Marathon

Attica

The ancient site of Marathon and the site of the Battle of Marathon are in Attica and naturally about 26 miles or 42 kilometres from the centre of Athens.

Marathon runner

The word 'marathon' has passed into the language of the world and while the rough story of how a Greek village came to give its name to a long-distance race is well-known, the full details of that story may be less familiar.

The Battle of Marathon

In September of 490BC the Athenians were under attack and heavily outnumbered by the Persian army. No exact figures are known but it's estimated that as many as 25,000 Persian troops were fighting 10,000 Athenians. Persian warships brought their army ashore in the Bay of Marathon and they thundered onto the Plain of Marathon towards the outnumbered Greeks, who they probably expected to turn tail as the Athenians had never beaten the Persians in a battle. 

The people in the city of Athens knew that their fate was being decided by soldiers on the plains of Attica and waited anxiously for news of the outcome. The Athenians duly fought for their lives and managed to defeat the Persian armies. The heroic and remarkable nature of the victory is indicated by the fact that some 6,400 Persians were killed while the Athenians lost only 192 men.

News of the victory was carried back to the city by one of the victorious soldiers, Phedippedes, who ran all the way from Marathon to the Acropolis in full armour, having already fought in the battle and in the heat of September. Unsurprisingly, he died on the spot from his exertions the moment he'd delivered the message.

The Marathon Race

The present-day marathon race of 26 miles 385 yards (42.195 kms) commemorates that brave feat, although the extra 385 yards were only added in the London Olympics of 1908 so that the finishing line of the race could be in front of the Royal Box. This was ratified as the official distance in 1921. Each October, the Athens Marathon is run over the probable route that Phedippedes took - minus the full armour and in slightly cooler conditions - and ends in the Panathenaic Stadium where the first modern Olympic Games were held in Athens in 1896.

Walking from Marathon to Athens takes 7.5 hours
Imagine running it in armour
(c) Google Maps

What we know of the Battle of Marathon comes from the Greek historian Herodotus, who recorded the events about 50 years after they happened. The Athenian dead were buried under a simple earthen mound that's only 33 feet (10 m) high but 590 feet (180 m) in circumference. Its very simplicity makes it all the more powerful.

The burial mound is about 2.5 miles (4 kms) south of the modern town of Marathon, down a side road that is off to your right if you are driving north towards the town. The site was originally marked by a gravestone that showed a soldier fallen in battle. This can now be seen in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, with a copy on display at the site.

Marathon Archaeological Museum

If you continue north towards Marathon, a left turn takes you to the Archaeological Museum. This small collection is well worth seeing. It displays items found on the field of battle, and on the estate of the wealthy arts patron Herodes Atticus (AD 101-177), who came from this area. The finds include statues, urns, gravestones, an unusual bronze mirror, and part of the memorial erected by the Greeks at the time to celebrate the victory.

Marathon is included on our Drive around Attica driving route.

Mound of the Platalans

Behind the museum you can climb up to the Mound of the Platalans, which was only discovered in 1970. Allies of the Athenians, the Platalans also joined in the Battle of Marathon. They lost 11 of their own soldiers, including a 10-year-old boy, and they are buried here in this mound.

Modern Marathon

Marathon itself is a fairly ordinary little town, worth a stop if you want to buy provisions or petrol but otherwise unremarkable. A short drive to the west of Highway 83 takes you past the impressive Lake Marathon. The reservoir owes its existence to a marble dam that was built in 1925-31 to trap the waters coming down from the Mount Parnitha range. Until the 1950s it was the main water supply for the city of Athens.

Marathon and Schinias Beach

If your interest in the historical significance of this place is what has brought you here, you can still round off your visit by heading for some pleasant small beaches along the coast, the best being at Schinias. 

Where to Stay in Athens

Some other Athens pages

  • A Drive around Attica

    This drive around Attica offers visitors high hills, beach resorts, small villages and classical sites like Marathon and the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion.

  • Athens to Santorini

    There are lots of flights from Athens to Santorini as well as a ferry service from Piraeus, with flights to Santorini leaving from Athens International Airport.

  • Where to Eat in Athens and Piraeus

    If you're wondering where to eat in Athens and Piraeus we have a few suggestions including some favorites around the Acropolis, Omonia Square, and Syntagma.

  • Vravrona or Brauron

    The archaeological site of Vravrona or Brauron is in Attica near Athens Airport and has a Sanctuary of Artemis, the Sacred House and an Archaeological Museum.

  • Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens

    Ten Fun Things to Do in Athens include eating in the Central Market, watching the sun set over the Acropolis and seeing one of the world's oldest theatres.

  • Cape Sounion and the East Coast

    The beach resorts of Athens are easily reached from the city and also close are Cape Sounion with the Temple of Poseidon, ancient Marathon and Rafina's port.

  • Rhamnous

    The classical archaeological site of Ancient Rhamnous or Rhamnus is in a remote part of Attica and best reached from Athens by renting a car.

  • Piraeus

    Piraeus is the port of Athens from where many ferries to the Greek islands depart, and it also has an Archaeological Museum and the Hellenic Maritime Museum.

  • Pictures of Athens

    Pictures of Athens from the Greece Travel Secrets website

  • National Archaeological Museum

    The National Archaeological Museum is one of the best things to see in Athens, and the best museum in the world for seeing Greece's archaeological treasures.

  • My Athens: a Portrait by Travel Writer Mike Gerrard

    In My Athens on Greece Travel Secrets travel writer Mike Gerrard describes what he loves about Athens including the Acropolis and eating!

  • Monastiraki Flea Market

    Greece Travel Secrets visits the Monastiraki Flea Market, followed by Sunday lunch at Sigalas on Monastiraki Square

  • Monastiraki and Around

    Around Monastiraki is the flea market, Athens cathedral, Kerameikos Cemetery, the Benaki Museum of Islamic Art and the Psirri and Gazi nightlife districts.

  • A History of Athens

    A History of Athens from the first people to live on the Acropolis through the Golden Age of Pericles and Alexander the Great to the military junta.

  • Greek Architecture

    This beginner's guide to Greek architecture explains how to tell your Ionic from your Doric columns, and what to look for in temples and Byzantine churches.

  • Entertainment in Athens

    There's all kinds of entertainment in Athens whether you're interested in theatre, dance, classical music, jazz, Greek music, rock music, disco, opera or movies.

  • Easter in Athens

    Easter in Athens is, like everywhere in Greece, the biggest religious celebration of the year and this page tells you what to expect over the Easter weekend.

  • The Best Things to Do in Athens

    The best things to do in Athens, Greece, include top archaeological sites like the Acropolis and must-see attractions such as the National Archaeological Museum

  • Best Cocktail Bars in Athens

    Two of the best cocktail bars in Athens, MoMix Kerameikos and The Clumsies, are making creative cocktails using that most Greek of Greek spirits, Metaxa.

  • Attica

    Attica is the region of Greece which surrounds and includes Athens, with attractions like Marathon, Vravrona, Cape Sounion and the Temple of Poseidon.

  • Athens: Travel Information and Advice about Athens, Greece

    Athens is a top vacation destination. The Greece Travel Secrets Athensguide has information on hotels, museums, Athens airport and all the best things to do.

  • Athens Weather and the Best Time to Visit

    The Greece Travel Secrets website looks at the Athens weather, the chance of rain, the climate in summer and winter and the best time to visit Athens.

  • Athens Walking Tours and Other Experiences

    Athens walking tours and other experiences like cookery lessons, ceramics workshops, dining with a family, and street art are available from Alternative Athens

  • Athens International Airport

    Athens International Airport is east of Athens city centre with its own Metro train station, buses to Athens and Piraeus, taxis and car rental offices.

  • Athens in the Rain

    Athens in the rain isn’t something you’re likely to experience but here are suggestions for things to do in the rain in Athens including museums and shopping

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