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It was here that naked men participated in a stade. Married women were prohibited from watching under penalty of death and the winner of the stade was presented with an olive branch. Today, this scenic seaside town has a population of 3,000 and is your typical small village cruise port. Its small beach draws swimmers and sand castle builders. However, drive just 40 miles and you will be transported back thousands of years in history. En route you travel through fertile valleys where strawberries, watermelons, tomatoes, wheat and corn fill the fields. Behind them rise groves of olive trees. The rich soil also suits grapes, as white wine is produced here.
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The seaside town of Katakolon, pronounced Ka-talk-o-lon, is just 40 miles from ancient Olympia, and is the site of the first Olympic Games. The ancient Olympics were held in honor of Zeus. Athletes competed nude, a practice which was said to encourage aesthetic appreciation of the male body, and to be a tribute to the gods. Interestingly, the word gymnasium comes from the ancient Greek word ‘gymnos’ meaning naked.
In the last Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the 2016 Olympic athletes competed in 42 different sports, but ancient Olympics started with only one, the stade race, in 776 B.C., for which athletes would just run the length of the stadium. Then came the diaulos, in which athletes would do that twice. A long distance race was later added, and eventually, javelin, discus, and long jump, said to have been accompanied by flute music. There were equestrian events like chariot racing, wrestling, boxing, and a wrestling-boxing hybrid called pankration. While no eye-gauging or biting was allowed, strangulation was fair game.