Although it flourished more than two thousand years ago, we still continue to follow certain traditions of Ancient Greek civilization today. The most internationally famous is the Olympic Games, and within this the marathon event. The first modern Olympic games took place in 1896 in their original birthplace of Greece. The Panathenaic or Kallimarmaro Olympic Stadium, the restored ancient edifice in the heart of the city was a new and proud monument for Athenians to enjoy for generations to come. As the modern Olympic games were organized, the marathon event was established as homage to ancient Greek history. Rightfully so, the first winner of the modern Olympic Marathon event, was a Greek working-class man named Spyridon Louis.
The modern-day Marathon pays respect to a specific event in our history. In 490 B.C. Greeks were fighting for their freedom and independence against the tyrannical Persian empire. The Greek forces, with superior weaponry and intelligent methods and tactics, defeated the Persian army and protected their home and freedom.
To inform the people of this magnificent victory, a messenger by the name Pheidippides ran from Marathon to Athens covering about twenty-five miles on the journey. His message was a powerful one, and a light to the Greek spirit and fight for freedom. The modern marathon event is also now twenty-five miles long, so as to embrace the history and essence of this momentous action.
Today, there is also an annual marathon organized by the Hellenic Athletic Federation called the Athens Marathon, the Authentic Marathon. It takes place in November and attracts more than forty-thousand participants. Although the weekend long event features different races each day and for different groups, there is still a ceremonial flame lighting at the Marathon Tomb, near the city it is named after. If you are interested in learning more about the history of Marathon and the events that took place there, visit the Archeological Museum of Marathon, located on the outskirts of the town. The museum is home to not only Ancient Greek treasures, but also incredibly preserved Egyptian statues and artifacts.
The city of Marathon is indeed ancient and has evolved along with humanity and civilization. It was the location where the Persians first attempted to undermine the Greek nation and its will to thrive. Some 30,000 Persian soldiers arrived at Marathon sure that they would defeat the allied Greeks and their army of under 10,000. But although the Greeks may have been fewer in numbers, their wisdom and ingenuity set them far ahead of any rivals. This would not be the last time that the Persians sought war with Greece, and it would also not be the last time that they were defeated.
Located at the foot of Mount Pentelicus are the major towns of Nea Makri and Rafina. About a seven minute and seven-kilometer drive south from Marathon, these coastal towns are home to local residents but also open up to travelers and beach seekers from around the world and Greece. Rafina has a major port and offers ferry boats to and from the Cyclades Islands and Evia island. In late July of 2018, fires originating on the mountain were blown down the hillside by strong winds and proceeded to wreak havoc in towns like Mati and Kokkino Limanaki in the valley below. These small towns which were home to families and older citizens had only moments to grasp the gravity of the situation. Over one hundred people lost their lives both on land and at sea trying to flee from the flames and smoke. It is important to honor their memory and find solutions that prevent these kinds of tragedies from happening again. These towns are not fully rebuilt yet and the ground is still burnt from the devastation.
The beaches heading north towards Marathon are still open and clean, however. Drive through the sight of the fires on your way to Marathon for an eye-opening experience into how necessary a solid infrastructure and emergency response plan are to a city. As you move past these affected towns, you start to encounter untouched and wild fields of tall golden grass and olive tree groves. This most north western coast of Attica has plenty of organized beaches to choose from, with their own cafes and even water sports. Paralia Marathona and Paralia Karavi for example, are south of the town of Marathon and make up this very long and seemingly endless sandy beach that stretches the whole length of the coast. A majority of the beach has organized sections run by hotels, camping facilities, and more beach bars and restaurant cafes. There are also many private houses and villas in the area, which seriously makes you consider settling down in this beach front haven also! The beach is so long that it is easy to find a secluded section if you wish, away from organized beach chairs and groups of people.
The coast near Marathon is largely made up of Schinias National Park. With over a thousand square kilometers of protected park land, Schinias National Park has many beautiful elements. At its east end, there is a narrow peninsula that reaches out to the sea as if it were pointing to something. The greenery and ecosystem in the park are largely comprised of wetlands, freshwater springs, and pine forests that grow all the way up to the seafront. You may be laying on the beach and immediately behind you, have the shade and calming aroma of pine trees. The national park is naturally also home to a vast array of sea and land animals, from foxes and turtles to over one hundred bird and fish species. The area is such an ecological treasure that it is a part of the Natura 2000 network. This network was established by the European Union in 1992 to protect the natural environment and the habitats of countless plant and animal species both on land and in the sea.
In less than an hour, you could walk the length of Schinias Beach within the national park. At the west end of the beach you will be close to the entrance of the Olympic Rowing Centre. The massive center features a long man-made lake which reaches over one and one quarter kilometers. It was built to house events for the 2004 Summer Olympics Games that were hosted in Athens. The facility even offers classes to children and adults to learn the sport of rowing.
Across the main road by the name Leoforou Schinias, you will find another valuable monument. The Trophy of the Battle of Marathon is a tall column-shaped statue commemorating the victory against the Persians in Marathon. This monument is a replica of the original erected in the decades following the historic battle. The site of the monument is among the many open fields of grass and trees that characterize the landscape around Marathon. Directly next to the column structure is a small church called Panagia Mesosporitissa. It is a secluded but truly meaningful monument surrounded by the peaceful stillness that our ancestors fought for.
For a forty-five-minute drive from the center of Athens, you can travel back to the sites of ancient victories and lush untouched seaside forests. A visit to Marathon is a lesson in history but also in the art of relaxation. The monuments dedicated to our brave ancestors, the endless views of open fields and mountains in the distance, and the crystal-clear sea we all know and love, sets the tone for an authentic Greek summer day. These short road trips from Athens allow you to explore the small but soulful towns that have determined our history and embody the essence of Greek culture.