"Faster, Higher, Stronger - Together"
Did you know that you can visit and even run a lap of an Olympic stadium right in the middle of Athens? We didn't, but in researching our trip we found out all about The Panathenaic Stadium and decided we must check it out.
We headed out after breakfast one day and as always had decided to walk, it was about 20 minutes from our apartment. We cut through The National Gardens, which is a gorgeous green space behind Syntagma Square. It's really worth a visit to this park if you get a chance, I'll write a little more about it in my post about Christmas Day as we visited the area for longer on that occasion.
It's the only solid marble stadium in the world and a real symbol to the endurance and power of sport.
I am guessing most of you will know that the ancient Greeks invented the Olympics starting with a sporting festival at Olympia in about 776 BCE. From this very first festival other parts of Greece would begin to hold their own games with events such as running, javelin, chariot racing and boxing (almost always done in the nude) held every 4 years. Athens had it's own version, the Panathenaic Games, which is why this stadium has it's name. Sadly the competitions died out when, in 394 CE, Roman emperor Theodosius called a halt to the fun believing it had pagan origins, leaving many stadia, including this one, to fall into ruin.
Fast forward a whole host of years and in the 1890's a French man, Pierre de Coubertin was attempting to revive the competition and was even suggesting France held the inaugural event until a very wealthy Greek business man, Georgios Averoff, stumped up the money to reconstruct the now dilapidated stadium and the horseshoe shaped marble structure you can see in the city now was rebuilt.
It was completed in time for the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was a resounding success. It can seat around 50,000 spectators and after hosting events in that very first games it is still used to this day for sports and concerts. Plus it's the place where the torch starts it's journey with each new Olympics and the finish line for the Athens marathon each year.
You arrive at the ticket office at the open end of the horseshoe and enter through a fairly narrow passageway in front of the giant marble steps.
It's hard to put into words how large the building feels as it shadows over you. The pale marble glints in the sunlight which I think makes it feel even bigger. It was a little overcast as we arrived but the sun soon joined us and it was pleasantly warm - apparently in summer it can get stiflingly hot so as always when visiting these places plenty of hydration is important.
We headed straight for the track as we all wanted to run/jog a lap. The stadium is open every morning for fitness fans to exercise in if you book in advance, but whenever you visit you can stretch your legs and run a circuit - it would feel wrong not to! (make sure to wear some shoes you can comfortably run in).
Kris and Jake went first, with Dexter and I holding bags and cheering them on. It was great watching them make their way around and we tried to make as much noise as possible to make up for there being no crowd to support them ;-) Then it was mine and Dexter's turn. I must admit to starting very confidently but slowing towards the end! Dexter decided to take a short cut and ran off ahead leaving me to run alone which made me feel slightly self conscious but I made it around and enjoyed a victory dance at the end.
We all spent some time posing on the winners podium before turning our attention to the rest of the stadium.
We decided to get a view from high up, so making our way to stand number one we climbed the many (and very steep) steps to the top of the stadium. We slowly made our way around taking in all the different views as we went. From stand 21 you can see all the way to the Parthenon across the city!
After exploring all the way around the top section we descended the steps again and made our way to the curved back part of the stadium where you can find a vaulted tunnel that leads to a small but really interesting museum where there is lots of information about the stadium including photos of it's various reconstructions, headlines from the modern Olympic games plus lots of Olympic Torches from past games.
As we made our way back through the tunnel Dexter declared that he would like to run a lap of the track without taking a shortcut and so Kris gallantly joined him for a second circuit. This time some other tourists took on the role of cheerleaders and helped with some chanting which was really sweet. Dexter was pleased he made it round and we could all say we'd run a genuine lap of an Olympic Stadium.
A visit here costs €5 for adults and €2.50 for students/children in the winter season (a few more euros in the summer) and there are also audio tours available but sadly not on the day that we went. We spent about an hour and a half here in total and all agreed it was a great way to spend a morning - be warned though, after all that running and climbing you'll be hungry so head from here to food - I recommend Vegan Beats for vegetarian Gyros all round.