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Archaeological Excavations

ANTIQUITIES AND EXCAVATIONS AT THE OLYMPIC STADIUM OF AMAROUSION

The 2nd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical antiquities would like to welcome all visitors to the vicinity of the Olympic Stadium, where in antiquity Artemis Amarysia was worshipped and where significant ancient remains have come to light during the works carried out in preparation for the Olympic Games.

1. Roman water reservoir, Lassani.

2. Location of discovery of funerary urn with ancient remains of athlete.

3. Hellenistic water reservoir, Artemidos Street.

4. Terracotta water pipe of Roman times.

5. Terracotta water pipe of Roman times.

6. Roman water reservoir to NE of Olympic Stadium.

7. Roman water reservoir, Sp. Louis Street.

8. Remains of artisan installations.

9. Remains of buildings of various phases.

10. Roman baths.

118 – 131. Shafts of Hadrianic Aqueduct.

Maroussi: The Olympic Stadium

The plain on which the Olympic Stadium has been erected (1978-1982) was once part of the ancient deme of Athmonon. Following the political reorganization instituted by Cleisthenes in 507/6 BC to entrance the democratic system, Attica was divided into ten parts, each one corresponding to a tribe, and each embracing several demes, one of which was the deme of Athmonon. The citizens of Athmonon belonged to the tribe of Cecropis , and it is thought that the administrative, religious and residential center of their deme was at Pelikas, on an eminence SW of the little town of Amarousion (Maroussi) 9Fig. 4, no.1).

Archaeological excavation over the past hundred years at Maroussi, one of Athens’ best-known northern suburbs haw brought to light very few ancient finds, for the city was established in the Byzantine period. At the time of the first modern Olympics (1896), Maroussi had a population of just 1800, but the triumphal performance of competitors from the district was truly astonishing: Spyros Louis won the Marathon, followed (in 6th and 8th place respectively) by two of his fellow villagers, Papasymeon and Μasouris. One of the oldest organized athletics centers in the country was opened in Maroussi immediately after the Games.

Maroussi: The Cult of Artemis

Salvage Digs around the Pelikas site have confirmed the great archaeological importance of the area. Construction of the Attiki Odos brought to light an ancient road and a large 5th century BC graveyard, with tombs containing exceptionally fine painted vessels and other items (Fig.1). The segment of road excavated was part of the main road to Pelikas. Archaeologists and explorers writing in the 19th century mention the existence of small Byzantine and post-Byzantine churches. They also describe ancient walled foundations, and inscriptions referring to the cult of Artemis. Two marble boundary stones come from the temple of Artemis, while an (extant) 4th century BC inscription contains a text describing a ceremony in honour of the goddess, as well as annual athletic, musical and dance competitions (Fig.6). We do not know exactly where the ancient temple stood, but it haw been suggested that the Byzantine Church of Panagia Neratziotissa, a single-cell basilica built in the year 850, may have been erected over the ruins of the temple of Artemis. The games were probably held on the plain to the south of Pelikas, where the present-day Olympic Stadium stands.


Natural Setting of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex site

A little stream, called Pispiris, crosses the plain. It passes to the east and south of the Olympic Stadium grounds, bending westward at Spyrou Loui Street (Fig.4). This area has always been famous for its deposits of fine quality potter’s clay. Deeper strata also contain lignite, which was mined commercially until the 1960s. The geology of the region made it difficult to ensure a water supply, since the water table was too deep to be tapped by wells. Turning to the vegetable kingdom, we know that in ancient times the plain of Athmonon was densely planted with vineyards and olive groves, and there are still some centuries-old trees in groves around the district.


Roman period: Waterworks

The extensive excavations carried out by the 2nd Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities in the general area of the Olympic Stadium over the past five years have shown that during the Roman period (1st-2nd c. AD) the inhabitants of this district constructed large reservoirs in order to assure a water supply for the villages and for the irrigation of their fields. Unfortunately, owing to the demands of the work in progress for the completion of the Olympic sports complex, these finds have not yet been published. However, even preliminary observations confirm the lively interst of Roman Athmonon in promoting waterworks. Recent finds include the ruins of exceptionally large reservoirs at Lassani (south side of Pelikas), in Artemidos Street (Fig.4,no.3: Press Village), and on the northeast and western sides of the Olympic Stadium. Three of these date from the 2nd century AD. The Lassani reservoir, which has been partially restored and is open to visitors, stands on a large embankment adjacent a short distance to the north side of the Attiki Odos (Fig.4,no 1 and Fig.8). Another reservoir is preserved a short distance to the north of the Olympic stadium (Fig.4,no.6); it may be visited, and is included in the redevelopment plans for this area. The third reservoir was discovered in Spyrou Loui Street, SW of the Stadium (Fig.4, no.7 and Fig.5). There, exploration revealed a rectangular reservoir on two levels (on a stepped arrangement), measuring 10X30 metres overall, which was found to contain a Hellenistic statue of a female figure, missing the head (Fig.7). This reservoir was filled in again to allow the road to be widened in view of the Olympic Games. In general, these Roman reservoirs had mosaic floors of ceramic tile, walls plastered with a waterproof mortar, steps leading down into them and a pipe for drainage. Archaeologists believe that they had a roof, slightly raised.

The reservoirs were filled by means of large clay pipes that brought the watr to Maroussi from Kifissia, where springs were abundant. These pipes were elliptical in section, and put together in segments, each assembled from a pair of matching horseshoe-shaped halves. A long stretch of a similar conduit was discovered just north of the Olympic Tennis Courts (Fig.4, no.4): running in a south-easterly direction, it passes beneath the west side of Tennis Court and cuts across the Grand Avenue. A length of this conduit, including a junction , is preserved at a depth of 4.02 metres in a viewing shaft with a glass roof, at the point where the Avenue meets the Tennis Court (Fig.4, no.5). Access to these conduits for purposes of cleaning and repair was assured by rectangular masonry (brick or stone) shafts at regular short intervals.

Roman Baths

The most recent (March-May 2004) excavations carried out by the 2nd EPCA focused on an area near Spyrou Loui Street, on the southern edge on the Olympic Stadium. This dig brought to light a roman bathhouse, just beside the Walking Track (Fig. 4, no. 10 and Fig. 9). This complex which measures 16X24 metres overall and is oriented north-south, is divided into two parts. At the north end there is an open rectangular courtyard with rooms leading off it on the east and west sides. Forming the building’s southern façade are a pair of rectangular projections framing an ornamental recess. Inside the south end of the building a colonnade surrounds another open courtyard, with a ceramic-tiled floor and a Π-shaped pool with white plastering. Shallow steps led down into the pool, and a lead drainpipe carried the water away. This was obviously a cold-water pool, and was probably used by athletes and visitors. At some later time a separate hot water bath and steam house was built outside the northwest wall of the original building, but was not connected to the main facility.


Hadrian’s Aqueduct

While the Roman reservoirs in the area of the Olympic Stadium were fed by surface water, deep beneath the plain on which the Olympic facilities stand ran the great aqueduct built by the Emperor Hadrian to supply the city of Athens (Fig.4, no. 10). Construction of the aqueduct was begun by Hadrian in 125AD and completed in 140 AD. It tapped into springs on Mount Parnes (Parnitha) and in Kifissia, about 20 km from the city. It was built entirely underground, a rectangular tunnel with an arched roof, measuring 0.7 metres wide by 1.6 metres high. Access shafts were sunk every 35 metres to allow for cleaning and repairs. The aqueduct carried the water to the great reservoir (26X9 metres, and 2 metres deep) on the lower slope of Lycabettus Hill (Dexamenis Square, Kolonaki), for distribution. The reservoir had a propylon (destroyed in 1778) with four Ionic columns and an architrave bearing an inscription with a dedication to Hadrian and his successor Antoninus Pius, in whose reign the work was completed. In the area of the Olympic facilities in Μaroussi the aqueduct lies at a depth of about 20 metres. Many of the access shafts connected with this aqueduct have been preserved, some of them circular, some of them square. On the north side of the Olympic Stadium the visitor can see shafts 119, 121 and 122, while sections of shafts 128, 129, 130 and 131, stripped of their embankments (because of the lowering of the level of he ground for the purposes of the 2004 Games) may be seen on the west side of the Olympic area, near the steps leading to the electric train (Fig. 4, no. 11).

Evidence of earlier use of the Athens Olympic Sports Complex site

Archaeological excavation has shown that the site has been in use since the Geometric period (8th c. BC). Across the fields ran streams, and roads lined with tombs. Section of an ancient road uncovered near the reservoir (Fig.4, no. 6), produced fragment of a red-figured cup with presentation of god Dionysos (Fig. 2: early 5th c. B.C.). There is evidence of athletic activity in the discovery, near the Olympic Tennis Court (Fig. 4, no. 2), of a marble funerary urn (400-375 BC) containing the remains of an athlete, as shown by the funeral gifts accompanying the bones: a gold dust particle, two squat lekythoi, a stone alabastron and an iron strigil ( Figs. 10-11). Strigils made of bronze or iron were used by athletes in ancient times to scrape their bodies clean after exercise.

The small showcase at the Olympic Stadium in Maroussi (next to the Grand Avenue and the Athletes’ Guesthouses) was designed and created by the 2nd EPCA with the support of the General Secretariat for Sport and the Athens 2004 Organisation to preserve and display a collection of large artefacts and casts of items unearthed during the excavations carried out in recent years. These include a copy of a Hellenistic statue of a goddess found in the Roman reservoir in Spyrou Loui Street, a cat of the burial urn from the Tennis Court, a large section of Roman clay water pipe, a Byzantine storage bin, and a tomb enclosure and sarcophagus from the 4th century BC, discovered during excavations for the construction of the Attiki Odos (Pelikas) near the Olympic Stadium. The finds demonstrate the continuous use of the site from antiquity to the Byzantine age.


Prof. DEMETRIUS SCHILARDI
B’ EPCA