Athens’ historic Panathenian (Kallimarmaro) Stadium, the venue of the first Modern Olympic Games in 1896, has reopened for visits by the public after being closed for restoration at the beginning of 2000 and reopening briefly for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, during which the Classical Marathon finish and the Archery finals were hosted there.
The legendary stadium, dating back to 330 BC, has traditionally hosted athletic events and been a center of attraction for millions of visitors from all over the world, and is one of the most important monuments in Athens and all of Greece, and this led the Hellenic Olympic Committee to decide to reopen the Stadium as a visitors’ destination.
The Stadium is now open to visitors throughout the year, from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. between March and October, and from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m between November and February, with guided tours, while the ticket price has been set at three (3) euros.
The guided tours include information on the Stadium’s rich history, architecture, construction and restoration, its location, and landmark events for athletics and Greek civilization, and especially its Olympics history.
The Panathenian Stadium (stadium of all the Athenians), also known as the Kallimarmaro (meaning ‘beautifully marbled’) Stadium, is the only major stadium in the world constructed entirely of white marble, and indeed of the world-renowned white “Penteli marble” from nearby Mt. Penteli, the same marble that was used 2,400 earlier for the construction of the Parthenon on the Acropolis.
In antiquity it was used to host the athletic part of the Panathenian Games organised in honor of Athens’ patron goddess Athena.
The site of the Panathenian Stadium was originally a small natural valley, between the two hills of Agra and Ardyttos, over the Ilissos River. The earliest Stadium consisted of a “dromos” or flat track for running events, with a rectangular “theatron” surrounding it for seating, and open at the north end, with wooden seating.
It was restored by Lykourgos in 330-329 BC for the athletic competitions of “Panathinea”, the greatest festivities in ancient Athens, entirely in Pentelic marble. Between 140 and 144 AD, Herodus Atticus again restored the Stadium, giving it the form that was found in the 1870 excavation: the horseshoe construction with a track 204.07 meters long and 33.35 meters wide. It is believed that the Stadium had a seating capacity of 50,000 people.
The last restoration was in 1895 for the first Modern Olympics the following year, with funding provided by the Greek benefactor George Averoff based on designs by architects Anastassios Metaxas and Ernst Ziller. The Stadium was built long before dimensions for athletic venues were standardised, and its track and layout followed the ancient “horseshow” model, with a seating capacity of 80,000 on 50 rows of marble steps, while it currently holds 45,000 spectators.
The Stadium is the finishing point for the contemporary Marathon race which was held each October. This is a modern re-enactment (first held during the inaugural modern Olympic Games, staged in Athens in 1896) of the run of the Athenian hoplite (heavily armed soldier) Pheidippides who, in 490 BC, sped from the battlefield at Marathon in northeastern Attica, where the Athenians and their allies the Plataians had just defeated the superior forces of the Persian King Darius, to announce to his fellow citizens that the victory was theirs. He than died immediately from exhaustion. The official distance of the route from the ancient bridge at Marathon to the Stadium is 42.2 km (26.2 miles), which was codified for the 1924 Olympic Games held in Paris.
More recently, the Kallimarmaro Stadium was selected as the main motif for a high value euro collectors’ coin, namely the “Panathenian Stadium commemorative coin” minted in 2003 in honor of the Athens 2004 Olympics. The Stadium is also depicted on the flip side of all the Olympic medals awarded during the 2004 Games and the following summer Olympics of Beijing in 2008.