Interested in climbing marble stairs to get some of the best views of the Acropolis, Lycabettos, and the city of Athens, while being swept away on a nostalgic athletic adventure? Look no further than the Kallimarmaro Stadium of Athens. Its name means beautiful marble and it is the only one of its kind in the world to be entirely built of marble. Centrally located in the district of Pangrati, and east of the National Gardens and the Zappeion Exhibition Hall, it remains one of the main historic attractions of the capital.
This multi-purpose stadium has a history that spans over seven centuries. In the 6th Century BC, a racecourse existed on the site of the stadium, where the Panathenaic Games, a religious and athletic festival, were held every four years in honor of the goddess Athena.
Then, in 330 BC, a 260 meter limestone stadium was built by the Athenian statesman Lykourgos to host the Panathenaic Games. In 144 AD, Herodos Atticus reconstructed it under Roman rule, in Pentelic marble, with a capacity of holding up to 50,000 spectators.
In the late 4th century, the stadium was abandoned and fell into disuse when festivals and spectacles were banned by the Roman emperor Theodosius.
Excavations in the mid 1800’s and onwards uncovered traces of the abandoned stadium. It was restored in an attempt to revive the ancient Olympic Games and in 1870 and 1875, the Zappas Olympics were held there to an audience of 30,000.
It was further renovated by the architect Anastasios Metaxas for the 1896 Olympic Games. The stadium hosted the opening and closing ceremonies which was attended by King George I and his wife Olga who followed the events along with 80,000 spectators. And it was here that the Olympic theme was first heard, with lyrics by poet Costis Palamas and music composed by Spyros Samaras.
From the mid to late 1960’s, the stadium was used by the AEK Basketball Club.
In the 2004 Olympics, the stadium was used for the archery competition and was the finish line for the Marathon Race. Since then, Kallimarmaro remains as the finishing point for the annual Athens Classic Marathon. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.
Since then, the stadium has been a venue for concerts and other performances ranging from the staging of Verdi’s Aida to the ‘Rock in Athens’ festival, the Live Aid Concert for Aids, to the 1997 World Championships in Athletics with composer Vangelis and soprano Monserrat Caballe, the Scorpions to Placido Domingo. It is also used to honor victorious Greek athletes.
The venue is managed by the Hellenic Olympic Committee and is one of the capital’s most popular tourist attractions. It features an audio tour included in the price of the ticket that has been set at 5 euros. Each visitor receives an audio guide device in 10 languages (English, French, German, Italian, Greek, Spanish, Japanese, Arabic, Russian and Chinese), and then they can visit an exhibition of posters and torches from the 1896 Olympics to today and take advantage of the opportunity for some unforgettable snaps around the venue.
It is also possible to book the Atrium, a well-equipped conference space that can comfortably accommodate small events such as seminars or business meetings, in combination with a visit to the stadium.
The place is a perfect spot for children of all ages to release their Olympic spirit and run an imaginary race around the track while morning joggers (07:30-09:00) can also find their ideal place to work out after filling in an application form declaring their acceptance of the safety regulations of the venue.
Just a short walk from the National Gardens, visitors can take a stroll along its historical paths and stop at the Aigli Cafe for a Greek-style tiramisu.
Cover Image Photo: Darren Foreman