Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Birthplace Of The Modern Olympics

Like walking into the Colluseum in Rome, walking into the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens seemed to have a sense of ceremony, and an echo of a whisper of an ancient wild and full crowd roar. Even on a hot Summer's day in June, with only a handful of other tourists around, and a pretty modern and formal looking function being set up in the centre of the stadium!

I got to this stadium of dreams and memories, and the place of the Opening Ceremony of the Athens Olympics, whilst I walked from ancient ruin to ancient site around central Athens. The entry fee was next to nothing, which included a free audio tour, and free reign to wander the stands and the under-passage entrance to the field.

The marble Panathenaic has been reconstructed, but is the stadium which held the first modern Olympics, back in April of 1896. Here, 14 countries competed, with all male competitors. The first medal was awarded that opening day, for the triple jump, and the Marathon, which finished in the Stadium, was the first win by a Greek.

These two royal boxes are the only variation around the stadium of seating - now for 45,000 but once at an 80,000 capacity - but are actually the second version of these, after the view was thought to be better in the middle of the hairpin design rather than midway through the longer section.

The double headed herms in the middle of the track are striking, said to be gods overseeing the athletic pursuits set to happen around them. According to some, the heads are that of Apollo and Dionysus, traditional Greek gods of arts. The audio guide spoke of them representing young and old.

The vaulted passageway was another feature to stand out in this uniform stadium of marble seating - as a visitor, I could trace the steps of athletes ancient and recent, as this was the entry for competitors for the first and most recent Olympics here. Inside the tunnel, there was an exhibit with some further history about then events that have been held here in this great stadium of the world.

As a sports fan, a visit here to the Panathenaic was pretty special. All that history and sense of occasion held within the horseshoe bowl of seating. The hopes and dreams of athletes and indeed nations, all whisper around here, with sport still being a great social equaliser. A meaningful visit this European summer.

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