sights in and near katakolon
(32.34 km – approx. 30 mins from Katakolon)
Olympia is the place where the very first Olympic Games were organized. These Games were held in honour of Zeus, once every four years, as part of a religious festival. They were greatly respected and even had the power to suspend wars for a period of three months.
In the beginning these games had a local character and only Greeks from the area of Olympia could take part. Over time, however, they got a Pan-Hellenic character and Greeks from all over the then known Greek world would travel to Olympia in order to be part of this feast. The highest moral award for an Olympic winner was a wreath made out of the branches of a wild olive tree. Victory symbolized by a wreath meant rather more than sponsors, deals and advertising campaigns. The Olympic winners won immortal fame.
The archaeological site
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to run the original Olympic track. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity! Other spots of interests are the training facilities where the athletes would warm up their muscles, the hotel for VIPs’ only and the place where the Olympic flame is lit twice every four years.
The archaeological museum
The Archaeological Museum of Olympia houses the most important finds of the excavations, which began in 1875 by the German archaeologists.
Some of the highlights are the original marble sculptures of the Zeus temple, the metopes of the temple which depict the 12 labours of Hercules (the idol of all muscle –men in ancient times), the Nike statue and the late-classical Hermes statue which has the perfect proportions. Don’t forget to walk around the statue because his “behind” is really worthy of seeing as well. Other finds of interest are the ancient “strigils”, scrapers. In ancient times the athletes would get really dirty since they would rub themselves with olive oil and sand to protect their skin from the sun. After training they would use these scrapers as a kind of peeling.
The museum of the history of the Olympic Games
Here you will find “ancient Playmobil”, small stylized statuettes of animals which were actually the offerings of the poor people. If you didn’t have the money to sacrifice a real animal to Zeus, you could buy a little votive offering at one of the ancient souvenir stands in Olympia and dedicate this to Zeus.
Today Katakolon, also known as Katakolo, is a little picturesque fishing village where many cruise ships anchor in order to give their guests the opportunity to visit Olympia. Imagine that all the shops on the main street only open whenever there is a cruise ship. On all other days the shops are closed here and it’s virtually a ghost town.
Until the end of the 19th century, this little harbor was very important for the export of the little black currants to the countries of Western Europe. Unfortunately, the currant trade collapsed and now the package houses which once stored the currants have been converted into souvenir shops.
It was also used as a gateway to Olympia for the early travellers. Oscar Wilde was here and even wrote a beautiful poem as he approached the shore. He came to visit Olympia and claims to have been present the very moment the statue of Hermes was unearthed. This was probably wishful thinking but it is a fact that he was expelled from University since he came back late, from his visit to Olympia, to sign up for the semester.
Museum of ancient Greek technology
Discover the ancient Greek world as soon as you greet Katakolon Port. Only 150 meters from the pier, you will find the Museum of Ancient Greek Technology. So, take a walk beyond the souvenir shops and take a walk back in time to uncover the mystery of “how it was all done.” Enjoy live demonstrations of the ancient Greek devices and inventions in this internationally acclaimed museum which functions under the auspices of the Municipality of Pyrgos. Many of the exhibits have been transported for exclusive exhibitions to museums from neighbouring Cyprus to distant Australia. All the exhibits have been constructed by just one man, Kostas Kotsanas, through 20 years of assiduous research and study of the ancient Greek and Latin literature, Arabic manuscripts, vase paintings and the relative archaeological finds.
This unique museum, situated next to the Katakolon railway station, includes approximately 250 functional reproductions of ancient Greek devices and inventions. The complexity will be simplified during the live demonstrations of the wondrous technological achievements of the ancient Greek civilization. The exhibits range from the catapults used by Alexander the Great, the first clock, Plato’s alarm clock and the first automatic vending machine to the first robot, the first “cinema” and the first computing device in history. These exhibits cover the period from 2000 BC to the end of the ancient Greek world. It is the most comprehensive and credible museum of its kind worldwide. Its aim is to prove that the technology of the ancient Greeks, towards the end of their world, was shockingly similar to the beginning of our modern technology.
Museum of ancient Greek musical instruments
This fascinating museum, located next to the Katakolon church, houses 42 ancient Greek musical instruments. Admire the ancient Greek instruments as you listen to an ancient song of love on the hydraulis (ancient organ), observe the harp of Sappho who played as she recited her renowned poems, become enchanted by the myth of Hermes’ lyre, witness the grandeur of Appollo’s guitar, see the stringed instruments which accompanied symposiums and Dionysian rituals and study the monochord of Pythagoras.
THE LYRE of HERMES
HERMES WAS ONE OF THE MANY SONS OF ZEUS AND EVEN AS A BABY IT WAS CLEAR THAT HE WAS GOING TO BE CRAFTY BEYOND COMPARE AND A SLY GOD.
WHILE STILL A TODDLER, HE STROLLED OUTSIDE HIS CAVE SEEKING A PLAYTHING. AFTER FINDING A TORTOISE AND PLAYING WITH IT FOR A DAY (A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GOD COULD BE EQUIVALENT TO A CENTURY FOR HUMANS), THE TORTOISE, UNFORTUNATELY, DIED. DISTRAUGHT BY HIS LOSS, HE DECIDED TO KEEP HIS COMPANION FOREVER BY TURNING HIM INTO A MUSICAL INSTRUMENT. HE THEN TOOK THE SHELL AND A FEW SHEEP INTENSTINES AND CREATED THE LYRE.
APOLLO’S KITHARA (GUITAR)
WHEN HERMES WAS OLDER (PROBABLY A DAY OR SO IN GOD YEARS), HE STOLE SOME OXEN FROM HIS HALF-BROTHER APOLLO AND HID THEM SO WELL THAT APOLLO NEEDED ALL HIS ORACULAR TALENTS AND TECHNIQUES TO FIND THEM. IN THE MEANTIME HE GOT HUNGRY, SLAUGHTERED ONE OF THE OXEN, AND ATE THE MEAT. SOON, APOLLO DISCOVERED HIS WHEREABOUTS AND, OBVIOUSLY ANGRY AS A RAGING BULL, CONFRONTED THE THIEF. HERMES, USING HIS CUNNING INSTINCT, PLAYED A TUNE FOR HIM ON HIS LYRE. DRAWN BY THE BEAUTY OF THE TUNE, APOLLO SOFTED. HERMES THEN OFFERED APOLLO HIS PRECIOUS LYRE AS A GIFT OF RECONCILIATION. APOLLO THEN DEVELOPED THIS MAGICAL INSTRUMENT FURTHER INTO THE MAJESTIC KITHARA (GUITAR) WE KNOW TODAY.
Experience the hidden gems that await you in Katakolon for a most enthralling and memorable visit.
(1.98 km – approx. 4 mins from Katakolon)
Ancient Pheia (the submerged city) and Pontikokastro
In the bay of Agios Andreas are the remains of Ancient Pheia, which was an important harbor for ancient Olympia. Pheia was partially sucked into the sea by the earthquake that overthrew the Temple of Zeus at Olympia in the 6th century AD. Remains from the wall of Pheia can be traced under water, which were explored by several archaeologists in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, it is not allowed to dive here since there are so many antiquities. (Pheia is not the only submerged ancient city in Greece. In the southern part of the Peloponnese, there are at least 2 more prehistoric settlements (Pavlopetri and one near Methoni) that were sunk into the sea. There are actual plans to turn these submerged cities into underwater archaeological parks. Greece’s underwater wealth was first shown in the 1957 movie “Boy on a Dolphin” with Sophia Loren. )
Immortalized in dozens of works of fiction, the Peloponnesian War took place in the fifth century B.C. between the city-state of Athens and various armies of the Peloponnese, who called themselves the Peloponnesian League. The war lasted nearly 30 years, raging across the Aegean Sea and the northern Mediterranean. One of the cities involved in the war was Pheia, which was conquered by the Athenians and turned into a shipping headquarters for its military supply line.
Near the close of the fifth century, the area along the western coast of Greece was shaken by an earthquake that plunged the city of Pheia five meters (16 ft) below the surface of the Mediterranean. The city was lost until 1911, when an excavation team found the ancient civilization. Since then, numerous archaeologists have studied the city. Despite the global interest in the Pheia ruins, we still don’t know much about this important fragment of history.
Ancient Pheia (Fouache and Dalongeville, 1998), which is now completely under water, situated in the Bay of Aghios Andreas, on the northern side of the cape of Katakolon in Ilia, was the port of Olympia during Greek and Roman times. It is a good example of the high tectonic activity at the front of the Aegean Arc. At the bottom of the bay a fossil beachrock and a fossil notch can be observed. At the end of the 5th century AD, a 6.5m tectonic subsiding movement drowned the site of Pheia, thus providing the sea with an enormous amount of sediments which it shaped into a prograding beach including extremely varied elements, some taken from the submerged city (ceramic, slags, stones), some from the cliff. Later, at an undetermined period, the whole lot was raised, thus leaving the archaeological vestiges 5 meters deep under water and raising the top of the intertidal zone of the beach up to 1.5 m.
Pheia’s low acropolis had a byzantine castle (Pontikokastro or “mouse” castle), which became the Beauvoir of the Villehardouins. The steep site is considerably overgrown, with low remains, one or two towers, and a plethora of potentially dangerous cisterns.
The main thing here is the view, still beautiful!
(13.74 km – approx. 18 mins from Katakolon)
Municipal Museum of Pyrgos
Before entering the Municipal Museum of Pyrgos , make sure you walk around this beautiful neoclassical building and admire one of Ernst Ziller’s architectural accomplishments. What used to be the city’s marketplace, now houses many impressive finds from this prefecture.
See the boar’s tusk helmet; a similar one (according to Homer) would have been worn by Odysseus. Admire the costume jewellery from the late bronze era (1600-1200 BC). These pieces are 3000 year old but they would sit proudly on the style pages of a glossy magazine.
Other findings really worthy of seeing are the ancient “safety-pins” and the ancient “thylastra”, baby feeding bottles.
(43.92 km – approx. 45 mins from Katakolon)
Ancient Elis was the city which had, under its supervision, the organization of the Olympic Games. One month before the games, all the athletes and trainers had to gather there to train under the supervision of the local judges. They would see if the athletes were good enough, otherwise they were excluded from the Games, and they would divide them into categories. Of course, in those times, they didn’t have birth certificates, so they would determine which category they belonged to from their built and body hair. Two days before the Games began, a procession set out from this city-state and all the athletes and trainers had to walk the whole distance to Olympia (58 km). Imagine how tiring it must have been to walk such a distance before even competing in the stadium.
This procession was meant as spiritual cleansing, to prepare themselves psychologically for the religious games they were about to take part in.
At the site, the remains are scattered and, with the exception of the theatre, considerably neglected. There are also remains of training facilities, a marketplace (agora) and roman baths.
During the summer a theatre festival takes place here and people from all over the area have the opportunity to watch ancient tragedies, comedies etc. under the moonlight.
Find out that women in antiquity were just as vain as they are today since a large number of bronze mirrors and jewellery pieces were found in the archaeological site.
(48.24 km – approx. 51 mins from Katakolon)
This beautiful medieval castle stands on the summit of a hill on the westernmost headland of the Peloponnese. It was built between 1220/1230 by the Frankish prince Geoffrey I de Villehardouin and was the strongest fortress in the Frankish principate of Achaia.
Upon arrival in the nearby picturesque village of Kastro (which means Castle in Greek), take your time to enjoy a Greek coffee in one of the traditional kafeneia. Make sure you use the toilet facilities in the kafeneion since there are only chemical toilettes at the site and are closed most of the time. From the main plateia (square) it is another 5 minutes on foot up the hill or a few minutes by car.
The location chosen for the castle was due to strategic purposes. From the top of the hill Chlemoutsi protected the famous commercial port of Glarentza (now Kyllini) and the capital of the Principate, Andravida, and controlled the area that formed the core of the Frankish possessions in the Morea (Morea is a corruption of the word for mulberry tree in Greek (mouria). This was the name given to the Peloponnese in medieval times since there were so many mulberry trees.
The castle consists of two enclosures: the outer Enclosure which is polygonal in shape and the Interior Enclosure.
Access to the core of the castle, where the prince’s palace was located, was via one gate, which led, through a vaulted passage, into the central inner courtyard.
Admire the stone catapult projectiles which were once used to defend the castle. Huge cisterns for collecting the rainwater under the ground provided the castle with water in times of siege since there was no well. The complex was arranged in 6 wings, 5 of which are two-storey.
The ground floor was where the stables, staffrooms, storerooms and workshops were. The upper storey was the princely residence. There were private apartments, kitchens, a chapel and the bedrooms. The princess’ bedroom has now been converted into a beautiful museum. The bedroom of the princess has a beautiful fireplace (the first in Greece) and two large light-windows with seats and, of course, the built-in closets.
After your visit to the castle, on your way back, make sure you make a stop at Arkoudi beach (near Kyllini) for lunch or a coffee.