What to see in Greece
Tourist attractions Panathenaic Stadium
If there's one place that still retains the Olympic spirit today, it's the Panathenaic Stadium, also known as the Kallimarmaro. This nickname, which literally means "beautiful marble", is a direct allusion to the material it is made of, since it is a large construction of marble quarried from Mount Pentelicus. The Panathenaic Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in the world and is best known for hosting the first modern Olympic Games in the late 1800s.
The Panathenaic Stadium over the course of history
The stadium was conceived and built as a home for the athletic events in the Panathenaic Games. These were religious celebrations in honour of the goddess Athena. The Panathenaic Games were held every year, but were especially important every four years. Here we see the link to the current Olympic cycle.
The events at these ancient games included horse riding, athletics, wrestling, musical and beauty contests and chariot races.
With the arrival of the Roman Empire in Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium changed its use. From then on it hosted gladiatorial fights. After the fall of the empire, the stadium was abandoned and became a quarry. Like many other historical buildings, it was looted for material for nearby construction.
The Panathenaic Stadium during the classical period and subsequent restoration
When it was first built, the seats in the Panathenaic Stadium were made of wood. Marble was used for the stands in 329 BC. The stands were then extended to accommodate more people in 140 AD. At that time it could hold up to 50,000 people.
After the disaster following the fall of the empire, the Panathenaic Stadium was restored and rebuilt thanks to the philanthropist Evangelis Zappas, whose aim was to have the Olympic Games held there.
A number of archaeological finds were made during the excavations prior to the restoration. Among other things, they discovered a two-headed statue representing Apollo and Dionysus, which is believed to have presided over the athletics track. Today, that statue can be seen at the National Archaeological Museum in Athens.
Evangelis Zappas, the Panathenaic Stadium benefactor
It was Evangelis Zappas who sponsored the 1870 and 1875 Olympic Games.
Born in Labovo in what is now Albania but was then part of the Ottoman Empire, he left his hometown at the age of thirteen to join the army of Ali Pasha of Janina as a mercenary. He would later fight in the Greek War of Independence. When he left the army, he acquired land in Romania, and the income from this property allowed him to carry out his work as a philanthropist and, among other things, to devote himself to sponsoring the Olympic Games.
In 1895, the Panathenaic Stadium was renovated for the second time thanks, once again, to private funding. In this case it came from George Averoff. When you visit the stadium, his statue greets you at the entrance.
Your first view of the stadium will be enough to tell you that its shape and size do not reflect those of a current Olympic stadium. This is because the reconstruction was carried out before the standardisation of athletics and because it was based on the classical u-shaped design and layout.
Use of the stadium today
After its eventful history, the Panathenaic Stadium has enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to a variety of events held at the venue. It should come as no surprise that it is used to celebrate the triumphs of Greek athletes; indeed, people still recall the celebrations for the victory of the Greek national football team at Euro 2004. In 1997, the World Athletics Championship was inaugurated here, in a ceremony designed and executed by Vangelis.
In 2004, archery competitions were held at the Panathenaic Stadium and it also served as the finishing line for the marathon.
The stadium has occasionally hosted concerts by such international stars as Depeche Mode, Tina Turner, Bob Dylan, Black Sabbath and Metallica. MTV Greece used it as the venue for its launch party. On that occasion, artists like REM, Real and Gabriella Cilmi played here.
How to get to the Panathenaic Stadium
The stadium is in the centre of Athens, east of the Zappeion and the National Gardens of Athens in the district of Pangrati.
The sports facility stands on Vasileos Konstantinou Avenue and is next to the Athens Tennis Club, the federation swimming pool, the remains of the Olympic Temple of Zeus and the Ethnikos athletics track. Hadrian's Gate is also nearby.
Bus: lines 2, 4, 10, 11, 90, 209 and 550.
Metro: Acropolis, line 2; Syntagma, lines 2 and 3; Evangelismos, line 3
From March to October: every day from 8:00 to 19:00
From November to February: every day from 8:00 to 17:00