Acropolis Solo Jaunt and the Ancient Commercial Centers of Athens

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After our disappointments with the hours of various sites the day before, on October 5th we had a plan that would hopefully take all those tricksy Athens schedules into account. First, as I wanted to go up to the Acropolis again, I got up nice and early and was one of the first people into the Acropolis. It was so gorgeous to be on the sacred rock as the slightly cloudy sky made the light closer to that of sunrise. The Pentelic marble of the monuments just looked fabulous in that light. Some of the pictures in the last post are actually from this morning because it was just a better time/day for the light. I even got a picture in front of the Erectheion’s column facade with no other people in it!!! I sat where I could see all three of the largely intact monuments and just did some thinking as well as doing a good walk to get a closer look at some of the exposed foundations of older buildings. Professor Landon prepared me well for this visit and I can only hope that Aunt Rosie benefited sufficiently from the random facts stuffed inside my head. As I came down, I decided to climb the Areopagus hill, sacred (you guessed it) to Ares. This hill is also a traditional place for demagogues to expound on topics. Another one of the pictures from the other post is from the nice Japanese man who was very intense about getting a good picture…then he wouldn’t even let me return the favor. Maybe I don’t look like a good enough photographer for his standards. The Areopagus is a pretty slippery climb and the other option of a metal staircase just is not that secure looking. Then I met Aunt Rosie in front of the New Acropolis Museum.

We proceeded to the Temple of Olympius Zeus/Hadrian’s Gate where we had been thwarted by the winter hours being in effect the day before. This temple was begun by a tyrant Peissitratos who was not a tyrant in the modern sense of the word. Tyrant meant merely that he seized power by force and was no indication of how they actually ruled. He was a pretty good ruler, but once his grandson was overthrown, the citizens of Athens were not interested in continuing the work of tyrants due to the political atmosphere of the times. The temple was untouched till around 160 BCE when a king of Syria helped continue the temple, but it still was not finished. Finally the Emperor Hadrian in the 2nd century CE finished it as part of his many works within the city of Athens. The temple was massive, although only about 12 of its columns survive. Hadrian’s Gate lies right next to it, proclaiming that one side is the city of Theseus and the other is the city of Hadrian, not of Theseus. This was because so much of the newly reinvigorated Athens was funded by Hadrian. The site also contains several other monuments, but they are preserved only at the foundational level for the most part.

We then took our favorite subway lines of the red and blue to reach the Monstiraki area. This area contains the Library of Hadrian, the Roman Forum, the Tower of the Winds and Classical Agora, as well as being one of the best areas for touristy trinkets. This is the same area where the day before we had eaten our snack on the top floor of a hotel for the view of the Acropolis. The Roman Forum, which in its complete form included the Library of Hadrian, was the commercial center of the city after a combo of the Classical Agora being just too crowded with buildings and monuments and the general revitalizing of the city under Roman patronage and rule. This was the first place where I could really point out the difference between the marbles as the Propylon at one end is made of our best friend the Pentelic Marble, while at the other the Propylon is made of Hymetian marble, a more gray-blue toned stone. A pretty small site, especially in contrast to the quite massive Classical Agora, it was a really fun site to visit. The highlight there is the Tower of the Winds, a tiny octagonal building that told time in two ways. The top of each wall is carved with one of the 8 winds, marked by their attributes for those in the know. Below them are sundials that can still be seen as spidery lines and metal rods. For cloudy days, inside the building was a water clock, though we can’t go see it anymore. Aunt Rosie and I declared ourselves quite pleased with this little adventure.

Our next stop was the second jewel of Athenian tourism after the Acropolis, the Classical Agora. I was head over heels to be there, but I do want to note that more signage would have been really nice. I knew more or less all the monuments that were there, even if I was a bit fuzzy on some of the locations, and I had no idea where to start in this massive and sprawling tree-filled space. Monuments like the Middle Stoa which are 115 m long had only one sign that I could find. The sign telling you all about the monument once you found it was good, but I would have liked signposts. Once again though, I was thanking Professor Landon. The red conglomerate foundations of the Middle Stoa look so different from a lot of what you see in the Agora. The two major monuments to see there are the Hephaestaeion, the Temple of Hephaestus and Athena and the best preserved Greek temple of its type, and the reconstructed Stoa of Attalos. Aunt Rosie fell in love with the Hephaestaeion and I have to say, it is so beautiful. It was turned into a church, which is naturally why it survives. Also no idiots stored gunpowder in it…. The temple sits up on a little hill that overlooks the Agora, which makes it just beautiful from most of the agora and the Acropolis. The other highlight, the Stoa of Attalos, was reconstructed in the fifties by Americans funded by the Rockefellers. It is now a small museum. A stoa by the way is a basically a colonnaded hallway that may have small rooms along one long edge or might be entirely open to the air. The Stoa of Attalos was a rare two story, 115 m long construction with a row of shows along one side. Stoas could serve a variety of purposes, from commercial to leisure. This stoa has some really interesting things going on with the orders of the building, including Pergamin styles on the inside. The monument of Eponymous Heros was not much to look at but really cool to think about. The 10 heros represented the 10 tribes the people of Athens were artificially organized into. Overall, a marvelous experience.

After a much needed refueling, in which I tried Saganaki, a fried cheese, we made our way to the Benaki Museum which was open till midnight! We didn’t really believe the internet or our books on this fact about Thursdays at the Benaki but it was true. Also only 1 euro. Our lucky day! This museum was the collection of a shipping magnate family and takes you from the beginning of Greek prehistory to almost present-day. I really really enjoyed the beautiful pieces and the progression of time. Some notable pieces included gorgeous jewelry worked with the Herculean knot and the dresses worn by the Queen and her attendants of Greece. I might have more to say on the Benaki when I am not quite so tired.

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