Today Athenians enter the fabled plain of Marathon to enjoy a break from the capital, visiting the freshwater lake created by the dam, or sunning at the area's beaches. The beauty of the region endures, though the ecosystem is still recovering from large-scale fires in the summer of 2009. When the Athenian hoplites (foot soldiers), assisted by the Plataians, entered the plain in 490 BC, it was to crush a numerically superior Persian force. Some 6,400 invaders were killed fleeing to their ships, while the Athenians lost 192 warriors. This, their proudest victory, became the stuff of Athenian legend; the hero Theseus was said to have appeared himself in aid of the Greeks, along with the god Pan. The Athenian commander Miltiades sent a messenger, Pheidippides, to Athens with glad tidings of the victory; it's said he ran the 42 km (26 miles) hardly taking a breath, shouted Nenikikamen! ("We won!"), then dropped dead of fatigue (more probably of a heart attack)—the inspiration for the marathon race in today's Olympics. To the west of the Marathon plain are the quarries of Mt. Pendeli, the seemingly inexhaustible source for a special marble that weathers to a warm golden tint. The hillside vistas across the bay and to the island of Euboia are exceptional.
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