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» Sightseeings » Panathenaic Stadium
Like most of the ancient stadions, the Panathenaic Stadion
as well, was built or rather hollowed out in a natural ravine, which
forms a right angle with the Ilissos. Perhaps this ravine was originally
crossed by a brook, which flowed into the classic torrent of Athens.
The side opposite to the entrance ended with an artificial hemicircle.
The construction of the first stadion is generally attibuted to the
statesmen and orator Lycourgos, about 330 B.C. However
more than a thousand years ago, the Athenians had celebrated these
Panathenaic games, the founder of which was supposed to have been
the Attic hero-king Theseus.
Panoramic view of Panathenaic Stadium (Kalimarmaro)
The ground belonged to an Athenian citizen Deinias, who ceded it to
the town for the construction of an arena, as well as an amphitheatre
for the Panathenian games. But it was five centuries later (140 A.D.)
that the stadion became one of the most magnificent monuments of Athens,
thanks to the munificence of the immensely rich Athenian sophist Herodes
Atticus, who had already given more than one proof of his
noble and great leberality. This patron of letters built the whole
stadion of marble with such an abundance that the contemporaries used
to say that the quarries of Penteli became exhausted… The arena,
track has an eliptical form; its length is 204m. and breadth just
over 33m. The length of the arena, properly said, is about 600 Greek
feet=178m., which would make a real stadion the difference is due
to the barriers of the entrance and passage.
It is the length of 178m, which was used for the races. The track
was levelled between two long declivities opened at the N., from the
side of the entrance; the latter was ornamented with majestic propylaea.
The hemicircle on the opposite side was called sphndone. The track
itself was marked with “metai” in the form of double faced
pillars, called “hermai”. Four of them have been found,
of which, one is exposed in the National museum, in the room of Poseidon;
and two are still seen near the hemicircle. A marble parapet separates
the arena from the a passage 2.82m.wide from which the spectators
reach their places in the amphitheatre. This, as in ancient theatres,
is divided into two concentric zones, separated by a passage. The
lower part consists of 24 seats, the upper one of 20. The rows of
these seats were intersected by 29 flights of steps, dividing the
whole amphitheatre into 30 sectors, 12 on each lateral side and 5
in the hemicircles. The stadion could accommodate about 60000 spectators.
In the first row of the hemicircles were marble seats for the high
dignitaries; for the jury there was a special tribune in the middle
of one of the lateral sides. At the very top of the seats was a covered
colonnade, 10m wide. A superb view opens there on the Royal
garden, Zappeion and Lycavittos.
In the declivity at the S.E. side was a passage or tunnel, hollowed
out in the rock, about 4m. wide, communicating with the town. It was
used as entrance or exit for the competitors and, in later times as
a cage for wild beasts, that were kept for chases and fights with
gladiators. It was said that Hadrian, presiding at
the Panathenaean games, provided a thousand wild beasts to take part
in the chase.
The outside walls of the stadion were strengthened with buttresses;
these walls were best preserved at the N. side where it is supposed
that their strong masonry had been lined with marble slabs. The
upper zone of the building was attained by means of large stairs
inside the northern wall.
During the excavations of 1870 foundations of rooms and mosaic
pavements were discovered at the N.E. angle of the E. wing; these
were the dressing-rooms of various partakers of games.
In the dark ages of the Frankish and Turkish domination this magnificent
monument was used as a Quarry and only few ornaments had survived.
It was difficult to believe that this natural ravine had formerly
contained so much glare, grandeur and glory! Yet, as by a stroke
of a magic wand, the world saw all this ancient splendour brought
to life and the panathenaic Stadion assuming once more its dazzling
ornament of pentelic marble!
This miracle was due to the initiative of a single man, Baron
de Coubertin, who had the excellent idea of establishing
a committee in Paris for the organisation of international Olympic
games. Their inaufuration was celebrated in 1896
on the arena restored in marble by a new Herodes Atticos, the Greek
patriot of Alexandria, George Averoff. He spared no expenses for
rendering this vast athletic building its former splendour and magnificence.
The work lasted about four years and costed four million francs.
The ancient Athenians had solemnly buried the body of the geat
donor on the top of the hill, which rises at the E. side of the
Stadion, so, in like manner the contemporary Hellenes set up a statue
of the great Epirote in front of the propylaea of the monument he
had restored. The statue is the work of the Greek sculptor Vroutos.
The present propylaea are a temporary brick construction, which,
being far inferior to the previous one, ought to be removed as soon
as possible and replaced by a more dignified production.
In antiquity athletic competitions: racing, boxing, jumping, javelin
throwing, chariot and horse racing had taken place in the stadion.
These games were celebrated every year during the Panathenaic feasts,
but especially once every four years during the great Panathenaea
in the month of Hecatomveon about the end of July. Then, in the
midst of unparalleled splendour 300 oxen were drawn for sacrifice
before the altar of the goddess. During the races the runners were
placed on a marble line about 26m. long outside the entrance. In
the double races the runners after completing one circle made awheeling
round before the final term.
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