The sanctuary at Olympia flourished from the 10th c. BC to AD 426, the
year in which the emperor Theodosius
II closed all the ancient sanctuaries. It was a major religious, cultural and sporting centre, a pole
for Hellenism, and the bond that linked motherland Greece with the colonies of the Mediterranean
The Altis, the sacred grove at Olympia, took shape in the 10th-9th c. BC,
and was devoted mainly to Zeus.
The first monumental buildings were erected in the Archaic period (7th-6th c. BC), and new structures
added to meet the continuously growing needs of the sanctuary.
The area of the sanctuary received its final form at the end of the 4th c. BC. In the Hellenistic and
Roman periods, it
underwent a number of modifications dictated by the conditions of the times.
The games, which were held in the area already in prehistoric times, were reorganised in the 8th c.
BC by Iphitos, king
of Elis, Kleisthenes of Pisa and Lykourgos of Sparta, who instituted the “sacred truce”.
From that time on, the Olympic
games were held every four years and acquired a panhellenic character. The athletes competing in the
games had to
be true-born, free Greek men. Women were not allowed to watch the games.
Victors in the games were crowned with a branch of the “beautifulcrowned wild olive tree”
that stood near the temple of
This crown bestowed the greatest honour on the competitor, his family and his native city, and could
compensated for by either money or high office.
When the pagan religions were suppressed, the institution of the Olympic games, which had flourished
centuries and made a brilliant contribution to the history of sport, fell into disuse.
[Parts of Official Flyer "Olympia", 2011]