The sanctuary lies in the alluvial valley formed
by the confluence of the rivers, Kladeos and Alpheos; to the north is the wooded
Hill of Kronos.
To the south is one of the most important buildings at Olympia, the Bouleuterion
, the Council
Far to the north is the Prytaneion where the Prytaneis, the high priests, were
in residence, not
only during the year of the Games, but permanently.
To the west, close to the banks of the Kladeos River, are the Palaestra and the
athletes were privileged to exercise and take final training for the Games.
In the center is the Temple of Hera, wife of Zeus. South of the Temple of Hera
stands the overpowering Temple of Zeus.
In ancient times hundreds of statues of athletes and other famous personages
were placed throughout the Altis; those statues were votive offerings dedicated
to Zeus. Few of the statues have been found since the German School of
Archaeology began its nineteenth-century excavation of Olympia.
The color, modeling, and perfection of the Altis statues appealed to the Roman
conquerors who carried away the art treasures. Happily, a few remained at the
site, and, on exhibit today at the Museum of Olympia, they give us some inkling
of what a dazzling sight the entire group of fine statues must have been.
Bordering the Altis, to the north, are a series of Treasury Buildings. The
arched tunnel, just outside the Altis to the northeast, leads to the stadium.
The sanctuary itself, the Altis, was separated
from the rest of the area by a precinct wall and was entered through three main
gates, two of the west and one on the south side. The wall enclosed the temples
and buildings that were directly connected with the cult. Outside the wall were
the buildings serving the needs of visitors to the sanctuary and of the athletes
during the Olympic Games (priests' houses, baths, hostels, gymnasium, palaestra,
Activities in the Altis were greatly limited with the edict forbidding
the festivals of the great sanctuaries in AD 393. The destruction of the
monuments was by imperial decree in AD 426 and the devastation was completed by
an earthquake that struck the region during the 6th c. AD.