The Greek Pantheon on Mount Olympus in Greece
Maybe you have ever wondered if the mythical Mount Olympus of the 12 Greek Gods is an actual mountain you can visit. Well, it is and it’s located in northern Greece. This is the mountain range so often mentioned in Greek mythology where the gods Zeus, Athena, Apollo, Aphrodite, Dionysus, and many others used to live. Did the Greek gods actually exist? Well, the ancient Greeks thought they did.
The Residence of the Olympian Gods
Mt Olympus in northern Greece is one of the most important places in Greek mythology. Being the highest mountain in Greece with heavily forested hills, waterfalls, lagoons, and remote steep rocks, it was the most perfect place for the ancient Greeks to situate their 12 Greek Gods.
The Throne of Zeus
Stefani (2902m, 9521ft), the steepest and impressive peak of Mount Olympus was considered the throne of Zeus, while Mount Olympus’ highest peak Mytikas was where the Olympian gods gathered for their meetings.
Where is Mount Olympus
Mount Olympus is located in the north of Greece on the borders of Thessaly and Macedonia, between the districts of Larissa and Pieria. The distance from Thessaloniki to one of the entrances of Mount Olympus is about 90 kilometers. The most popular entrance is at the village of Litochoro, at the foothills. The distance from Athens to Litochoro is about 420 kilometers.
The southern part of the Greek Mount Olympus is separated from Mount Ossa by the historical Tempi Valley. At the coastal area above, the mountain range rises gradually from the Aegean Sea until it reaches its rocky summit Mytikas at 2917 m (9570 ft), west of Litochoro.
The northern region of Mount Olympus is separated from the Aegean Sea by the plain of Katerini and from the Pieria Mountains by the historical Petra Passage.
Who where the 12 Greek Gods?
The very religious ancient Greeks believed that the world was created by immortal deities. These gods and their actions served as an example to the Greeks (though often also as a bad example!) and they were also used to explain phenomena the people of that time were not able to explain in another way. The gods were also called upon for help and support in difficult times by way of worshiping, prayers, and offers.
The Olympian Gods living atop Mount Olympus were the third generation of these deities. The first generation had been Uranus (Heaven) and Gaia (Earth). Their offspring were called the Titans of which Cronus and Rhea are best known.
The Titan Cronus was encouraged by his mother Gaia, who was treated badly by her husband, to overthrow his father Uranus. That’s when the mighty Titans became the rulers of the world.
When Cronus’ sister and wife, Rhea, becomes pregnant of their children he is told that his children will overthrow him as well. In order not to let that happen, Cronus swallows all of his children after their birth. Rhea is able to save Zeus, who at a later age, with the help of his grandmother Gaia, forces Cronus to vomit up Zeus’ brothers and sisters.
A long nasty war between the Titans and Olympian Gods follows, the Titanomachy, which is won by the latter under the leadership of Zeus. Zeus puts his father and the other Titans in Tartarus, the deepest part of the Underworld, where they will be tortured forever.
Greek mythology is a body of legends and myths that were told by the ancient Greeks about the origin and the nature of the world, with gods, heroes, and other mythological figures. Much has been learned from Greek mythology about the culture, religion, practices, thoughts, and daily life of the ancient Greeks.
The Olympian Gods, lesser gods, and heroes are returning characters in the works of Homer and Hesiod that describe the many myths. The Olympian gods are also mentioned affluently by the historian Herodotus and geographers Pausanius and Strabo who traveled Greece and collected myths, legends and historical facts throughout the Greek world.
Actually, there are more than twelve Olympian Gods, even though the number is usually fixed at twelve. Some gods were definitely Olympian Gods as they visited Mount Olympus regularly and play parts in mythology, but they lived elsewhere. Like Hades, the god of the Underworld, who lived below the earth surface to rule over the dead. The god Poseidon also lived elsewhere. He had a palace at the bottom of the sea.
The leader of the Gods was Zeus (Jupiter), who ruled the sky and the earth. Whenever he got angry he cast bolts of thunder and lightning over land, mountains, and seas. Many sanctuaries were built where offerings were made to Zeus by the ancient Greeks. In the ancient city of Dion, the sacred city of the Kingdom of Macedonia, just below Mount Olympus, Zeus was worshiped by Alexander the Great and King Philip.
Hera (Juno) was Zeus’ wife and queen of the gods. She was honored by the ancient Greeks as the goddess of marriage. Zeus had many amorous relationships with women and his children became lesser gods, nymphs, and heroes. Hera’s jealousy made her very evil, trying to destroy Zeus’ offspring and taking revenge on the women, like when she turned the nymph Calypso into a bear when she found out Zeus had slept with her and sent the goddess of hunt, Artemis, to kill her.
The god of the sea Poseidon (Neptune) lived at the bottom of the sea in his palace. He ruled the seas with his trident and caused storms and earthquakes when he was upset. He competed with the goddess Athena to become the protector of Athens, but the Athenians chose Athena, who had given them the olive tree. Outraged, Poseidon flooded parts of Attica.
The worship of Poseidon was most common in coastal areas and islands. Temples dedicated to Poseidon were found on capes, near springs, rivers, and lakes and offerings like horses, pigs, bulls were thrown into the sea to please the god. In Cape Sounio you can visit the remains of a beautiful temple of Poseidon looking out across the sea.
The goddess Demeter was especially worshipped by farmers because she was considered the protector of the grains and the fertility of the earth. When her daughter Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, the god of the kingdom of the dead (the Underworld), she told the other Olympian Gods that she wouldn’t return to Mount Olympus or allow the earth to grow any vegetation unless she saw her daughter. Zeus made a compromise with Hades and Demeter blessed the earth with an abundant harvest.
Athena’s (Minerva) very wise mother was swallowed by Zeus, so he wouldn’t risk losing his power to her. Athena was born out of the head of Zeus fully grown-up and dressed in armor. She was honored for her superior fighting powers, her promotion of peace and political alliances, her intellect and her inspiring courage. As a goddess of warfare and protector of Athens, many temples were built for her and many festivals and events were held in her honor. Her symbols were the owl and the olive tree.
The Olympian Apollo
The god of the sun, music, and prophecy was Apollo. Apollo killed the Python in Delphi that guarded the center of the earth. Delphi became home to the famous oracle of Apollo that gave predictions to individuals and city-states on which they based their decisions. It was known as an important religious center throughout the Greek world. Here Apollo was worshipped at the beautiful oracle of Delphi, built in honor of him, where his prophecies were relayed through a high priestess, the Pythia.
Living in the forests surrounded by nymphs, Artemis (Diana), the goddess of the hunt and the wilderness also protected young girls. She was the twin sister of Apollo and it was said she helped her mother to give birth to her twin brother.
The beautiful goddess Aphrodite (Venus) was born from sea foam. She was so beautiful that all men loved her and she became the goddess of love, pleasure, passion, beauty, and desire. She used her divine powers to make Jason fall in love with her and travel with his Argonauts to Colchis to steal the golden fleece. Aphrodite’s son Eros (Cupid) made people fall in love by sending arrows into their hearts.
Hephaistos (Vulcan) was the ugliest of the 12 Greek Gods but famed for his craftsmanship and inventions. He was a skilled smith who made lightning bolts for his father Zeus to win his battles. Out of gratefulness, his father gave him Aphrodite, the most beautiful goddess, for his wife.
The god who invented the lyre out of the shell of a tortoise was Hermes. But his most important job was to give messages of the gods to humans and other gods. He also protected travelers.
Ares (Mars) was the most despised by the other 12 Greek Gods because he got into fights all the time. He enjoyed war, violence, and bloodshed.
Hestia & Dionysus
The twelfth member of the Olympian Gods varies, but usually included either Hestia (Vesta) or Dionysus (Bacchus).
The god Dionysus was almost killed before being born by the jealousy of Hera when she found out Zeus had a relationship with his mother. As his mother was killed by Hera, Dionysus was raised by the Muses. He was worshiped by the ancient Greeks for learning them to make wine, and cultivate vineyards and so he became the god of wine and happiness. He is also referred to as the god of fertility, ecstasy, madness, and the patron of the art of theater. He was one of the most popular Olympian Gods.
Hestia was the goddess of the family and home. Zeus assigned her to make and maintain the fires of the Olympian hearth, which was considered a job of great importance. Because the hearth was very important in ancient Greek society as it was necessary for sheltered family life, Hestia was very honored as a goddess.
Dion Archaeological Park
The wealthy Greek mythology is a pleasure to read, just as visiting the archaeological sites where temples and statues were built in honor of the 12 Greek Gods. You can find them all over Greece.
The place nearest to Mount Olympus, where Zeus was worshiped was the ancient city of Dion at the foot of Mount Olympus. This was the sacred city of the Kingdom of Macedonia and you will be surprised by the many ruins and beauty of the Dion Archaeological Park.