Olympia, in ancient Greece, the site of a sanctuary and of the Olympic Games. It lies in the valley of the Alfiós River in the western part of the Peloponnesus. The sacred area, railed the Altis (which means “grove”), was an irregular rectangle about 470 feet (143 m) long and 600 feet (183 m) wide. The Altis, enclosed by a low wall, contained temples, treasuries for offerings to the gods, and administration buildings and reception halls.
The chief building in the Altis was the great temple of the god Zeus, probably built about 470 B C. Here was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the gold and ivory statue of Zeus by Phidias—a huge figure, richly decorated, and seated on a throne. A smaller temple was that of the goddess Hera, built perhaps about 1000 B.C. Other buildings included the Prytaneum, a public hall where a fire was always kept burning.
Outside the Altis were the many buildings used for the Olympic Games. The Stadium had seats for 40,000 to 45,000 spectators. The Hippodrome was for chariot races and horse races, the Palaestra for boxers and wrestlers, and the Gymnasium for training.
Olympia was a religious center from prehistoric times. (The games were held in honor of the gods.) Some time after the games were abolished in 394 A.D., the monuments were badly shattered by earthquakes and buried by landslides.
The German government carried out extensive excavations from 1874 to 1881 and uncovered the remains of the buildings. Among the sculptures found were the Hermes of Praxiteles and the Nike of Paeonius. All the relics are now in the museum in Olympia.