The countdown to the London 2012 games is officially gathering steam, so every month from now till the opening ceremonies, we'll profile a former host city. They’re a mixed bunch, from glitzy LA to gritty Moscow, but the one thing they have in common is their Olympic legacy. This month, we’re focussing on Games' inspiration from its ancient birthplace: Athens.
As the host of the first-ever modern Olympics in 1896, Athens is an Olympic legend, and for good reason. Its Panathenaic Stadium -- first built as a running track in 330BC and used as an Olympic stadium in 1896 -- is made entirely of white marble. The stadium was returned to its former glory for the 2004 games and is now open for tourists for just €3 a visit. Take the free audio tour and look out for a glimpse of the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the National Gardens from the heady heights of stand 21’s upper tier. And for the more energetic, there’s a chance to run in the footsteps of winning athletes each morning from 7:30 until 9am -- but be warned, it gets hot up there.
Today’s version of the Panathenaic is The Olympic Athletic Centre of Athens, which took centrestage at the games in 2004. While tours of the entire complex are only open to groups of more than 15, visitors can use the Olympic aquatic centre and the tennis centre.
The ancient ruins of Olympia, five hours by train from Athens, should also be on any Olympic must-visit list. The village itself is flooded with cruising daytrippers and the inevitable tourist shops and restaurants, but its Museum of the History of the Ancient Olympic Games is worth a visit for the memorabilia and information on anything Zeus-related. The Temple of Hera, where the Olympic flame will be lit next year before arriving in the UK on 18 May, 2012, lies in a grove known as the Altis (meaning ‘sacred to Zeus’).
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London-based assistant producer Victoria Murden contributed to this post.