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The Opening of the 1906 Olympic Games

Mar 1, 2008
The morning of April 22, 1906, was the dawning of a day long to be remembered. It was the opening day of the Olympic Games a day long awaited by the Greek nation. All roads leading to Athens saw wagons wending their way to the city. It was not rare to see a band of peasants being drawn in a wagon to which was attached a donkey, an ox, and a mule. Every street leading to the Stadium was thronged with people, all good-natured and orderly.

An excited murmur seemed to be through the city. Occasionally a cheer would be heard. Cabmen were brushing up their carriages in view of their coming afternoon trade and the fancy prices they were going to get.

As early as noon the carriages began to roll toward the Stadium and drop their human freight about 100 yards from the gate, for only the equipages of the royal family were allowed to cross the bridge of Illisos, the scene of greatest excitement. Thousands of people were standing around the bridge and near the entrance to the Stadium.

The main feature was the foustanellofori, or evzoni (the King's bodyguard), with their skirts and peculiar uniforms. They were stretched from the Stadium entrance in two long lines facing one another, leaving between the two lines a lane about ten feet wide through which the royal family passed. The bands of music were allowed to take their places in the Stadium.

Thousands of soldiers were being marched in, not to keep order that was not necessary but as the Stadium is built between three hills, and as the top row of seats just reached those hills where thousands congregated daily it was found necessary to have the top row of seats guarded by soldiers, to prevent the people on the hills from stepping over the marble wall.

The placing of the soldiers was very interesting. What an imposing spectacle they made when they took their positions. Tramp, tramp, they would come marching up to the top row of seats. Here they were stretched, shoulder to shoulder, around the upper wall, thousands of them, with their peculiar uniforms, their heads just showing against the sky.

One can imagine how many there must have been when it is known that the upper outer wall of the Stadium measures over one-third of a mile in circumference. So picture a third of a mile of soldiers up in the skies just like so many birds on the bough of a tree. It was a picture that many photographers were quick to recognize as unique.

When the guard was placed around the top of the Stadium the people were allowed to come in. There was a mad rush for seats. The management had the iron gates removed and thousands entered by holding their tickets over their heads. There were four entrances, two being for holders of tickets in the lower tiers of seats, the other two being for holders of tickets in the upper tiers, the latter ascending an outside marble stairway, built exclusively for them. Thousands could not buy tickets and joined the army of spectators that stood on the hills, on the bridge and along the streets, waiting to see the royal family arrive.

From the moment the royal family left the Palace in their carriages there was a long continued cheer that only ceased when they were comfortably seated in the royal box.

What an imposing spectacle it was as the royal family drove up between the bodyguard of evzoni under the arch of the Stadium gates. As they were escorted up the infield by the committee and jurymen, 50,000 people stood up to greet them. So loud were the cheers that the national airs could hardly be heard.

It was 3:15 p. m. when the royal party entered the Stadium. The crowds rose to their feet and were trying to get a glimpse of their majesties. His Majesty King George came first, wearing a simple admiral uniform, accompanying his sister, the Queen Alexandra of England. Then came His Majesty King Edward of England, accompanied by Queen Olga of Greece. They were followed by the Crown Prince Constantin and the Princess of Wales, the Prince of Wales and the Princess Sophia, Prince George and Princess Victoria, Prince Nicolas, Prince Andrew, the Princess Helen and the Grand Duke Boris, brother of Princess Helen.

The members of the royal family bowed to the right and left in recognition of the cheering and standing people in the Stadium. Flags were waved in a frantic manner. The fringe of soldiers around the top row of seats stood saluting, the naval officers stood back of the throne in salute. The cheers grew louder and louder not only the people in the Stadium were cheering, but all Athens was cheering. No wonder the King smiled and bowed to his people during his walk of two hundred yards through the mass of people who so madly cheered him.

The opening of the games was a sight that pleased not only the King, but the hundreds of foreign officials who had helped organize the Olympic Games in their respective countries, and had come to the city of Athens to see how the Athenians would celebrate their event. Never before in the history of athletics has there been such a sight.
About the Author
Malcolm Blake has written several articles about all types of games - from old to modern, such as his article on PSP games.
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