Ancient Olympia is a site of particular historical and ideological significance. In ancient times, it was the sacred site where the ancient Olympic Games were held. The sanctuary of Ancient Olympia, one of the most important sanctuaries of the ancient world, was situated in the lush green valley formed by the river Alpheios and its tributary Kladeos. The sanctuary’s excellent geographical situation led Pindar to call Ancient Olympia “the most beautiful” site in Greece. The sanctuary of Ancient Olympia is linked to many different myths related to the divinities that were worshipped there and the heroes who founded the Olympic Games.
The ancient Olympic Games held a prominent position in the conscience of the ancient world and Ancient Olympia, the site of their celebration, represented a major geographical destination of particular religious and ideological value. The sacred precinct included the stadium, the hippodrome, temples, sports facilities and buildings for the pilgrims. The stadium where the Olympic Games were held, was the most important site of the sanctuary and the temple of Zeus where the famous statue of the god was kept, was the most important temple. The sanctuary of Olympia was a place of religious worship and a Pan-Hellenic athletic centre that contributed to the national awareness of the ancient Greeks.
Ancient Olympia achieved great fame throughout the period of the Olympic Games and was considered to be the “navel of Hellenism” and the most important spiritual, athletic and artistic centre of the ancient world. When the Games stopped, the sanctuary declined and was later destroyed by barbarian invasions and natural causes. It remained, however, a place of historical and ideological reference until the 19th century when archaeological research brought to light the ancient artefacts. It never ceased ever since to be a pole of inspiration, research and reference for archaeologists, historians, travelers, those who created the Olympic Movement, simple people, its modern citizens and those who choose to share its legacy and be reflected in its past. The most important confirmation of these bonds with the past of Ancient Olympia is reflected in the modern ceremony of the lighting of the Olympic Flame and the decision to create the International Olympic Academy in the place where the ancient Olympic Games were born, actions that keep alive its legacy and its history.