Monday, September 16, 2013

The Ruins of Athens - September 15, 2013

The visit to Athens was loaded with emotion.  A trip to the Acropolis and the surrounding ruins was one of the items on my mom's bucket list that she never got checked off.  She had asked almost everyone in the family to make the trip with her, but for some reason we were all too busy with work, kids, relationships, other travel and other responsibilities.  There always seemed to be a good reason for saying, "Not this year."  Why she didn't go by herself I don't know; she certainly made other trips solo or with friends.  At any rate, Frosty, Jill, Stanley and I all had her on our minds as we trekked up the hill to the ruins.

First coffee
And the first glimpse of the ruins.  Even from a distance, shrouded in scaffolding, and through intense glare, the Parthenon  rises in a sort of majesty that I carried with me the rest of the day.  So this was what my mom wanted to see!  In those first moments at the foot of the hill looking up I learned something about her depth and complexity that I had never appreciated before.  

As we made our way to the gates through the crowds, I did a quick review of the history of this stone masterpiece.

The Acropolis began its life as a fortress built on a seven acre limestone plateau atop sheer cliffs of 100 feet with permanent springs.  As early as 1400 B.C. Mycenaeans ruled the area from their palace. Athena, the patron goddess of the city, made her entrance around 800 B.C. and she continues to be a commanding presence.  

In 480 B.C. Persia invaded and Athens was abandoned.  All the temples on the Acropolis were burned and the city was looted and vandalized.  

By 450 B.C. the Athenians were back in power with coffers full of money from other Greek city-states who wanted quick alliances with the victorious Athenians.  

The Acropolis as we know it today was built within two generations.  The four major monuments were designed as one architectural piece.  What an achievement!

For the purpose of clarity, I will share what I saw and know of those four major monuments first even though they are not in the order I saw them.

First, the Temple of Athena Nike.  I must admit that my pictures - all six of them - of the temple were horrible so I borrowed this one from Wikipedia.

The Acropolis was dedicated to the goddess Athena and at this temple she was worshiped for bringing Athens victory over Persia in 479 B.C.  Although Athena Nike is always identified by her wings, the statue in this temple was never given wings.  The people of Athens wanted her to stay; wings might give her the idea of flying away.

The temple has been dismantled and rebuilt three times.  Hopefully, it was put together correctly this time.  

Next, the Propylaea

The Propylaea was built with the intention of being a gate to impress visitors.  It does just that!  It was designed to prepare the visitor for the Parthenon that lay just beyond.  Can you believe it was constructed within a five year period.  Unbelievable!

Third is the Parthenon itself.  Here are some of my best photos.

 Built in just 18 years - decorations and all - it incorporates some very sophisticated architectural refinements.
Wikipedia has a very simplified summary of the remarkable optical illusions incorporated into the design and construction of this fabulous building.  I invite you to read about it here:

The Parthenon has been undergoing repairs since 1984.  

The project, being funded by Greece and the EU, does not intend to create a fully restored building.  It is to be a reinforced version of the ruin we see today.  

Who knew there was a full-scale replica in Nashville TN?  Not I.  

Long thought to have been home to an Athenian cult, it may well have served as much as a treasury as a temple of worship. A forty foot statue of Athena Parthenos once stood at the far end of the entry hall.  Pericles called the statue a gold reserve saying that it "contained forty talents of pure gold and it was all removable."  

Many sources indicate the temple was also a storehouse of other treasure. This may have led to its destruction.

As lovely as the Parthenon is, my heart belongs to the fourth monument, Erechtheion.  

I love the story.  Tucked away inside was a statue of Athena, not 
covered in gold, but carved of olive wood; dropped from the sky as a gift to the people of Athens from Athena herself.  It was at this site that Athena and Poseidon fought for naming rights to the city. Athena won the contest by stabbing a rock with her spear, sprouting an olive tree.  The inner worship hall is divided in two.  One for Athena and the other for Poseidon to show they are still friends.

But it is the Porch of the Caryatids that amazes me.  It represents the first time the Greeks combined architectural elements and sculpture.  

The lovely maidens holding up the roof of the porch are reproductions.  Four are on display at the Arcopolis Museum. The fifth is in London, compliments of Lord Elgin, and the sixth is in France.  

Here are my best shots of Odeon of Herodes Atticus.  Some of you may recognize this as the setting of Yanni at the Acropolis.  It is still used as a concert venue and if the Yanni recording is a fair representation of its acoustics, it would be a real treat to hear a concert there.

Always the geologist

Frosty had to have a close look at all the rocks.

I waited in vain for this huge Greek flag to unfurl, but while I was waiting I got some good shots of the Plaka.  

Running out of energy, we made a group decision.  Instead of going to the Acropolis Museum, we would go on to the Agora.  

Mostly reduced to rubble, the Agora was once the heartbeat of Athens.  In the beginning it was the oldest cemetery in Athens.  Later it became a political forum, the place for speeches, political announcements, and demonstrations.  There was the marketplace, shops, offices, government buildings, temples, and people!  Mostly men and lower-class working women.

The Stoa of Attalos with its long covered walkway was an ancient shopping mall.  The ground floor was divided into 21 shops. Upstairs were offices.  

Today the building houses a museum, a gift shop, and great views.

Strolling around the grounds, there is an endless stream of opportunity to photograph 


and columns.

There are capitals,
and views of the Acropolis.  

This is where the great ancient philosophers walked, talked, taught, and made proclamations. Socrates urged people to "know thyself." Plato and Aristotle taught here. Pericles oversaw the rebuilding of the Agora after its destruction by the Persians.  The earliest Greek plays and concerts were performed here and the Apostle Paul preached here on his way to Corinth. 

But winning the prize for the most colorful ancient, Diogenes the Cynic lived as a homeless person in the Agora.  He spoke of an anti-materialistic and free lifestyle and was always on the lookout for one honest man in a corrupt city.  

Alexander the Great was intrigued and told him that he would give him whatever he wanted.  Diogenes replied, "Please get out of my sunshine."

And winning the prize as the crown jewel of the Agora is the temple of Hephaistos. Incredibly well preserved, it was worth every step I took to see it.

What a magnificent structure to honor the blacksmith god!  

There was much to see and it covered a very large area.  We were starving!  Time to quit, get something to eat, and think about what we had already seen.

We had lunch in the Monatiraki District and thanks to a very agreeable waiter, we got a photo of all of us roughly in front of the Altar of the Twelve Gods.  In ancient times, that altar was considered the geographical center of Athens from which distances were measured.  We were at Mile 0.

Still suffering from jet lag, we didn't think we could walk much farther so we boarded the tram and headed for the coast.
At the end of the line, we found a table in the dappled shade of hundreds of trees and a cool liter of Malvasia. That's all it took.  A few minutes later, we were back on the tram.  We had just enough time to shower and dress before heading to dinner at the Strofi Athenian Restaurant.  The meal was delicious and the roof-top view of the Acropolis was stunning.  A perfect finish to a fabulous day!