Students of ancient art and archaeologists had long desired the excavation of the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, with its buildings and countless works of art. Winckelmann planned, as early as the eighteenth century, an international excavation of this celebrated site, but it was reserved for the late Professor Ernst Curtius to carry out the plan. During the years 1875-1881 the entire sanctuary and the places immediately adjacent were laid bare, at the expense ($200,000) of the German government. For four years Professor Dorpfeld was charged with the conduct of the excavations as supervising architect.
The buildings at Olympia were destroyed partly by earthquakes, partly by incursions of the Byzantines. The ruins were then covered by the little river Cladeus with sand to an average depth of fifteen feet. The same river was utilized in excavating the ruins in removing the masses of earth that covered them.
Professor Dorpfeld gave a brief account of the situation of Olympia, and threw on a screen pictures and plans of the buildings within the sanctuary, describing the great columns and the pedimental sculptures of the temple of Zeus and the construction of the temple of Hera, the oldest temple in Greece. This temple was originally of wood, but was renewed little by little in marble. The careful study of its remains has finally solved the perplexing question of the origin of the Doric style of architecture. The pictures showed very clearly the varying sizes of the columns and that the original wooden pillars had gradually been replaced by marble columns.
Outside the Altis lay the Stadium and Hippodrome, where the Olympic games were celebrated; the Bouleuterium, the ground plan of which had the form of a ship and is still a riddle to the architects; and the palaestra and gymnasium where the athletes exercised. Countless works of art were discovered in Olympia, and beautiful pictures of many of these were thrown on the screen, the pedimental sculptures of the temple of Zeus, the beautiful statue of Victory by Paeonius, and that masterpiece of Greek sculpture, the Hermes of Praxiteles. Besides these the museum which the Greek government has erected at Olympia contains inscriptions, articles of bronze, and terra cottas in almost bewildering number. Professor Dorpfeld exhibited at the close of his lecture panoramic views of the ruins, which showed clearly their present condition, and enabled his audience to picture to themselves in imagination the original aspect of this ancient seat of religious worship.
Professor Dorpfeld's lecture next Thursday evening, on the Acropolis of Athens, promises to be of unusual interest.