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Amateur Athletic Foundation Los Angeles, Olympic Review

1963

A Piece of History. A Forerunner of the Revival of the Olympic Games
by Victor Banciulesco, of Bucarest

http://www.aafla.org/OlympicInformationCenter/OlympicReview/1963/BDCE83/BDCE83j.pdf

(Be sure to read the statement following this article.) Down the centuries, in a world harassed by wars. the noble project of a peaceful competition could not fail to appeal to the imagination of every man. On different levels and at different times in history, archeologists, historians, pedagogues or professors have been seized to a greater or lesser degree with the idea of a revival of a sporting competition, long since disappeared, the example of which would awaken hope in the hearts of men. More than 1300 had elapsed since the last of the old Olympic Games, when Johann Joachim Winckelmann, Richard Chandler, Johann Cristoph Gutsmuths and Ernst Curtius revived the memory among their contemporaries in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Pierre de Coubertin is, however, the man who brought to reality, in a manner as well- earned as it is incontestable, the glorious title of reviver of the Olympic Games of the modern era. Without in any way trying to diminish the prestige so well deserved of the ‘Father of the Olympic Games of Modern Times’ we would like in this article to discuss one of the most active promoters of the Olympic Games, a man whose name is all too often omitted, even in writings exclusively devoted to the history of Olym- pics.

The man in question is Evanghelie Zappa, who made his’ appearance on-the historic stage of the Olympic Games more than thirty years before the memorable lecture given at the Sorbonne by the Baron de Coubertin. And it is not only manifested in the inspired words of romanticism, and by the glory of Ancient Greece, but by the plain facts, for the meetings of 1859 and 1870, now called ‘pre-olympics’, are the work of this man. But who, in fact, was Evanghelie Zappa ? He was a Greek. living in Rumania. a grain merchant, (and not a Major in the Army as stated by Dr. F. Mezö in his Sechzig Jahre Olympische Spiele, page 19), and having besides very evident interests of a cultural kind.

The philanthropic enterprises, which he had undertaken in this field, were consi- dered by the Rumanian Government of the time as ‘enlightened and patriotic intentions towards our country’.

In effect, in the course of the sixty-five years of his life, Evanghelie Zappa (1800- 1865) manifested a great deal of interest in the cultural matters of his adopted country, which leads us to believe that he was a man of advanced ideas, a progressive. His don- ations served to found the Rumanian Aca- demy, and the sum of 5,000 gold francs, which he gave in 1860, contributed to the development of a Dictionary of the Rumanian Language, under the auspices of this Aca- demy.

But his most remarkable work, of which the echoes have reached all parts of the international world, was his design of organ- izing the first competitions which would tend to revive the traditional Games of his ancestors.

Always anxious to favour the development of Greek art and culture, Zappa gave a large part of the fortune he possessed to the creation in Athens of an ‘Olympic Foundation’ of which the first aim was the revival of the Olympic Games according to modern conceptions.

The proposition that he made, as well as the large funds allocated for this purpose, (together with money left after his death), were accepted by the Greek Government, but the realization of the donor’s ambition were not equal to those of his dreams. In this way, the first ‘Panhellenic’ Games took place in Athens in 1859, more in the streets of the city and on a public square, in the ‘Place Louis’, than in the old stadium built in ancient times by Herod Atticus. Here were squeezed in 20,000 spectators, who had come to see the competitions of Hop-Skip-and-Jump and of throwing the discus.

Along the streets, where the races were taking place, one race of 2 miles chaos and confusion reigned. Before the King and Queen and many official and important people, the mounted police charges the crowd of spectators, trying to make room for the competitors, while even arresting several athletes, supposing them to be spectators. The entires were being inscribed right up to the very moment of the competitions. A blind man appeared before the officials, pre- tending to be a competitor, and taking advantage of the situation, he began to sing an ode, for which he was rewarded by the crowd. During the 2-mile race, one athlete fainted.

This state of affairs was not much better in 1870, when there were also wrestling com- petitions.

Dr. Mezö contests the sporting value of these competitions., and also those of 1875, 1888 and 1889 which he mentions. Jean Dauven, (in the Encyclopédie des Sports, Larousse, page 523) estimates that they were simple trials which were quickly trans- formed into fairs. On the other hand, John V. Grombach (Olympic Cavalcade of Sports, New York, page 7), without denying the picturesque and disorganized side of the Games and the small success of these trials initiated by Evanghelie Zappa, thinks how ever that they were trials unjustly for- gotten by History and that they formed the ‘logical links between a sombre past and an uncertain future’.

Even so, without having been a success, these Games which were the prologue to the triumphal series of the modern Olympic Games, served to foster the idea of Olympics, for the awakened of a vivid interest far beyond the frontiers of Greece.

Evanghelie Zappa and his design, which had its birth in Bucharest in Rumania, well merit a place in the Olympic Pantheon.

[Zappas.org says: Victor's opinion is that Coubertin was the reviver and the father of the modern Olympic Games. "Incontestible" indeed. Would Baron Pierre de Coubertin have been successful without a recently refurbished stadium and the earlier experience of both the Hellenes and the British in organising Olympic Games (particularly Dr Brookes' experience in organising annual Olympian Games for many years)? What does he mean by his opinion of "without having been a success" and the use of "pre-Olympic" when these early Games were more successful than the side-show Olympics of 1900 and 1904. The Zappas-sponsored Olympic Games were not pre-Olympic they were however pre-IOC. Victor also refers to the Games sponsored by Zappas as Panhellenic as though the word means Panhellas. The literal meaning of "Panhellenic" is "All Hellenes" (i.e. not just "All of Greece") and competitors attended who were citizens of the Ottoman Empire i.e. Victor failed to use the word international in this article. When the citizens of more than one country participate then the event is international. Make no mistake, the competitors from the Ottoman Empire were born outside of Greece. The participants were not exclusively of Greek ethnicity (no matter what the definition of 'ethnicity' is since it appears to represent whatever backs up the presented opinion). Also, these early Games were no less chaotic than the Games in Paris 1900, and St Louis 1904, and let's not forget the ending of the Marathon at the London 1908 Games. It is unlikely that there could be a more chaotic Games than those held in St Louis in 1904. To single out the Olympic Games sponsored by Zappas as inferior is ridiculous and more clearly emphasizes the bias. Victor has unfairly biased his article in favour of the Baron and harshly criticized the 1859, and 1870 Olympic Games. The first modern international Olympic Games was held in Athens in 1859 and the first man on the honour roll of the Wenlock Olympian Society was a Hellenic-Ottoman who was a citizen of the Ottoman Empire. Also, it is wrong to compare the modern international Olympic Games of 1859, 1870, and 1875 with the elite private Games held in 1889. The 1875 Olympic Games may have been elite (exclusive to the upper class) but at least they were a major public event organised by a National Olympic Committee.]

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Recommended reading by Zappas.org:

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The Modern Olympics: A Struggle for Revival

cover

by
David. C Young

published by
The Johns Hopkins University Press

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A Brief History of the Olympics

cover

by
David. C Young

published by
Blackwell Publishing

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