds of athletes, spectators, merchants, and philosophers. To counter the noise of other tour groups we were once again given audio units so we could hear our tour guide and her descriptions.

Our tour started with the remains of the gymnasium and the palaestra where the athletes from the city-states came to practice before the games. The games were held every four years and were an attempt to reduce the inter-city warfare that dominated early Greece. The best male athletes from the city-states came to Olympia to train and practice and to learn from the philosphers who were welcomed guests. Female athletes also participated in their own games usually held a month before or after the men.

Training for the games involved intense physical work, and while it was not considered “blood sport” like the Roman gladiatorial games, there were deaths in the practice arenas and in the final competitions. An interesting point was that while killing your opponent was taken seriously and strongly discouraged the greatest crime of the games was bribery. If you were caught bribing your opponent or the officials you and your city-state were shamed and prevented from competing in future games for many generations.

The ruins of the Temple of Zeus serve as a backdrop to the site and a reminder of the power that earthquakes have. All of the columns of the temple have fallen and archaeologists have left them where they fell. They did however reconstruct one to give tourists an idea of what the structure might have looked like.

In front of the nearby Temple of Hera we were shown the location where all of the Olympic torches are lit using only sunlight concentrated by means of a parabolic mirror.

The final stop on the guided tour was the stadium itself. The space is a simple level tract of land some 200 meters long and surrounded by gently sloping banks where the spectators either sat or stood. The only formal seating was reserved for the 10 judges.

The games were held over a five day period in the sports of: foot races, discus and javelin, long jump, wrestling, boxing, pankration (a combination of boxing and wrestling), equestrian events, weight lifting and a competition for trumpeters and heralds. Winners from the competitions were awarded a wreath of olive branches. The winners were also permitted to erect a bronze statue in their own image that stood in a park near the entrance to the stadium.

John, who has been a recreational jogger for many years took to the stadium for a ceremonial 200 meter run.

Back on board we spent the afternoon packing our luggage as tomorrow we depart Greece for home. So here ends the blogs for this journey.

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