In antiquity, Ilida or Ilis, 35 km (22 miles) north of Olympia and south of the river Penaeus, apart from being a centre of important political developments for Ancient Greece, it was also the organiser of the Olympic Games. The region has been inhabited since the Protohellenic (Neolithic) era in 2800-2000 B.C., but it was after the 7th century B.C. that the city blossomed because of the Olympic Games, while the region of Ilida was declared a sanctuary.

Ilida was the birthplace of several important figures of the ancient world, including Iphitus, who established the first Olympic Games, the sophist Hippias, and the sceptic Pyrron.

Aetolos Oxylos is considered the city’s mythical founder (twelfth – eleventh centuries BC) who came from Aitolia together with the Dorians and is said to be the founder of the Olympic games which later were revived by his descendant king lphitos.

In 776 BC, when the first Olympiad was held, the Ilians assumed supervision of the Sanctuary of Olympia. They forfeited this privilege to the Pisans in 668 BC, but regained it with the help of the Spartans in 580 BC.
Henceforth the city enjoyed a great heyday, which lasted until the end of the 5th century BC. Political and other public issues were of little interest to Ilida, whose chief concern was the organization of the Olympiads. The games were quinquennial, that is they were held at the end of a four-year period, most probably in mid-July.

Athletes from all over Greece arrived in Ilida one month before the Games, in order to prepare for the sports. They were accompanied by their relatives and/or famous foreigners, a fact that gave prestige to the city; the city itself was shaped around the Games and there were few buildings for the public life of the city.

Women played a significant role in the management of public affairs in Ilida. According to Pausanias, there was a council of sixteen wise Ilian women which had to its credit the reconcilation of Pisa and Ilis, as well as the institution of the Heraean Games. These were panhellenic foot races for girls, held in honour of the goddess Hera and organized every four years like the Olympics, but on different dates.

The importance that the Ilians attached to the organization of the Olympiads is reflected in the picture of the city’s agora. The traveller Pausanias, who visited Ilida in the 2nd century AD, describes gymnasia, a palaestra, stoas, temples, sanctuaries and temene (sacred precincts), but no building associated with civic life. These edifices were adorned with a host of statues and sculptures by famous artists fo antiquity. Pausanias mentions, among other monuments, the temple of Aphrodite Urania (Heavenly), with its chryselephantine statue of the goddess, a work by Pheidias; the open-air temenos of Aphrodite Pandemos (of the people), which housed a renowned bronze statue of the goddess, a work by Scopas; the temple and statue of Apollo Acesius (Healer); the temple of the Graces with the acrolithic statues of them; the temple of Silenus and the sculptural group of the god with Methe (Drunkeness).

When the Romans came, they constructed many buildings in this rich city, which continued to thrive, but it lost some of its splendour. The Herulians in 267 A.D., during their raids, destroyed both Ilida and Olympia and after the discontinuation of the Olympic Games in 393 A.D., the city progressively sank into obscurity. During the first years of Christianera, only a small part of the city was inhabited.
The extensive archaeological site of Ilida was systematically excavated during the first decade of the 20th century and the web of the city was revealed along with many archaeological discoveries which are exhibited in the museum.

Recent work for the promotion of the archaeological site of Ilida includes the removal of undergrowth, tree planting, the creation of visitors’ paths, the installation of signs with explanatory texts and the conservation and restoration of its monuments.


Opening hours:

Tue-Sun, 08:00-15:00


Archaeological site: Free

Museum: 2 Euros

  • Ancient Ilida
  • The theatre of Ancient Ilida
  • The museum of Ilida
  • A street of the city of Ancient Ilida

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