Elis, or Eleia (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient: Ἦλις Ēlis, Doric: Ἆλις Alis , Elean : Ϝάλις Walis) is an ancient district, that corresponds with the modern Ilia Prefecture. It is in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula, bounded on the north by Achaea, east by Arcadia, south by Messenia, and west by the Ionian Sea.
The first Olympic festival was organized in Elean land, Olympia, Greece by the authorities of Elis in the 8th century BCE - with tradition dating the first games at 776 BCE. The Hellanodikai, the judges of the Games, were of Elean origin.
The local form of the name was Valis, or Valeia, and its meaning, in all probability, "the lowland" (compare with the word "valley"). In its physical constitution Elis is similar to Achaea and Arcadia; its mountains are mere offshoots of the Arcadian highlands, and its principal rivers are fed by Arcadian springs.
According to Strabo, the first settlement was created by Oxylus the Aetolian who invaded there and subjugated the residents. The city was built - as Strabo says - in 471 BC. The city had the authority of the Olympic games and believed to be a holy city, so was unwalled.
The spirit of the games had influenced the formation of the market: beside the bouleuterion to the parliament - which was housed in one of the gumnasium also - all the other buildings were relative to the games: two gymnasiums, one palaestra , the House of Hellanodikai, the Hellanodicae stoa. Pausanias describes the buildings of the Agora and the Hellanodicae stoa.
Elis was divided into three districts:
- Hollow (Coele) or Lowland Elis,
- Pisatis, or the territory of Pissa and
- Triphylia, or the country of the three tribes.
Coele Elis, the largest and most northern of the three, was watered by the river Peneus and its tributary the Ladon. The district was famous during antiquity for its cattle and horses. Pisatis extended south from Coele Elis to the right bank of the river Alpheus, and was divided into eight departments named after as many towns. Triphylia stretches south from the Alpheus to the river Neda.
Nowadays Elis is a small village of 150 citizens, located 14km NE of Amaliada, built over the ruins of the ancient town. It has a museum that contains treasures, discovered in various excavations. It also has one of the most well-preserved Ancient Theaters in Greece built during the 4th century BC and had a capacity of 8000 persons, where below it where found Protoelladic and sub-mycenaean graves. Elis is well known for breeding horses and its "creation" of the Olympic games.
Elis was the only city that built a temple to Hades in one of its precincts. The Eleans were the only one to worship him. The construction was built after Heracles' war against Neleus in Pylos. Only once a year, the doors to the temple of Hades would open, but no one would enter the temple except the priests.