Coubertin Quote for Jan, 24
Nothing in ancient history had given me more food for thought than Olympia. This dream city, consecrated to a task strictly human and material in form ... (this) factory of life-forces, loomed with its colonnades and porticos unceasingly before my adolescent mind.

In 1874, when Pierre de Coubertin was eleven-years old, a German archaeological team began a six-year excavation of ancient Olympia.  Lost for 15 centuries and buried under 45 feet of sediment left by floods and earthquakes, Olympia had once been the spiritual center of the Greek world—and had hosted the Olympic Games every four years for almost 12 centuries, from 776 B.C. till 392 A.D., when the Roman Christian Emperor, Theodosius I, cancelled them as a pagan ritual.  At the height of its glories in the 5th century B.C.—the classical age of Pericles, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle—the sanctuary at Olympia had one of the richest collections of sculpture in the world, including an astonishing 50-foot-high gold and ivory statue of Zeus that was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

That statue of Zeus had been carried off as plunder in an ancient war and the sanctuary had been looted and destroyed. But the German expedition did not disappoint. Out of the vaults of antiquity emerged 130 statues, 40 monuments, 6,000 coins, 13,000 bronze votives used as sacrifices to the mythological gods, and 400 inscriptions—the names of ancient Olympic champions carved in stone.  On May 6, 1877, the German team, led by Ernst Curtius, turned up its greatest single treasure, a beautifully preserved sculpture known as the Hermes of Praxiteles in the Temple of Hera.  Curtius had the text of Pausanias’ Travels in Greece, a second century description of Olympia that placed the Hermes exactly where it was found.  The dig produced a frenzy across Europe for the classical world—and it inflamed the imagination of a young boy, as this quote from Coubertin’s book, The 21-Year Campaign, attests.

In that same passage, he would write:  “Germany had brought to light what remained of Olympia; why should not France succeed in rebuilding it splendors?”  And that’s just what the Baron did, he rebuilt the splendors of the Olympic Games for the modern world.

Image Courtesy--Creative Commons
Courtesy--Creative Commons