When the Champions League Final is played on Saturday, it will be held at Wembley Stadium, London – one of the best known of those 21st century stadiums where advanced engineering and technology are changing the way we witness sport.


This new wave of stadiums – from Munich’s Allianz Arena to Beijing’s Bird’s Nest – is certainly impressive. Then again, they still rely on a basic form that’s remained unchanged since ancient times.


The word ‘stadium’ comes from the Ancient Greek measurement of a ‘stadion’, which was 600 human feet. Ancient Romans adopted the term – but tinkered with the measurement, making it roughly equivalent to 607ft – and it also began to describe the tiered structure surrounding a running track of that length.


If you find this bit of the history a bit dry, there’s nothing dull about the sporting feats played out in ancient stadiums down the years. And because Roman culture spread far and wide in the days of the Empire, you’ll find examples of ancient stadiums from Tunisia to Syria and from Egypt to the UK. Here are three of the most legendary and the best to visit:


The Wembley of its Day – Stadium at Aphrodisias, Turkey

With 30 tiers of seating to accommodate 30,000 athletics fans, this stadium was one of the largest in the ancient world. Aphrodisias itself was home to only 15,000 people, so this was definitely a destination stadium to which crowds would travel for big sporting events – so not much has changed, then! It’s also one of the best preserved ancient stadiums – making it a prime place to visit if you want to imagine the atmosphere of the ancient games whilst in Turkey.


The Home of the Olympics – Stadium at Olympia, Greece

Want to see where it all began? This stadium was holy ground for the ancient Greeks – as anyone who loves their club would understand! It was dedicated to the ancient Greek god Zeus, in whose honour the games began. Like today, athletes came from afar to compete and go down in history as the champions in these original Olympic Games – records list victors of many origins, including Sicilians and North Africans. But the crowds then were made up of men only, with one exception – the priestess of the goddess Demeter.


The Super-Sized stadium – Circus Maximus, Rome

This was Rome’s speedway, and ancient chariot racers were the F1 stars of their day. You’ll get an idea of their immense popularity when you consider that Rome’s Circus Maximus, a stadium custom-made for chariot racing, was built to fit 250,000 spectators. It’s a little harder to sense the excitement now that the Circus Maximus is a big public park. But it’s still a free, must-see pilgrimage for anyone visiting Rome.


If you love sport, why not visit one of the world’s legendary stadiums on your next holiday? Rely on Thomas Cook to get you there – watch out for our great value package holidays and last-minute deals to your favourite destinations.

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