The Panathenaic Stadium
The Panathinaiko Stadio (Panathenaic Stadium) symbolizes the ancient tradition of
Athenian athletic competition and its modern-day rebirth as the Olympic Games.
The “stadium of all the Athenians” is also known as Kallimarmaro, meaning “made of fine marble.”
Above:The Panathenaic stadium
the 1896 olympic games
An Ancient Site
Over 2,500 years ago, a small Athenian valley was transformed into a stadium for the Panathinea
(Pan-Athenian games). The planners took advantage of the natural contours of the land,
building the stadium between the Agra and Ardettos hills by the Ilissos River. Lycurgus,
an Athenian statesman and rhetorician, later transformed the venue into a marble stadium
between 330 and 329 BC. This restoration was only the first of many.
During the Roman Empire, prominent Roman citizen of Greek decent Herodes Atticus
restored the stadium once again. This work, which took place between 140 and 144 AD,
added a semicircular northern wall and a southern spendone (curved wall). Athenians
used the stadium as an arena at this time.
Eventually, the ancient stadium fell to ruin, but its story continued.
Excavation and Olympic Plans
Architect Ernst Ziller excavated the site between 1869 and 1870.
He discovered a horseshoe-shaped foundation that contained a track 204.07 meters
long and 33.35 meters wide. Soon after, the National Olympic Committee considered
reconstructing the ancient stadium to host track events for the first modern-day Olympics
(slated for 1896).
Finding the Funds
In May 1895, crown Prince Constantine sent a personal letter to George Averof, a wealthy
Greek businessman living in Alexandria, Egypt. Averof enjoyed a long history of community
service and philanthropy, and Prince Constantine hoped to convince him to help fund the stadium
reconstruction. Averof responded immediately, sending two payments totaling 1,920,000 drachmas,
thereby assuming financial responsibility for the project.
Architect Anastase Metaxas rebuilt the stadium with white marble from Mount Penteli,
the same source used 2,400 years prior to build the Parthenon on the Acropolis.
He designed the reconstructed stadium to hold 69,000 marble seats.
In response to a public fund-raising campaign, the citizens of Athens donated money
to erect a statue of George Averof outside of the stadium. On the eve of the first
Olympiad in 1896, the statue was unveiled during a ceremony. Baron Pierre de Coubertin,
founder of the International Olympic Committee, spoke these words:
"The silhouette of the Grecian temple has never been lost, its porticos and colonnades
have known twenty renaissances. But the stadia disappeared with the athletes.
People knew their architectural peculiarities but never restored them.
A living stadium has not been seen for centuries.
"A few days now and this stadium will be alive with the animation given such structures
by the crowds that fill them. We will see them again climbing the stairs, spreading
out across the aisles, swarming in the passageways—a different crowd, doubtless,
from that which last filled such a stadium, but animated nevertheless by similar sentiment,
by the same interest in youth, by the same dreams of national greatness.
"There is room for about 50,000 spectators. Portions of the seats are in wood,
time having been lacking to cut and place all the marble.
After the Games this work will be completed, thanks to the
generous gift of Mr. Averof."
—Baron Pierre de Coubertin
The Panathenaic Stadium is located in central Athens on Vassileos Konstantinou (King Constantine) Avenue, east of the National Gardens. While the stadium is mainly used for tourism and special events, it remains a vital part of the Olympic Games. Every four years, the Olympic Flame is brought to the stadium from Olympia to kick off the new Olympiad. The Greek Olympic Committee then passes the flame to the host country during a special ceremony.
During the 2004 games in Athens, Olympic athletes once again competed in the stadium. The archery finals took place there, and the marathon race terminated inside the stadium just as it did 108 years prior during the first modern-day Olympic Games.
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