Monday, June 27, 2016

Panathenian Stadium

The Panathenian Stadium is inexorably linked not only with the athletic events held in the capital of Greece, but also with the history of Athens. The Stadium is first mentioned during the reign of Lykourgos (330-336 B.C.), who decided to build a sports field for the inhabitants of the city. The most appropriate place was located near the hill of Ardettus, in the narrow passage between the two adjacent hills next to the Ilissos River.

After completion of the necessary work, the Stadium started hosting athletic events. The nobility and the priests had sitting rights for the few wooden seats, in contrast with the spectators who had to find a place somewhere on the rocks of the two hills. Five centuries passed, before a proper stadium was constructed. In 131 AD, Herod Atticus conceived the idea for a new, 50.000 seat stadium. He created a true masterpiece with marble being the main material used, while the stands were divided into two tiers, with 23 rows of benches each.

Gradually over the years, the Stadium was neglected. Hard times and different stages of Athenian history did not favour the holding of athletic events. The Stadium was abandoned and the marble removed and utilised in the construction of other buildings. Some initiative was noted in 1858, when an effort to clear the area and conserve the remnants of the ancient Stadium in order to hold the Zappas Olympics, was made. Nothing came of that, but 12 years later, in the second Zappas Olympics, conditions were somewhat better.

When in 1894, the Paris International Sports Convention decided that Athens should be awarded the revival of the Olympics Games and the need for a new stadium emerged, most thoughts were immediately directed towards the Panathenian Stadium. At noon of March 25th 1896, the opening ceremony for the Olympic Games was held, in front of over 60.000 Athenians who had crowded into the Stadium. The first modern Olympic Games included track events, gymnastics, wrestling, weight lifting, and of course the Marathon run in which Spyros Louis finished first, one of the most widely discussed and covered victories in the history of the Olympic Games. Since then it has played a major role in key sporting and musical events in Athens, including the annual Marathon run, the Athens Games (2004), musical events, the reception of the Greek Football team who won the European Cup during Euro 2004 and many more.  

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