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The five Olympic rings were designed in 1913, adopted in 1914 and debuted at the Games at Antwerp, 1920“I hereby proclaim the opening of the first International Olympic Games at Athens.” With these words on April 6, 1896, King George I of Greece welcomed the crowd that had gathered in the newly reconstructed Panathenean Stadium to the modern-day Olympic Summer Games.The event was the idea of Baron Pierre de Coubertin of France who traveled the world to gather support for his dream to have nations come together and overcome national disputes, all in the name of sport.

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Baron Pierre de CoubertinIf not for the generous private donations of Greek businessmen like George Averoff, these first Olympics might have been moved to Budapest, Hungary. Averoff generously offered to pay for the reconstruction of Athens’ Panathenean Stadium which had been built in 330 B.C.E. This left the Greek government with enough money to build a venue for the shooting competition and a pier for the swimming events.The program for the Games included track and field, fencing, weightlifting, rifle and pistol shooting, tennis, cycling, swimming, gymnastics, and wrestling. Although 14 nations participated, most of the athletes were Greek.The Games reached their high point on Day 11 with the first modern-day marathon. The idea to hold an event to commemorate the Ancient Olympic games was suggested by a friend of de Coubertin and was met with great anticipation. The race was run from Marathon to Athens (estimated at 22–26 miles), watched by more than 100,000 people and won by a Greek runner, Spiridon Louis.

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  Spiridon LouisFrom the moment Louis entered the stadium for the final leg of the race the home crowd roared with pride. The thrill and excitement reverberated through to the Games’ finale-the ceremonial march of nations.De Coubertin was pleased with the first games and stressed to organizers the importance of moving the Games all around the world. This was disappointing to Athens, which wanted to be a permanent host, but set into motion the international festival we know today as the Olympic Summer Games.

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Metro Athens

The Athens Metro makes getting around the city easier than ever including to and from Eleftherios Venizelos Airport.

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“It took 2000 years but Athens finally has a metro”. And not just any metro, the Athens metro has to be the most beautiful system in the world and should stay this way until the graffiti “artists” get a hold of it. In the meantime even if there is nowhere you need to go with the new metro, it is worth visiting it and even taking a ride a few stops (you can visit the Hilton and the American Embassy). As you may have heard, work on the metro was slow because of all the antiquities they discovered. Every time they dug a new hole they would find a grave, or a wall or an urn or something and would have to put down their picks and shovels and call in the archaeologists who would do their digging with toothbrushes, which is a bit slower. Meanwhile deep below the surface, the giant metro mouse is churning fossilized dinosaurs into microscopic chips as it tunnels it’s way through the city.So the main problem was not having to dig through rock, but having to sift through history. But this was worth the time spent because Syntagma square is more than a metro station. It’s a museum. In the entrance are photos of Athens from 100 years ago when it really was one of the most beautiful cities in Europe.The Syntagma Square station is the crowning achievement in the marriage between high-tech transport and archaeology. You walk down some marble steps and find yourself in a modern universe. The tickets are sold on your right or by machines that for now only take coins, though they are working on this problem. The escalators take you down to the lower lobby and the trains. But don’t go down right away. There is much to see.

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To the right, on the balcony that surrounds the lower lobby encased in glass is the stratified excavation where you can see artifacts from different periods of Athenian civilization from Byzantine through Roman to classical Greek, and pre-historic. There is a grave, cisterns, portion of a wall, an ancient road, clay drainage pipes and more. Around the corner in glass display cases are ancient pots, columns and many of the artifacts that were found while digging the station. The lobby is a museum and while many people made their way through the station with the determination of seasoned commuters, many people were wandering around examining the exhibits. An escalator takes you down to the lower lobby (behind the urn) where there are ticket machines and automatic ticket-stampers that take your ticket and spit it right back at you. Then there are long marble halls and more stairs and escalators which lead to the trains below. There is also a display of umbrellas in an air or light shaft perhaps created by a modern artist with a facination for Seattle or places with more rainfall then arid Athens, where umbrellas in summer are as common as bikinis in Antarctica.

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The trains themselves are not the super-high-tech streamlined ones I had expected to see. In fact they look like the old trains, only newer, cleaner, smoother and faster. They are fully automated and a woman’s voice tells you which stop is coming next and to get out of the way if you don’t want to hurtle through the tunnels of Athens with half of you hanging out the subway door. And don’t forget…there is no smoking allowed on the metro or in the stations.

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