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Ancient Olympia at a glance

HISTORY: Olympia, in the western Peloponnese peninsula in southern Greece, was first inhabited 6,000 years ago and flourished in Mycenaean times. During antiquity, it was covered by olive, pine, plane, and oak trees, among which a shimmering array of temples and public buildings stood. It was the holiest sanctuary in ancient Greece, and hosted the ancient Olympic Games for more than 1,000 years after they started in 776 B.C.

RUINS: Ruined temples of Zeus, king of the ancient Greek gods, and his wife, Hera, still stand on the lush riverside site -- a flat tract of land surrounded by wooded hills -- near the stadium where the Olympic Games were held. Systematic excavations on the site since 1875 have unearthed remains of a gymnasium, a wrestling hall, hostels, bathhouses, priests' residences, and altars.

MUSEUM: An archeological museum on the site contains a rich array of artifacts, including a marble statue of the god Hermes attributed to the ancient master Praxiteles, and war booty the Greeks dedicated to the gods after their victories over the Persians in the fifth century B.C.

GAMES: The Olympics were the most important sporting festival in ancient Greece, held every four years. While the games lasted, Greece's warring city-states observed a sacred truce. After Christianity was established, the Roman emperor Theodosius abolished the games in A.D. 394, deeming them pagan.

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