The origins of the Panathenaic Stadium go back to ancient times. In the 4th century BC, the orator Lycurgus coordinated the work which consisted principally in the creation of the terracing for the stadium. At this point, the spectators simply sat on the ground. The competition area was delimited by a stone parapet. In the 2nd century AD, the important developments realised by Herodes Atticus included the addition of marble stands, and the shape of the stadium was changed from a rectangle to a horseshoe. However, over the centuries, the stadium was abandoned, and the stonework was used for other buildings. It was not until the second half of the 19th century, after archaeological excavation, that the first renovation work brought the building back to life.
At the beginning of 1895, when the preparations to hold the first Olympic Games of the modern era were taken over by the Crown Prince Constantine, the Panathenaic Stadium was envisaged as the key element of the event. A subcommittee was then created to work on rebuilding the stadium, based on the design of the ancient one.
The stadium makes use of the topography, as it is built in a depression created by two hills. In the shape of a horseshoe open to the north west, the building, with two long sides, is closed off on the south-east side by a semi-circular stand known as a sphendon. For the Games in 1896, due to the lack of time available, only the lower rows of the sphendon and the first four rows of the long sides were in marble. The rest of the stands were made of poros limestone or used wooden benches painted white. These were replaced with marble after the Games and were finalised in 1904. A diazoma, a horizontal corridor around the stadium, separates the 24 lower rows from the 23 higher rows of seats.
For the Games in 1896, the bridge over the River Ilissos in front of the stadium was enlarged by around 12 metres to facilitate access from the city, and wooden footbridges were also added.
A 70-metre vaulted tunnel, excavated inside the rock, links the stadium to the outside, passing under the south-eastern stand. Dating from ancient times, its original role is not certain. Some sources say that it was probably used for the athletes and judges to enter, or even wild animals used in combat. At the start of the 19th century, traveller Edward Dodwell wrote that offerings were placed there. Simone Pomardi, a painter accompanying him, wrote about secret rites performed by young women to encourage Fate to find them a good husband. The tunnel was used as a changing room during the 1896 Games.
A marvel to the eyes, though not so impressive to hear of, is a race-course of white marble, [...].Pausanias Pausanias is referring to the stadium at the time of Herodes Atticus, of whom he was a contemporary (2nd century AD).
AFTER THE GAMES
The link between the Panathenaic Stadium and the modern Olympic Games continued well after 1896. The building was used to hold the archery competitions and the finish of the men’s and women’s marathon at the 2004 Games. In addition, as part of the Olympic torch relay, at a ceremony generally held in the Panathenaic Stadium, the Hellenic Olympic Committee, responsible for the relay in Greece, hands over the flame to the Olympic Games Organising Committee.
Throughout the 20th century, the stadium hosted numerous celebrations and sports and cultural events, such as the first Balkan Games in 1929, the final of the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1968 and the opening ceremony of the World Athletics Championships in 1997.
In April 2010, thanks to the efforts of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, the building was opened to the public and became a tourist attraction.
DID YOU KNOW?
- The entire restoration of the stadium for the Games was privately financed by George Averoff. In recognition of this, a statue of him by sculptor Georgios Vroutos was placed next to the stadium, where it can still be seen today.
- As mentioned by Aristea Papanicolaou-Christensen, the stones needed for the renovation work in 1895 and 1896 came from several quarries, especially the poros limestone quarries near Piraeus and the marble quarries of Mount Pentelicus. From the latter, marble blocks were transported by cart and finished on site.
- Since the 2004 Games in Athens, the Panathenaic Stadium has appeared on the obverse of the winners’ medals presented at the Olympic Summer Games.
- Aristea Papanicolaou-Christensen, Le stade panathénaïque: son histoire au fil des siècles, Hellenic Republic - Ministry of culture, Historical and Ethnological Society of Greece, Athens, 2003, pp. 11, 21, 26, 47-48, 76, 80, 85, 117, 122,
- Edward Dodwell, Classical and topographical tour through Greece during the years 1801, 1805 and 1806, vol. 1, London, 1819, pp. 409-410.
- Panathenaic Stadium: discover 2,500 years of history, Hellenic Olympic Committee, n. d., pp. 3,
- Panathenean stadium: a symbol through time: Athens-Greece, Hellenic Olympic Committee, n. d., n.
- Pausanias, Description of Greece, vol. 1, books 1-2 (Attica and Corinth), W. H. S. Jones [transl.], Loeb Classical Library 93, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1918, p. 97.
- Simone Pomardi, Viaggio nella Grecia fatto da Simone Pomardi negli anni 1804, 1805, e 1806, vol. 1, Rome, 1820, pp. 153-156.
- The Olympic Games 776 B.C. - 1896 A.D., C. Beck, Athens, H. Grevel, London, 1896, 2, pp. 16-23, 33-38, 42, 51, 55, 111.
|Name:||The name “Panathenaic” means that it is intended for all Athenians. It is also called, Kallimàrmaro, which means “beautiful marble”.|
|Location:||Avenue Vasileos Konstantinou, Athens, Greece|
|Status:||Renovated for the Games. Currently in use.|
|Designers:||Original stadium (4 BC): Lycurgus Transformation (2 AD): Herodes Atticus Restoration 1895-1896: Anastase Metaxas|
|Cost:||920,000 drachmas (restoration 1895-1896)|
|Dimensions:||268m long, 141m wide and 22.5m high|
|Additional information:||Total surface area: 33,100 m2. The volume of marble used was around 29,400m3.|
|Construction:||4th century BC, 2nd century (transformation), 1895-1896 (restoration)|
|Events during the Games:||Athletics (including the finish of the marathon), wrestling and gymnastics (for which the programme also included weightlifting). Opening and Closing Ceremonies of the Games.|