I am leaving Greece today. I had a wonderful wonderful trip and it was such a pleasure to see the monuments and history that I enjoyed studying so much. I had great company in the welcome form of my Aunt Rosie and she was an excellent sport with my tendency to linger at monuments or ramble on endlessly about historical things. My flight is 5 hours later than hers, so I am finally taking the time to update this blog beyond pictures to make you all jealous.
Our first full day we went where all tourists go, the sacred rock of the Acropolis, home to that jewel of classical architecture the Parthenon. We took the Metro to the pedestrian path that connects many of the important sites and entered through the Sanctuary of Dionysus, which in the end was a good thing because the other entrance that takes you through the Byzantine gate is always mobbed. (we are going to pretend I knew this and purposefully saved my aunt the pain) The Sanctuary of Dionysus should get more credit from tourists, especially those who like theater because it was in this location that the yearly festivals of chorus competitions led to the revolutionary changes that led to Western theater. First one man stepped out of the chorus and then innovators later added two men. The great plays of Athens took place right there. It was a real hike to get up for my aunt, but the views were fabulous. The
Once at the top, we saw the Propylaia, the great entranceway to the Acropolis. This gorgeous structure was the main entrance to the Acropolis and over the course of time has also served as a castle and a guardhouse. This monument, made from Pentelic marble from the nearby mountain of Pentelli, was the entrance used for the Panathenaea,the festival to honor Athena which processed up to the sacred wooden statue of Athena to give her a new Peplos or robe. Now, it is important to note that this most important of processions did not end at the Parthenon, but at the temple which presently held the sacred and quite old wooden statue of Athena. During the classical period, it is thought to have been the Erectheion. The Parthenon does depict this procession on its frieze, with the culmination being the presentation of peplos. In front of the Propylaia is the Temple of Athena Nike. This small temple has been nicely reconstructed and despite my mother’s hopes, you can’t really get near it. I did not get a chance to meditate on life there.
The Erechtheion, dedicated to Athena, Kekrop and Poseidon, is a site most of you will have seen as the Caryatid porch, the south porch which is likely the above ground portion of Kekrop’s legendary tomb. The six female columns are now in the New Acropolis Museum, though reproductions are on the site. This oddly shaped temple needed to accommodate all those gods and two important sites, the spring Poseidon created when he tried to win over the people of Athens to name their city after him and the olive tree that Athena gave the city. Athena won the contest and supposedly the olive tree that grew there, the first to ever be in the world, was the original one Athena made until the Persians burnt it in 480 BCE.
The Parthenon is a massive temple and in person it is so impressive. The sheer size and the sheen of the Pentelic marble (a theme of Perikles’ building program) is so gorgeous. This monument is more than a temple. It is a victory monument, a treasury and a temple. This monument said to the gods and to the Classical world, Athens is victorious, Athens is powerful.
From the Acropolis we went down the New Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009 with express intention of getting back the Elgin Marbles. It is a fabulous museum with many well-displayed monuments. My favorite was the program to show you how some of the statues would have looked originally because they would have been painted. Despite our images of the Greek and Roman world being dominated by sparkling white marble, most things were painted. The Parthenon was painted, not the gorgeous yellowy white it is now. I have to say that I didn’t feel the need to jump to the Greeks side on getting the Elgin marbles back as most of the spaces are filled by reproductions. They do certainly have the space. I will perhaps at some point do a post all about this long-running dispute.
We then tried valiantly to go to more places, but all the archeological sites were on winter hours already due to the economy and so closed at 3. Instead we wandered around the neighborhood near the Classical Agora a bit and had late lunch looking out on the Acropolis. We stayed late enough to get some sunset views.
Whewww…day 1 of Athens completed. Let’s see if I can actually finish more of this…