20 June 2010

Athens archaeological sites

23 May, 2010

Today was my last full day in Athens and I had set it aside for visiting the Acropolis and other archaeological sites.  First, though, as it was the Day of Pentecost, I went to the liturgy at the local Greek Orthodox Church - Agiou Konstantinou.  It was in the process of being upgraded and had scaffolding all over the outside and no photos allowed inside - so it was not a very photogenic experience.  But I was glad to put worship first on this day, and to enjoy the chanting of the cantors and the drama of the liturgy, even though I didn't understand many of the words that were used.  Sometimes my 'worship' lapsed into people-watching!  It was interesting to observe the range of people who had come to worship in this central city church and their behaviour - from chatter to intense devotion.  When the time came for people to receive communion I slipped out, as it is not permitted for people of a non-Orthodox denomination to share in communion at an Orthodox Eucharist.

Once outside I took the metro to the Monastiraki stop and walked through the Plaka area towards the Acropolis.  The Acropolis overlooks the city, but as you get closer it becomes even more dominant.

I headed towards the new Acropolis Museum.  This museum was built to house every artefact found on the Acropolis, including the marble statues removed from the Acropolis by Lord Elgin and sold to the British Museum.  The Greeks have been trying to get these 'Elgin marbles' returned for years, and the British Museum has steadfastly refused.  The new Acropolis Museum is a strong statement to the British that the Greeks are willing and able to care for the Elgin marbles as part of their own cultural heritage.

After visiting the museum I made my way up to the Acropolis.  On the way, I passed the Odeon (theatre) of Herodes Atticus, built in 161AD.

Herodes Atticus (101-177) was a Greek nobleman who became a Roman Senator.  A very wealthy man, he donated impressive monuments in many of the famous classical sites, including a monumental water fountain (nymphaeum) in Olympia, which I saw and admired.  This splendid theatre at the Acropolis is still used for festival events in Greece.  You can get an idea of how beautiful the theatre is from the Acropolis side.

Not far from it, again on the approaches to the Acropolis, was the ancient theatre of Dionysus, one of the earliest theatres in the world, where the most famous Greek dramatists, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides and Aristophanes would all have put on the first performances of their great plays in the fifth century BC.   What we saw, though, were remains from the stone theatre built in the fourth century BC and restored in 61 AD, in the time of the Emperor Nero.

The Acropolis itself was stunning.  Despite their inevitable deterioration over almost 2,500 years, the monuments were hugely impressive, giving just an idea of how glorious the original must have been.  This is a view of the grand entrance building and gate to the Acropolis, which is called the Propylaia.

Once inside the Propylaia I was surprised to see valuable ancient friezes just stacked up on blocks during the restoration of one of the buildings.

A little way past them was the Parthenon in all her/its glory!

This magnificent temple was built under the overall supervision of the sculptor Pheidias, who also created the monumental statue of Zeus in Olympia.  Pheidias was also in charge of the sculptural decoration.  Many of the great sculptures from the pediments and friezes of the Parthenon were removed by Lord Elgin, possibly with the permission of the then rulers of Greece, the Turks (and possibly without permission!).

One thing that I particularly noticed and appreciated about the Acropolis was that the Parthenon was not crowded by other monuments.  The planners of the site must have decided to leave it sufficient space to have its full effect on the eye.

The other major building on the summit of the Acropolis is the Erechtheion. 

This Temple has a complex shape, owing to the steep gradient of the site on the right and far side.  On the left hand side you can see the famous 'Porch of the Caryatids', with six statues of maidens (caryatids) functioning as pillars to hold up the roof.  Again, Lord Elgin took one of these caryatid sculptures.  While the originals have been placed in the new Acropolis museum, the Greeks have left one caryatid missing, as a reminder of this missing sculpture.

As I went down from the Acropolis, I saw the Areopagus just below me.  In the time of St Paul, this rock was a meeting place for the council of elders in Athens.  On a visit to Athens, St Paul noticed the large number of pagan altars there, including an altar to 'the unknown god'.  Paul then went on to give a beautifully constructed speech to the council of elders on the Areopagus, where he proclaimed the God of Israel as this unknown God, who had raised Jesus from the dead ( Acts 17:22-31).

From the Areopagus I looked down upon the ancient agora (market place) with many imposing monuments.  Just above the agora sits the beautiful temple of Hephaistos (the Greek god of fire and metal-working) built in the 5th century BC.

I walked down from the Areopagus through the ancient agora, and was most impressed to see the stoa of Attalos, a building built around 150BC, not as a ruin, but fully restored (this was done in the 1950s with funding from the American Rockefeller family).  The beautiful clean lines and white marble of the building gave me an inkling of what Athens must have looked like in its heyday.

From the agora I took a photo that captured three eras of Athens' history - the ancient Erechtheion on the Acropolis, the 10th century Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles in the agora itself, and a modern house just next to the agora. 

During my visits in Athens I had noticed Greek families coming to view museums and had thought how proud they must be of their history.  Imagine what it must feel like for a modern Athenian to live in that house in the midst of such a wealth of cultural history.

From the agora I went to various other archaeological sites.  First, the Library of Hadrian (built in 132 AD), and then the Roman agora (the marketplace used during the Roman period).  In this agora is the Tower of the Winds, built around 50BC.  This structure was eight-sided, with each side topped by a sculpture indicating one of the eight winds.  The tower displayed a sundial that showed the season and the time of day.  If the weather was overcast, the tower contained a 24 hour mechanized water clock. It might not quite have fitted on a person's wrist, but it was amazing technology for the time.

The last archaeological site I visited was the Temple of Olympian Zeus.  This monument was begun in the 6th century BC but not completed until Hadrian's time in the 2nd century AD, 638 years later!  At the time it was the biggest Temple in Greece.  Not much remains of this Temple now apart from some huge columns, indicating the scale of the original.  As you can see from the picture below, it is overlooked by the Acropolis.

I was pretty weary after traipsing around all these sites, so I took the metro back to my hotel.  After dinner I sorted through my photos and then got to bed.  I had plenty of time to pack tomorrow, before catching my plane to Dubai.

1 comment:

traveler said...

You took some gr8 pictures there. Good job!