The marble multi-purpose stadium was built on the site of a simple racecourse by the Athenian statesman Lykourgos c. 330 BC, primarily for the Panathenaic Games. It was rebuilt in marble by Herodes Atticus, an Athenian Roman senator, by 144 AD and had a capacity of 50,000 seats. After the rise of Christianity in the 4th century it was largely abandoned.
The stadium was excavated in 1869 and hosted the Zappas Olympics in 1870 and 1875. After being refurbished, it hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the first modern Olympics in 1896 and was the venue for 4 of the 9 contested sports. It is also the last venue in Greece from where the Olympic flame handover ceremony to the host nation takes place.