Athletes and sports fans from all over the world will soon focus their attention on Athens, Greece—host city for the 2004 Summer Olympic Games. This high-resolution image shows the Athens Olympic Sports Complex, where this year’s games will be played. Acquired on June 24, 2004, by Space Imaging’s IKONOS satellite, the scene shows the complex in stunning detail, including the Olympic Stadium (home of the opening and closing ceremonies), the Olympic Aquatic Center, Olympic Indoor Hall (gymnastics and basketball finals), Olympic Tennis Center, and the Olympic Velodrome (cycling).
Greece is the birthplace of the Olympic Games. Historians trace the origins of the Olympics back to 776 B.C., when ancient Greeks staged sporting events—part religious ceremony and part athletic contests in honor of the gods of Greek mythology—on the plains of Olympia. An “Olympiad” referred to the 4-year time interval between games. Citizens would come from all over the country to participate in the event in hopes of attaining the ultimate prize: an olive wreath and a “heroe’s welcome” upon their triumphant return to their city-states. As the games gained in popularity over the centuries, a standardized schedule of events and set of rules were adopted to govern the proceedings. And so it continued until 393 A.D., when Emporer Theodosius decreed that all “pagan cults” would be banned.
In the late 19th century, as the citizens of Greece were celebrating their Declaration of Greek Independence, intellectuals such as Evangelos Zappas and Demetrios Vikelas were advocating a revival of the games “in the spirit of noble contests and Olympic ideals.” But it was French Baron Pierre de Coubertin who finally succeeded in re-establishing the Olympic Games. The first modern games were in held in Greece in 1896.
This year, after visiting 26 countries and 34 cities around the world, the ceremonial flame of the XXVIII Olympiad returned home to Greece on July 9, 2004. The Olympic flame will reach its final destination at the Athens Olympic Sports Complex on the evening of August 13 as part of the games’ Opening Ceremony, which preludes the beginning of the games on August 14.
Athens, Greece, enjoys both historical and current significance on the world stage. The ancient city of Athens, considered to be the birthplace of many Western traditions in philosophy, the arts, and the scientific method, is located in the Central Plains region of Attica in eastern Greece. This astronaut photograph captures the western extent of the modern urban area.