Exhibition poster “Olympia: Myth – Cult – Games”
Exhibition poster “Olympia: Myth – Cult – Games in Antiquity”

Olympia: Myth – Cult – Games in Antiquity

This magnificent exhibition is devoted to the ancient Olympia shrine and its cult and to the contests held there that are revived every four years in the modern Olympic Games.

“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:
- a presentation of the shrine showing the most valuable archaeological finds;
- a presentation of the ancient Games in Olympia;
- a 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, prospections.

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.

On the Greek side the work of mounting the exhibition and compiling the catalogue has been done by Georgia E. Hatzi, head of the 7th Ephorate for Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities; Dr. Nikolaos Kaltsas, Director of the National Archaeological Museum, Athens; and Georgios Kakavas, Director of the Numismatic Museum, Athens; and on the German side by Prof. Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer, formerly Director of the Antiquities Collection of the Berlin State Museums, Prof. Hans-Joachim Gehrke, formerly President of Berlin’s German Archaeological Institute; and Dr. Susanne Bocher.

Mythos Olympia – Kult und Spiele in der Antike
Edited by Hans-Joachim Gehrke, Wolf-Dieter Heilmeyer, Nikolaos Kaltsas, Georgia E. Hatzi and Susanne Bocher
Prestel Verlag Munich
Museum edition: softcover, € 25
Trade edition: hardcover, € 49.95
(ISBN 978-3-7913-5212-1)

Karolos Papoulias, President of the Hellenic Republic
Joachim Gauck, President of the Federal Republic of Germany

Organizers Berliner Festspiele. The exhibition “Olympia: Myth - Cult - Games in Antiquitiy” is an initiative of the Greek Cultural Foundation, Berlin, the official agency of the The Hellenic Ministry of Education and Religious Affairs, Culture and Sport. Partners: the German Archaeological Institute and the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin. Partners of the Greek Cultural Foundation, Berlin, are: the National Archaeological Museum, Athens; the Archaeological Museum, Olympia; the Numismatic Museum, Athens; and the Antiquities Collection of the Berlin State Museums. The exhibition has been facilitated by the Berlin Capital Cultural Fund and the German Savings Banks and Giro Association, and supported by the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, Athens, and the A.G. Leventis Foundation. The current educational program is faciliated by the Friede Springer Stiftung.