Imagine a 2,000 year old stadium that could hold 50,000 people, representing a true architectural marvel for its time.
In fact the Panathenaic Stadium was even older than this, having been upgraded from wooden to marble seating in 329 BC by archon and speech-writer Lycurgus. In 140 BC Herodes Atticus – a wealthy Greek aristocrat, sophist and once Roman senator – further upgraded its capacity to reach the famed figure of 50,000. During those times, the stadium was regularly hosting the athletic component of the Panathenaic Games in honor of the goddess Athena.
Fast forward two and a half millennia, and you’ll still wonder in amazement at today’s version of the stadium. It was redone by Greek patriot Evangelos Zappas in the 1870s for the Olympic Games, and then by Greek philanthropist George Averoff in 1895 in time for the first international Olympic Games (1896) held in modern times. Its popularity in world sporting events continued to flourish with the Intercalated Games of 1906, the FIBA European Cup final in 1968 where Greece defeated Czechoslovakia against a massive turnout of 80,000 people, and more recently the 2004 Olympic Games which hosted the archery competition at the stadium.
The Greek name Kalimarmaro translates to ‘beautifully marbled’. In the meantime, Averoff’s statue sits at the entrance to the open-air stadium, a reminder of the last benefactor who redid the structure.