The current stadium is the only one in the world which is built entirely out of marble and it was reconstructed in 1896 to hold the first modern Olympics. It was built on the site of the stadium built in 144AD in marble, but there was also a previous limestone stadium constructed in 330BC and before then the site was a racecourse. So, it has a strong sporting history to say the least.
Somehow they managed to get 80,000 people in this stadium in 1968 to watch a basketball match. There are photos of this event easily findable on Google and it looks like a somewhat cramped affair. It was also where the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1896 Olympics took place, something which must have been quite an event. The current capacity is 45,000 people, which goes to show just how packed the stadium clearly was.
The 1896 refurbishment wasn’t the first in the nineteenth century, there had also been some modernisation in preparation for what were known as the Zappas Olympics. These were the forerunner to the Olympics that we know now, and they were held in 1859, 1870 and 1875. The first of these wasn’t held at this stadium as reconstruction wasn’t finished, but the later second events were.
I didn’t think when visiting that it was possible to get inside the stadium as a visitor, unless there was some sporting or musical event on, but it has transpired that visitors can get in for €5 per person. However, since there’s a big gap where seating would usually be in a stadium, it’s obviously easy enough to look in. The marble still glistens in the sun, so it’s visually quite a statement for a stadium.