The Peloponnese Peninsula is famous for many battles in the war between Athens and its empire vs. the Sparta-led Peloponnesian League. Olympia was the furthest point on the Peloponnese Peninsula that the Walleighs reached. On their way to Olympia, they drove along the faster highway which skimmed the northern coastline of the Peninsula. But then they returned across the middle of the Peninsula toward the eastern part where they saw (yes) more ruins, finally staying in Nafplio on the way back to Athens. They drove across the Peloponnese on winding, narrow two-lane roads that sometimes shrank to one lane or even less–3.8 meters–and the many road signs often were hard to read. But they passed through many picturesque hillside towns with difficult names, quaint architecture and great views of Lousios Canyon. Corinth and Mycenae were the oldest towns, dating from about 2,000 B.C.E., then Tiryns about 1400 B.C.E., while Nafplio’s Palamidi Castle is merely from the 1700s C.E.
Site of the original Olympics
Ancient Olympia dates back to Mycenaean times, peaking in popularity in approx. 1600 B.C.E. The first site of the Olympic
Games* was designed and built by Pheidias, who also designed and built the Athenian Acropolis in Athens. He also constructed the Temple of Zeus in Olympia in the 400s B.C.E., with its huge statue of Zeus that was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. However in the 300s C.E., the Christians (Party Poopers!) disapproved of the games so stopped them.
From the site map, one can see the complex for games, athletes, judging, preparation, audience, etc. is quite extensive. The Walleighs enjoyed knowing that often they were at the same spot where the athletes stood or played and crowds sat watching them. After a while, all the ruins started to look alike, so Rick and Wendy very quickly walked around part of the temple and athletic preparation buildings. There were some amazing statues and pieces of buildings, such as the altar to the goddess Hera (in Greek, aka Juno in Latin) who was Jupiter/Zeus’s wife. The remaining parts of the Temple of Zeus were still pretty impressive, e.g., the athletes’ dormitories and gyms; the artisan workshop of Pheidias (Olympia designer); and especially the perspective of Rick standing next to the remainder of the bottom of Zeus’s huge statue.
*Apparently athletes who cheated were forced to pay to build compensatory statues dedicated to Zeus. Based on the number of Zeus’ statues at Olympia, there were quite a few cheats…some things don’t change.
The Minoans and Mycenaeans were contemporary civilizations, starting about 2,000 B.C.E. On their first morning in Nafplio, Rick and Wendy walked through the small uncovered site of Mycenae. They noted that the building style of both the outer walls and interior hallways reminded them of the Incas in Peru. Unique to the Mycenae ruins were: 1) circular burial grounds with beehive-shaped, light-colored-brick domes above the graves; and 2) how they buried their dead vertically, feet first, with only one stone at the entry.
The Fort of Acrocorinth
Despite poor signage, the Walleighs eventually found Acrocorinth where they climbed up to the top of the very impressive fortress originally built about 300 B.C.E. They learned that Acrocorinth’s construction may have started as early as 657 B.C.E., and it had been held and refortified by every occupying power in Greece since Roman times. The fort was finally abandoned many, many years after the Turks were defeated. In addition to a mixture of ruined buildings of pagan, Christian and Muslim origin, the fortress site once also contained an ancient temple of Aphrodite attended by 1,000 sacred prostitutes. These circumstances were supposedly what inspired St. Paul to write his two “letters to the Corinthians” in the New Testament. In any case, the view from the top of the fortress has one of the most sweeping views in Greece, about 60km in all directions.
Archeologists have found traces of civilization in Corinth dating back to 7,000 B.C.E., i.e. Neolithic times. However, the site of the ruins visible today was likely to have been inhabited from only 1900 B.C.E. It was a thriving city of temples, homes, shops, water and plumbing systems, etc. Interestingly, the corner of a temple included a Bimah–the same term in Jewish synagogues–which is a stage/lectern where pagan priests supervised activities. Among the many ruins on this site was a “graveyard” for old columns that had not been restored; a beautifully detailed warrior statue; and multiple, intricate mosaics preserved in Corinth’s archeology museum.
Nafplio is a modern city with merely centuries of history
In the 1600s C.E. during the Ottoman Empire, two fortresses were built to protect the trade routes through the Corinth Canal on which Nafplio is located. The harbor fortress is on an island to prevent enemies from sailing through. The Palamidi Castle, atop the mountain above the city, was built in the Venetian style with small stones for the main walls and some of the structures, then bricks for other buildings. The Palamidi during the day was lovely, but at night, it was lit as though the mountain top was on fire. Beautiful!