The Stadium as the site of the modern Olympic Games of 1896
In the late 18th and early 19th century concerted efforts were made to approach and map the Stadium. The first systematic excavations were carried out in 1869/1870 by the German architect Ernesto Chiller with the financial support of King George I. Chiller’s contribution was decisive for the reconstruction of the Stadium.
But before Chiller’s first excavation, ten years earlier, the Zappia Olympia had been organised in Athens in the framework of national industrial and agricultural exhibitions by Evangelos Zappas. Of the four Zappian Olympiads (1859, 1870, 1875 and 1888-1889), two (1870 and 1875) were held at the Panathenaic Stadium, after the site had been landscaped. Zappas wished to reconstruct the Stadium with stone figurines, but the great expense suspended his plan.
The idea of reconstructing it was realized a few years later, in 1896, on the occasion of the revival of the modern Olympic Games at an international level and their first organization in Athens. Leading figures in the history of the revival were the French baron Pierre de Coubertin, the scholar Dimitrios Vikelas and the great sponsor of the Games, Georgios Averoff, who played a central role in the period 1894-1896.
The decision to award the Games to Athens was particularly important for Greece and the host city. One of the important issues, among other issues that the Organizing Committee of the Games had to resolve was, first of all, the construction of sports facilities for the holding of the competitions. One of them, the most important one, was the Stadium.
Its reconstruction was considered absolutely necessary for the successful holding of the Games. The total cost of the project was undertaken by the national benefactor Georgios Averoff. The design of the stadium was drawn up by the architect Anastasios Metaxas on the basis of the plans of the excavation of Chiller (1869/1870), while the English expert technician Charles Perry was invited to Athens to design the track. Pericles Kyriakos, professor of Mechanical Engineering at the Polytechnic University, was in charge of the contracting. To honour the great sponsor, the Committee of the Games erected a statue, sculpted by the sculptor Georgios Vroutos, which was placed at the entrance of the stadium.
During the Olympic Games, the Panathenaic Stadium experienced unprecedented moments of glory, enthusiasm, excitement and patriotism. The heart of Greece was beating in the Stadium all the days of the Games. But the highlight was the finish of Spyros Louis, the winner of the marathon race. In one of the dozens of publications of the time, it is mentioned:
“In the imagination of the crowd he had become a preacher of national victory. He became the face of the day and his victory was mythologized. Louis’ victory “found the Stadium, confused, seized with madness, upset all from the supreme lord to almost these cold lands…”.
After the end of the successful organization of the 1896 Games, the work on the Stadium continued and was completed in a second phase in 1904. Two years later, the stadium was ready to welcome the “Second International Olympic Games 1906”, known as the “Mesolympiada”. These Games were distinguished for their successful organization and the high participation of athletes and spectators from Greece and abroad.