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Vase with the illustration of an torch relay. © The Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports. Archaeological Receipts Fund. Foto: Socratis Mavrommatis.

BERLIN.- “Olympia: Myth - Cult - Games” is an initiative of the Greek Cultural Foundation and the Greek Ministry of Culture. The German Archaeological Institute and the Martin-Gropius-Bau are partners of the project. The Antiquities Collection of the Berlin State Museums has generously supported the project with loans.

Over 500 valuable loans from Greece will be on display. Important loans from the Vatican, Paris, Rome, Dresden and Munich will supplement the grand panorama.

The world-famous myth associated with the name of the Olympia shrine in the Peloponnesus since ancient times will be presented in three sections:
• Presentation of the shrine showing the most valuable archaeological finds;
• Presentation of the ancient Games in Olympia;
• Documentation of the history of the excavations.

The ancient shrine was founded circa 1000 B.C. for Zeus, the supreme god of the Ancient Greeks, and flourished for about 1,500 years. The country around Elis had already played an important role in the Mycenaean culture of the 2nd millennium B.C., to which rich, previously unexhibited finds from more recent Greek excavations in the first hall of the exhibition testify. Many thousands of offerings representing animals and, rarely, human beings used to be brought here by pilgrims of the Zeus cult. Some of them date from the most ancient periods of Greek art. A selection of important finds may be viewed in the exhibition.

In classical times a great temple decorated with sculptures was built to Zeus, whose immense statue was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. In the 19th century Berlin archaeologists came to an agreement with the Greek government, whereby all original fragments of the sculptures found there would remain where they were in a museum specially built for the purpose, while Berlin would receive casts of them. Reconstructions of the two gables of the Temple of Zeus, each measuring about 30 metres in length, have been erected in the magnificent Lichthof of the Gropiusbau to form the centrepiece of the exhibition.

An early element of the Zeus cult was the Olympic Games. The oldest of the sporting events, originally oriented to the altar of Zeus, was the men’s foot race. Soon the winners of the races were able to celebrate themselves with statues. Participating Greek city-states sought to outbid one another with temple offerings. The simple earth ramparts of the Olympia stadium were stacked with weapons with which the victors of the countless wars between the Ancient Greek cities could pose. The exhibition shows a broad cross section of the many finds made since the 1870s. Other finds, many of which are going on public display for the first time, come from altars of the other deities at Olympia.

In the second section of the exhibition the excavations in the Olympia shrine are given the most detailed commentary yet, beginning with the rediscovery of the shrine by a French Expedition in 1829. Some of the early finds are coming as loans from the Louvre. The German and Greek excavations in Olympia are to be displayed in three halls. Significant finds from the three excavation period are shown against the background of the method used: section drawings, find documentations, prospection.

In the third section of the exhibition prominent loans and graven images are used to present the ancient sporting events in light and heavy athletics. These had another, unexpected consequence in the cultural history of humanity, as representations of the naked human form – in the Olympic context that of the male victor – constitute the basis for the development of our physical ideal. A special hall shows a collection of relevant loans from the Vatican, Athens, Rome and Dresden. 

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Bronze statuette of a runner with the engraved votive inscription: “I belong to Zeus”. Bronze, late archaic, ca 490 BC. Archaeological Museum Olympia © The Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports. Archaeological Receipts Fund. Foto: Socratis Mavrommatis

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Big Skyphos krater, Agil, Mycean, late 11th c. BC, found at grave-chamber Mageiras ‘Kiupia’ near Olympia, H 32 cm, diam. 40 cm. Archaeological Museum Olympia © Olympia Vikatou / The Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sports. Archaeological Receipts Fund. Foto: Petros Konstantopoulos