Sacred places represent the essential spirit of human kind, and at some point in time, was part of a significant event, ceremony, or spiritual worship. People venture to sacred places to satisfy the human spirit’s desire for communion with themselves and their collective humanity. Sacred sites are the most loved and visited places on planet earth. When one arrives at a spiritual destination they find themselves closer to their individual realities. These places have the power to awaken the soul and enlighten the mind.
Though some places today, such as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, exist today as sacred places, they usually carry a different significance from those of mythological nature, such as Mount Olympus. Mount Olympus is Greece’s highest mountain and home to the gods of Greek mythology. It was the home of the divine family, the twelve most important ruling gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece. In mythology, though some places are physically there, they embody meanings far beyond the scope of the events that happened and even beyond the limits of the physical locations themselves (Leonard & McClure, 2004, p. 321).
Sacred places that are considered in mythology are found in such places as waters; landforms such as mountains, canyons, and caves; trees, gardens, or forests; and blessed isles or magic realms. According to Mircea Eliade, such objects as icons and religious utensils, such places as temples and special groves, and such times as religious festivals are designated as sacred, because only certain limited activities can properly be performed with or within them (Leonard & McClure, 2004, p. 20). So, to be sacred is so much more than being evident and physically present, as is the case with Mount Olympus. Mount Olympus although evidently is a mountain and a place which can be visited, it is in a sense considered an imaginary place, because it’s meaning and sacredness far exceeds the human eye and understanding.
Mount Olympus is part of a mountain range in North Greece. It is on the border of Thessaly, and Macedonia, and near the Agean cost. At 9, 570 ft. it is the highest point in Greece, and is the metaphorical home of the ancient Greek gods and goddesses. In the pre-Christian era, many mountains including Mount Olympus were endowed with spiritual powers. This fact helps the belief that this was an appropriate dwelling for the 12 gods and goddesses. Though the gods and goddesses dwelling was figurative the actual mountain is at the base of the myths. With its great mass and superior peaks, ancient mythologists understand why Mount Olympus was the site chosen. Known as the place where Earth meets the sky, making it a zone of Great Power. Monks and hermits were the first type of people to seek refuge in the lower levels of the mountain. People in Greek and Roman times began to flock to the mountain to explore the ancient caves and springs the Olympus had to offer. Certain spots, called sacred groves were places where offerings could be made along the way of scaling the mountain.
Today Mount Olympus is still a sacred place. It is much more a tourist destination than say, holy ground. Many different and rare species and plant life can only be found there. 138 rare plant species to be exact, according to Mcleod (2010). Protecting these species was the Mountain being deemed a national park in 1938. Developers and politicians alike are very interested in projects that could alter the living state of Mount Olympus. With so few descendents around to protect the land, it appears that the more original population is aging and the ideology and spirituality of Olympus stand threatened.
The place where Zeus battled the Titans, gathering clouds and launching thunderbolts to attain victory is still legend albeit on a very different level. Some who spend extended stays still adhere and believe in the powers that has been said to govern the sacred site. Mostly though, people travel to Mount Olympus to scale to its highest peaks and tour its villages. Statues and other artifacts were still being discovered in the late twentieth century. The figurative home for the 12 gods has deeper meaning now, and faces heavy challenges to preserve it.
According to Greek mythology the summit, shut from sight of men on earth by clouds, is home of the Olympian gods. Later the name Olympus was given to the remote heavenly palace of the gods, and only the twelve most important Greek gods lived there. The leader of the Greek gods Zeus lived there (he was the ruler of the heavens and earth). His queen Hera lived there along with their children Ares, Hermes, Apollo, Hephaestus, Athena, Aphrodite, and Artemis. Zeus’s brothers Poseidon and Hades also lived there while ruling the seas and the underworld. The Olympians lived in majestic splendor similar to human beings in both their physical appearance and character traits. The gods would feast on ambrosia and nectar and took delight in mortal loves, sometimes even producing children, whom were known to be demigods, since they were half god and half mortal.
Sometime during the 6th century B. C. the Olympian gods began to yield in importance to the mystery cults. Their beliefs changed again at the rise of Christianity. The Olympic Games started on Mount Olympus, held every four years as a celebration to honor Zeus. There the athletic games and contests of choral poetry and dance were invented. The games where held from 776 B. C. to A. D. 393. They originated on the plain of Olympia in Elis, and in the town of Olympia. Mount Olympus is still visited today. It is a very challenging hike and every year a few unlucky or over confident people get into serious trouble on the mountain. Sometimes fatalities occur.
Recently trains and tours to visit the mountain have been added. At the foot of Mount Olympus you can find the archaeological site and museum of Dion. You can see exhibits on the mountain and the remains of major temples of Isis and other divinities. Recently archaeological expedition found ancient pieces dating back to Minoan times, indicating that the worship of a deity on the mountain may be older than was first thought. But without research or a full understanding, one will never go to know the full significance a place like Mount Olympus holds. For what is physical or even architectural admiration amongst most today, was once a place of sacred and even religious admiration to others at an earlier time. To them, Mount Olympus stood as sacred ground for communication and offerings to and from the gods of Greek mythology, a myth as many others, which cannot be dismissed.
Sacred places are found in different cultures, past and present all over the world. These places become sacred only through us, through our presence, as settings for our lives most spiritual and challenging times. Whether they are the repositories of national or ethnic identity or the site of supernatural revelation or visitation, whether they are actual places where we can stand and hear the echoes of long-ago battles or imaginary places shaped by the requirements of mythic vision, sacred places serve to teach and remind us of who we are and how we ought to behave in our day-to-day lives (Leonard & McClure, 2004, p. 320).
It is important for sacred places to be preserved because it secures older buildings of fine design and craftsmanship. It also preserves the evidence of tradition and the history of belief that we are part of something mysterious and much larger than ourselves. Sacred sites continue to inspire religious movement and many factors are considered, it is the feelings these sacred places evoke in people that make their importance meaningful. These places often bring people together in an act of faith and love, and even worship and devotion to the places and things that surrounds them.
The AIA Jornal of Architectue Jan. 2006
Leonard, S., & McClure, M. (2004). _Myth and Knowing. An Introduction to World Mythology_. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Company.
Mcleod, Christopher. (2010). Mount Olympus. Earth Island Institute. Retrieved July 31, 2010. from: http://www. sacredland. org/mount-olympus/
Olympus in _The Columbia Encyclopedia_ (2008) Columbia University Press.
Olympus, Mount. In _the New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy_ (2002) Houghton Mifflin.
Olympic Games in _the Macquarie Dictionary_ (2005) 4th edition Macquarie University NSW.