Remains of entrance arch at stadium.

Olympia, in Greece, was the site of the original Olympic Games. Once the home of a stadium, temples, gymnasiums, and other structures, it has been in ruins for centuries, decimated by earthquakes and the ravages of time. However, as resources (i.e., money) allow, archeologists are systematically exploring the site as you can see below.

Archeologists at work in the ruins of a gymnasium at ancient Olympia, Greece.

Olympia was the first of several sites we visited where nothing remains to be seen but pieces of buildings, and what historians and archeologists have been able to reconstruct or interpret from those pieces. We wondered if all the ruins would start to look alike. At first glance, many cities, mountain ranges, or seashores kind of look alike, but the closer you look the more quickly you see their different characters. And this was so with the various ruins we visited, too.

The photo below shows several intact columns, all that remain of an ancient structure. Several low stone walls made of quarried stone are interspersed with trees; these walls were part of the original structures, too. We usually think of trees in our neighborhoods as a little younger or a little older than our homes and businesses, but this is a different situation. These trees are a few years or at most a few decades old, but the stone structures have been here for many centuries. This realization starts to change the way you look at the old ruins.

An unusual sight: intact, standing columns.

Here is a closeup of one of the trees. It was mid to late April, so this tree was in full bloom with beautiful clusters of purple blossoms. A local guide said it was a Judas tree, named because it always blooms near Easter, but in the US this might be some kind of red bud tree.

Judas tree in bloom.

Here is another remnant of one of the ancient structures, probably a porch or portico providing an entrance to a larger, long-gone building. The Greek builders were smart and assembled the columns from pieces rather than shaping each column from one long quarried stone. This offered several advantages: short column segments were easier to quarry and transport to the site, and when an earthquake occurred the pieces could flex and move (slightly) against each other rather than a one-piece column toppling over and shattering on the ground. To assist this flexing process, the builders sometimes put a thin sheet of lead between segments of the columns. Under stress, lead would become slightly plastic, absorb energy, and tend to dampen the vibrations. Of course, a severe enough earthquake would topple the columns anyway, and many areas of the site were covered with pieces of fallen columns.

Partial remains of portico.

The platform in the background, below, was the base of a temple for Zeus. Stubs of columns remain on the base, but the rest of the columns and the roof are in pieces all around. The foreground of the photo is littered with segments of columns, for example. The ancient Greeks practiced a well-organized, polytheistic form of religion, with many gods. Interestingly, their gods resembled human personalities with all of their foibles, quirks, strengths, and flaws, but amplified. Zeus was the chief god among many, so to speak, and nearly every major site or city included a temple dedicated to Zeus.

Remnants of temple to Zeus.

The original stadium provided for track and field contests, similar to what we see in the more traditional Olympic sports today. Slopes around the competition area allowed for spectator seating, and the organizers funneled the audience into the stadium through gates so they could control the crowd and check admission.

Site of stadium for olympic track and field events.

Archeologists estimate that only half or less of the sites at Olympia have been excavated for study, so interesting finds remain to be discovered and interpreted. Will they make headlines? I suppose that will depend on what else may be competing for attention in the news that day.

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