Olympia – the sanctuary of Hellas (part 1)
A lot of miracles can be seen in Hellas, a lot of miracles can be heard here, but there is nothing of God’s protection over anything like the Eleusinian Mysteries and the Olympic competitions. ” So considered the historian and traveler Pausanias, who in the II century carefully studied the monuments of Ancient Greece and left the famous book “Description of Hellas”. And although eighteen centuries have passed since that time, pagan gods have long been rejected, but even today, a man stepping on the land of Olympia experiences a sense of reverence – akin to that which encompassed the ancient Greeks near the sanctuary of their main gods.
To a large extent, this feeling is created by the surrounding nature. Olympia is located in the west of the Peloponnese, in a beautiful valley stretching near Mount Kronos, between the rivers Alpheus and Cladius. Around the entire space that covers the eye, rise low, covered with lush green hills. On four sides, the valley is fenced off with natural barriers – rivers, hills. This creates a certain isolation, a sense of estrangement from everyday worries. It seems that nothing violates the peaceful and serene picture of this corner of the earth, and only the ruins of the once brilliant temples remind us that the course of history, war and changes in people’s views did not spare Olympia …
She was one of the most famous sanctuaries of Hellas, the first home of athletes. But the glory of Olympia is associated not only with sports. It was the religious and cultural center of Ancient Hellas. People came here to get advice from the Olympic oracle or the priest Zeus. State and private documents about major historical events were stored here. The texts of treaties and messages of victory were introduced by inscriptions on stone slabs, bronze disks. Many statues, temples were vowed, set in honor of any victory, the successful patronage of the deity in an important state or personal affair.
Olympia served as a hotbed of artistic culture. Over the centuries, magnificent buildings were erected here, renowned craftsmen created. Myths, folk traditions, cults of gods and legendary heroes, ideals of the ancient Greeks and the historical fate of Olympia itself were visibly reflected in the monuments of art.
The first architectural structures on its territory date back to the beginning of the second millennium BC. e. People of that time did not know anything about Zeus, nor about the Olympic Games. They worshiped the father of Zeus, the titan Kronos. His name was the highest mountain and altar in the area. In addition to Kronos, they honored Urania, the goddess of the land of Gaia. Already then, together with the formidable gods, the legendary Pelops was honored, by whose name the Peloponnese peninsula was named. It is difficult to establish when and why the cult of this hero arose. It is only known that his cult is more ancient than Zeus, and his sanctuary – Pelopion – the first that was created in Olympia.
After the Dorian tribe was strengthened on the peninsula, the cult of the god Zeus is strengthened, from now on Olympia becomes his sanctuary, although the old worship of Pelops, the veneration of Kronos, are preserved. Sacrifices at that time took place in the open. After all, the deity was then identified with nature. Particularly revered was the ash altar of Zeus, located in the center of the sanctuary. The slaughter of animals took place below on the prey, at the stone pedestal: hips, bones rose to the very top, were burned there. Ashes were mixed with water and the altar was smeared. Pausanias testifies that the height of the ash altar of Zeus reached 6.5 meters in his time (II c.), The ash was so strong that steps were cut in it to climb the altar.
In addition to the main altar, there were dozens of others, also dedicated to the “father of the gods and people.” It is curious that he acted not only as a formidable lightning thrower. Zeus is also addressed in very prosaic circumstances. So, in one myth about Hercules it is said: when he made a sacrifice in Olympia, he was terribly tired of flies. Hercules decided to get rid of them in a peculiar way – he made a sacrifice to Zeus Apomius (driving away flies).