Katakolon, Greece, is the site of the first Olympic Games, which took place in 776 B.C. Passengers on a Mediterranean cruise have the chance to walk through ancient ruins of massive pillars and statues that recall a time of extravagant grandeur. Many athletic events taking place at today’s Summer and Winter Olympics have remained the same for thousands of years, including the decathlon, marathon and sprints or "stadion" races. After the games were banned when Emperor Theodosius deemed them pagan rituals, much of Olympia's temples were destroyed. Following extensive excavations in 1875, however, many of the original structural foundations were uncovered and the Olympic sites in Katakolon were declared a National Park in 1976.
Visitors will embark on a journey through time when they lay their eyes on the ancient archaeological site of Olympia. This short walking tour includes the Temple of Zeus, which is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Sculpted by Phidias, the original statue stood about 44 feet tall and was decorated with ivory and gold. Since the temple's construction, it has been the most important building in all of Greek history and is still the largest temple in the Peloponnese. A stunning example of Doric architecture, the building is perfectly symmetrical and was a shrine for numerous Greek gods.
Near Zeus' compound is the Temple of Hera, the god's wife, which is one of the oldest monuments in Greece. As the main competition space for the ancient Olympic Games, this courtyard in front of Hera's temple played host to almost the entire Greek population as top athletes competed in foot races and pentathlons. During the 2004 Summer Olympics, shot-putters put their training to the test and competed on the same stage as ancient athletes more than 1,500 years ago. Passengers on Mediterranean cruises will have the chance to pose for an unforgettable photo as they attempt to reenact any number of grueling sports, from the first Olympics to the modern Games.
For a comprehensive display of ancient artifacts, visitors can head to the Olympian Archaeological Museum, located just minutes away from the historic sites. Remnants from the Temple of Zeus, some of the oldest recovered man-made sculptures, are carefully placed throughout the gallery. Colorful pediments depict scenes of mythological chariot races and wars between Greek gods and centaurs. One of the most illustrious masterpieces of ancient art, dating back to 330 B.C., is an immaculate sculpture of Hermes, the winged messenger of the gods, as he carries the infant Dionysus.
Further along during a Greek cruise, visitors will stop at the Ancient Olympic Games Museum. While perusing through the informative exhibitions, cruise passengers will gain a better understanding of why the sporting event is so important to both Greek people and nations around the world. Political agendas are put aside for 10 days as representatives from dozens of countries put their stamina to the test in a world arena. Today, the Olympics offer a chance for millions of people to cheer on their favorite athletes as they compete for the same gold medals presented to winners thousands of years ago.