(A note from 2017: this post is, by now, ancient history. Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Olympics failed; those Games will be held in Tokyo. Ancient Olympia, then just a distant dream for Peter Sommer Travels, is now part of our well-established “Exploring the Peloponnese” tour).
Just a few weeks after we blogged about it, the Chimaira has made the news! Indirectly at least. Namely, in the context of the Olympic Flame that just went out over London after another glorious set of Olympic Games in the United Kingdom.
According to the International Sports Press Association, a meeting took place in early August between Jacques Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current Prime Minister of Turkey. In the context of promoting Istanbul’s bid for the 2020 Olympics, he apparently referred to his desire to bring the Olympic flame, or in his words “our flame”, “back to its roots”.
This appears to be a reference to the Chimaira, also known as Yanartaş (flaming rock), the natural eternal flame near the ancient city of Olympos in Lycia, Turkey. Indeed, for a number of years an information panel at the entrance to the Chimaira has been telling a somewhat garbled story connecting the site with the Olympic flame.
Alas, we have to disappoint the more romantic among our readers. The story may be a recent local tradition, based on a misunderstanding of the presence of a flame near a site named Olympos. More likely, it is a clever attempt at marketing the site, as if its real association with the myth of Bellerophon was not enough.
The Ancient Olympic Games, according to legend founded in 776 BC, took place at the great sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia, Greece, every four years, from the legendary first games of 776 BC until their abolition in 393 AD. There was no Olympic flame as such to mark the duration of the Games as such in those days. There was, however, an eternal flame burning on the altar of Hestia, goddess of the hearth, in the Prytaneion or Council House of the site, as described by Pausanias (V,15,9).
The idea of an Olympic flame is fairly recent; it does not even go back to the 1896 Athens Olympics, the first of the modern era. The first time a large flame, placed on a tower designed for that purpose, marked the ongoing Summer Games was at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. The now familiar ceremonial lighting of the flame near the Temple of Hera at ancient Olympia and the subsequent torch relay to the host city were introduced for the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
So much for the notion of the Olympic Fire as an ancient tradition, and so much for the connection between the Chimaira and the Olympics…
Be that as it may, we at Peter Sommer Travels wish the Istanbul bid well. There can be no doubt that Istanbul is one of the truly great cities, well capable of hosting a great Olympics. And, as the Prime Minister pointed out, it would be the first Olympics to be staged on two continents at the same time.
Meanwhile, you can visit the Chimaira, and be impressed by that natural wonder with its direct connection to Greek myth, on one of our Lycian cruises. And on our Exploring the Peloponnese tour, you can explore the ancient home of the Olympics, with its splendid ruins and excellent museum.