The sacred fire of the Olympics from the past to the future
A vacation to Greece during an MSC cruise of the Mediterranean means history and myth. Katakolon is a tiny seaside town in Greece in the bay of Agios Andreas, only 20 km away from the ancient site of Olympia.
The historic associations and resonance of Olympia, which for over a millennium hosted the most important Panhellenic games, are rivalled only by Delphi or Mycenae. MSC Mediterranean cruises offer comprehensive excursions to Olympia. It is one of the largest ancient sites in Greece, spread beside the twin rivers of Alfiós and Kládhios, and overlooked by the Hill of Krónos.
The sheer quantity of ruined structures can give a confusing impression of their ancient grandeur and function, but the site itself is picturesque, definitely deserving a visit on an MSC excursion. The entrance to the site, located just 200m from the modern village, leads along the west side of the Altis wall, past a group of public and official buildings. The Prytaneion was the administrators’ residence, where athletes stayed and feasted at official expense.
You can see the ruins of a gymnasium and a palaestra (wrestling school), used by the competitors during their obligatory month of pre-games training. Beyond these stood the Priests’ House, the Theokoleion, a substantial colonnaded building in whose southeast corner is a structure adapted as a Byzantine church. The main focus of the Altis precinct is provided by the great Doric Temple of Zeus.
Built between 470 and 456 BC, it was as large as the Parthenon, a fact quietly substantiated by the vast column drums littering the ground. The temple’s decoration, too, rivalled the finest in Athens; partially recovered, its sculptures of Pelops in a chariot race, of Lapiths and Centaurs, and the Labours of Hercules, are now in the museum.