Athens!


After a sad farewell to Istanbul and all my friends there, I boarded a flight to Athens to meet two good friends from Philly who are on an extensive trip around the world.

On the flight I had the good fortune to sit next to two very handsome and charming Greek men (aren’t they all?) who helped me with my language pronounciation and tried to explain Greek politics. They also showed a lot of concern when they heard that my hotel was in Omonoia, an area known (except by me!) for a lot of drug use in Athens.  They gave me some advice on getting to my hotel and one of them helped me pick up my baggage…literally… I can barely get that monster on my back by myself. All in all it was a very nice start to Greece!

The next day, Sunday, and the day of local elections in Greece, my friends and I headed for the New Acropolis Museum since the Acropolis was closed. Although our area was not so nice, it was convenient to the more touristy parts of the city, so we quickly made it to   Monastiraki square, and then past the Roman Agora and up through picturesque winding streets to the road that circles the Acropolis. The Acropolis is high above the city and is visible almost everywhere, so you can imagine how it became a religious and cultural focal point for the city.  We followed the road around, ooohing and aaahing until we found the museum, which is very impressive.

Moastiraki Square. The Acropolis is visible in the distance

New Acropolis Museum, seen from the Acropolis

The museum straddles an archaeological site, visible from an open courtyard and through the glass floors of the museum

I love international dog signs...

The museum just opened in July, and is beautiful, although the layout is just a bit confusing. But the objects are stunning and the labels very informative. Most importantly, it was in this museum that I found my name: “stephane” means “wreath” in Greek!

A stephane

The museum also gives a nice and very moving video about the building of the Parthenon and the subsequent phases of its destruction over the centuries. Although labels give detailed information about the various attacks and changes to the building, it is different to see it played out (even in a slightly cheesy cgi form). Major acts of destruction: One of the building’s pediments (triangular front and end roofs) was destroyed to install a cross when it was made into a church, and later a minaret was added when it was made into a mosque. The Venetians later bombed it with cannonballs, which destroyed much of the inner building and roof, and then, of course, there is the sensitive issue of the removal/theft/pillaging (depending upon your point of view) of the remaining large sculptures in the pediment by British “Lord Elgin” and their transportation to their current home in London. If anyone thinks art history is boring, google some of the controversy surrounding the various objects that have found their way outside of their country of origin and the resulting political and cultural wars (of words and worse) that still rage over these objects (and, therefore, history). The museum itself is another testament to the Greek desire for the return of these “Elgin Marbles”. For more general info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parthenon

The next stop was the Temple of Olympian Zeus, which is past a large portal built by Hadrian (this guy is EVERYWHERE). There is not much of the temple left, but the remaining columns are massive, and it was interesting to see the slices of marble in one that has collapsed.

Temple of Zeus

Capitals of the temple--it was constructed over hundreds of years so the base of the columns are a different era than the capitals

Collapsed column revealing its construction

We continued past the temple to the site of the first modern olympics (1896)

Olympic stadium

And then to the National Gardens, with a stop at the Zappeion, which is used for meetings and ceremonies. We had a rest here and sampled one of the oranges from the trees that are planted all over the city, bearing beautiful fruit…which, unfortunately, is deadly bitter. What a disappointment!

the Zappeion

Tree of temptation...

...and the casting away of the poisonous fruit.

The gardens were a beautiful break from the loud, busy city and had a nice pond and small zoo with birds, goats, a donkey, and rabbits, as well as a very welcome WC.

Then it was back to the hotel to rest up for the next day’s visit to the Acropolis and Parthenon!

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The Acropolis is just incredible and the Parthenon is magnificent. It is truly awe-inspiring in size and concept, and as a major monument from my Art History 101 class…  The view from the top is also exhilarating, and you can really imagine it as a place for gods.

The stairs to the Parthenon--I can't imagine the crowds during the summer....

One of the many dogs of the ruins

The Parthenon

It was incredibly windy on the top of the Acropolis and you could see the clouds clawing their way across the mountains from the sea

Horses of the chariot of the moon on the Parthenon

View of the Erechtheus temple with a porch upheld by Caryatids (or copies, the originals are in the museum)

View from the Acropolis:

view of Athens

Looks like my art!

There are numerous other temples and amphitheaters within the Acropolis including:

Herodes Attikos Theater

Theater of Dionysius


Front-row seats for the priests

After the Acropolis we decided to see the sun set and have a picnic at the top of nearby Lycabettus Hill, where the church of St. George is perched. We found the local Carrefour (supermarket) and loaded up with food for the picnic and for later, which was a slightly ridiculous decision given our plan to hike up one of the tallest hills in Athens.  A funicular also goes up the hill, but we decided to hike it, grocery bags and all. It actually wasn’t nearly as steep as it looked, but it was very windy…

Shelley has a Marilyn Monroe moment on the way up the Lycabettus Hill

St. George's church (with devotee) at the top of Lycabettus

View of the Parthenon at sunset from Lycabettus hill

There was no spot for a picnic at the very top, but there was a bench halfway back down the hill that faced the Acropolis, so we could watch the lights come on over the city and the Parthenon. It was beautiful!

Brie celebrating sunset in Athens with "The Party's Wine", which was just awful....

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My last full day in Athens we hit the remaining sites close to us: Hadrian’s Library, the Ancient Agora, which was a huge area enclosing temples, governmental buildings, a prison, baths, etc etc, most of which have only wall outlines remaining, and the Keramikos, which was the city’s graveyard and ceramic center, as well as having a large gate entryway to the city, houses, temples…. and turtles. We saw lots of large turtles in many of the ruins, which was definitely unexpected.

Guide dog at Hadrian's Library

Columns at the library

Mosaic floor

Sculpted capital as wall filler

What is so interesting (and a bit sad) is how ancient monuments and sculpture were reused throughout the centuries as cement fill for roads and walls:



Although the modern city still continues to fold itself around the ruins:

Train through ruins

And last, but not least, we wandered through some of the open-air markets of the city

Octopus

 

Kalamari!

Scary fish heads...

I have to say that Athens is much more interesting and beautiful than I expected, as is the Greek language, which has a lovely soft sound.

Next post: Working at a horse farm deep in the Northern Greek mountains!  Sneak peek: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papingo  and/or google images for Papingo. It’s stunning!

About Stephanie Beck

Exploring the international world of art.
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