I’ll begin with the obvious – the ruins of the ancient city. This part of Athens is experienced primarily by walking around it. There are tours and guidebooks and a lot of interesting history, of course, but for me it was more useful to simply wander and absorb.
Athens represents a classic Greek city state – a fortified hill top surrounded by fertile countryside that operated independently in an established replicable form. The Acropolis held the religious center and place of retreat in times of strife. On its lower slopes were the cultural institutions, theaters, market places, sports arenas and then the town, the walls and the exterior burial areas. Athens at its height had a population of over a quarter million – about the most that could be supported by the immediately surrounding landscape and the wealth of satellite colonies. Unusually for Greek a city state, it was so large that it couldn’t support its populace on local grain and had to rely on imports from its sea access point. The Athenians built and defended two walls over three miles long to protect their road to the then-separate port town of Piraeus.
Stay tuned for more on Athens the modern city and some of the lovely museums in subsequent posts.
Obligatory dramatic evening shot.
The theater (from above) on the slopes of the Acropolis.
and from stage level.
They’ve resuscitated a few of the important-folks seats – others were scattered around the site as broken fragments.
Almost as impressive as any of the buildings is the acropolis itself – the fortification of the hill with reinforced walls that have lasted through so much time and stress.
The smaller odeon is next to the theater.
It would once have been covered by a roof and was used for musical performances rather than drama.
In fact, in summer they still have concerts there. One of the only downsides of doing my travels in the winter is that I’m missing out on all the performances that are held in ancient theaters and odeons … in summer time.
Temple of Athena Nike at the entrance of the acropolis.
I believe (although I heard this on a tour the day I got violently ill) that this is the place where the Athenians placed a statue of Nike (goddess of victory) carved complete with wings and then broke the wings off in order to ensure that victory could never leave them. The did this right before a major battle and then … lost it spectacularly. I think one might infer that Nike doesn’t like having her wings knocked off.
The approach to the Acropolis is monumental. I’m sure it was always meant to humble and even intimidate and it still does.
The bits of piecemeal restoration work are a bit disconcerting. I understand many of them were inserted by well meaning people in times past – the 20’s was a big time for putting things back together.
And the Parthenon. It is heavily under construction just at present (and for the last twenty or thirty years.
Its actually amazing that it still stands. A monument to long lasting construction. Each of the columns actually has a core of solid metal which helps a lot.
An archaeologist at work.
I found the Erechtheon much more compelling, actually.
It was a dual temple dedicated both to Athena (patron of the city) and to Poseidon (whom they didn’t want to offend either.)
Legend has it that the two gods competed for the patronage of the city. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident and created a fountain. Athena made an olive tree sprout. Since the fountain was salt water the Athenians preferred the tree and chose her but they tried to appease both in this structure.
The Cariatids here are replicas. The originals are (mostly) in the New Acropolis Museum and one is in the BM. More on that later.
Active work is on going although its not always clear if its restoration or archaeology.
Repair work I assume. You don’t do archaeological work with a welding machine.
The exposed rock of the acropolis has been worn to dangerous slickness by several millennia of feet.
The lower market area and temple of Haephestus – I wasn’t able to visit this area directly because the guards were on strike every time I tried to go.