One commentator recently branded Athens’ abandoned and out-of-use stadiums left over from the 2004 Summer Olympics as “the newest wonder of the world: the ruins of modern Greece“. With such state-of-the-art facilities stuck in limbo, it’s ironic that one of the more active stadiums in the Greek capital was built as far back as 329 BC.
As Greece grapples with more than $370 billion of public debt, the dormant arenas have fueled anger over a lack of forward planning as the country ramped up to the 2004 Summer Olympics. For many, the disused venues – with their operating costs adding more pressure to the already-strained city coffers – stand as visible reminders of Greece’s age of excess spending. (The image above shows the 2004 Athens Olympic Complex.)
The Olympic Stadium is one of the few arenas that hasn’t fallen into disuse, and is currently the home ground of AEK and Panathinaikos, two of the biggest football clubs in Greece. The stadium was built in 1982 but reburbished extensively for the 2004 competition.
The complex (shown in the aerial photo above) cost taxpayers $213 million, with the overall cost of the games estimated at $7.4 billion to $14 billion. Critics have blamed the lack of planning that went into the 2004 Olympics, with little consideration given to repurposing the facilities after the closing ceremony.
The Olympic complex includes stadiums for field hockey, softball and baseball — sports with little or no following in Greece. Making matters worse, proposed plans for reuse seem to have fallen by the wayside. The venue of canoeing and kayaking slaloms was to become a water amusement park, but it never happened.
Tourism has granting little reprieve – there has been far less interest in Athens than other former Olympic venues like Barcelona. The abandoned stadiums today are a far cry from their several short weeks of Olympic glory. Above, the warm-up pool remains full of water, if not swimmers.
The one stadium that refuses to give up the Olympic ghost and enjoys the lion’s share of the tourists is not a state-of the-art 21st century arena, but the Panathenaic Stadium of the ancient world. The structure was originally used to host the athletic portion of the Panathenaic Games in honour of the Goddess Athena. It was rebuilt in 329 BC – the only major stadium in the world to be built of white marble. Once seating 50,000 people, the Panathenaic Stadium also hosted the Olympics in 1870, 1875 and 1896. Its modern brethren pale into insignificance alongside such an impressive track record.