Zappian Olympic Games

A wealthy Greek from Northern Grece, Evangelos Zappas, inspired by Alexandros Soutsos' idea of reviving the ancient Olympics Games, proposed to the Greek government to finance the foundation of Modern Olympics.

A.R. Rangaves, Greek Foreign Minister and classical scholar, objected: "today's spirit is different from the one of ancient times; the actual nations are competing in industry and artifacts, and not in stadiums"

According to Rangaves' opinion, modern Olympic Games should have focused on agricultural and industrial progress, not on athletics. So, he proposed to Zappas a mixed organisation including both agricultural/industrial competition and athletic games, in order to amuse the people. In fact the industrial part in the Zappian Olympics was held regularly and got more attention and far more money than the athletics.

So, what kind of games were these first Olympics?
Did they attract people's participation?

As the renovation of the ancient Stadium was not yet completed, the Games of 1859 took place in Loudovicos' Square (today's Omonoia Square, at the center of Athens). All the official representatives - the Royal Family, the members of the Goverment, Militarary and Public Authorities - and many thousands of people attended. As it was one of the first mass gatherings, neither the people nor the police had any previous experience of keeping the necessary order for the event. The fact that it was a new experience, makes the event a very interesting case-study for the first mass gathering in the new era of the modern societies.

The athletic competition had more game-like than sportive character: as there were not athletes at that time, the Organising Committee accepted the participation of workers, porters, etc., who were attracted by the monetary prices of the games. According to the press of the time, many anecdotes took place during the games: a policeman who was there keeping the order, left his post and participated in the races. Even a beggar, who pretended to be blind, participated in the races as well!

The following day, the press critisised the games, but the ideal of the athletic competition was generally accepted, and this was the beginning of the whole process of the Olympic games.

The Games of 1870's took place in the restored Stadium. At that time the organization was much better:

There were nine games: three classic ancient games, four ancient, but not classic, games, and two modern. The prices were both monetary and symbolical. There was a band playing an Olympic Hymn, specially composed for the occasion. The judges were professors of the University, and there was a herald for announcing the winners. The King was giving the prizes to the winner with the sound of the music.

The 1870's Games had an enormous success and the press dedicated triumphal articles both to the organization and to the accomplishment of the Games.

The 3rd "Olympia" was organized by the Director of the Public Gymnasium, Ioannis Phokianos. Phokianos strongly believed that the ideal of gymnastics would expand from above, i.e. the upper classes, through the educated and cultured classes. For that reason, he was interested in the preparation of the students of high schools and Universities. All these students were trained in the Public Gymnasium in Athens. Phokianos introduced a series of gymnastic exercises inspired from the German system of gymnastics.

The athletes were impressively dressed: white trousers and white shirts with a large blue zone. Until 1896, that was the official uniform for gymnastics.

In spite of the great preparation and the great expectations, these games were not successful. The Royal Family did not attend. There was not enough place for the big masses of the people who finally filled up the arena of the Stadium. Dissatisfaction was generated and Phokianos was considered responsible despite his great efforts and the very good training of the athletes.

Alexandros Soutsos' Idea | From Ancient Olympia ...