All over the world, millions of people crowd stadiums each year to watch sporting events. The desire to watch such events-and the need to provide a place where a large number of people can do their watching-is a very old one. The stadium is the best way of meeting that need. The idea of a big “bowl” with terraced steps on which people can sit goes back more than 2,500 years to the time of the ancient Greeks.
When the first Olympic Games were held, the events took place in a magnificent stadium built for the occasion in the city-state of Olympia. In the earliest stadiums, people sat on the ground rather than on stone steps. Many ancient stadiums still stand, such as the one in Tunisia. The Greeks, and later the Romans, erected many of these structures.
Plays, performed on a stage at one end, were mounted there as well as sporting events. Today stadiums continue to have various uses. Yankee Stadium in New York City, for example, is mainly a place to play baseball. Yet it has also held huge crowds attending a concert or hearing the pope during his visit to the United States. Most ancient stadiums were smaller than modern ones.
One exception was the Circus Maximus in Rome, which may have held 250,000 people. However, the Colosseum in Rome could hold only about 50,000. Modern stadiums have room for many more. For example, the soccer stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, can hold 200,000 people, and one in Prague, Czechoslovakia, has a capacity of 240,000.
In the United States, this stadium in Los Angeles, California (center), was used to hold the large crowds attending the Olympic Games held there in 1984. The Astrodome (bottom), the indoor stadium in Houston, Texas, has the capacity to hold more than 60,000.