Welcome to Greece, the land of beautiful sunny beaches…
except in March, when there is a lot of rain. That just meant that we would spend less time at beaches and more time at ruins…and there are plenty of them. Our lovely little neighborhood of Thissio is in the shadow of the Acropolis.
The Acropolis view above is from Mount Lycabettus, across the city. It’s likely that ancient Greek structures lie beneath everything in the path between the two hills.
The Acropolis is actually the rocky hilltop and complete citadel area, a fortress for the Greeks . The Parthenon is the most spectacular building, built between 447 and 438 B.C. and masterminded by Pericles. It was a temple to the goddess Athena but also served as a treasury. In other ages it became a Catholic church and an Ottoman mosque.
Now it’s impossible to get a photo of the Parthenon without some evidence of reconstruction. Damage to the original structure occurred in the 1600s when it was being used to store gunpowder. A Venetian bomb in 1687 caused further damage.
Renovation efforts seem to be unending. The latest project started in 1983 and was continuing slowly during our 2015 stay. That’s 32 years so far, compared to the original 9 years to construct.
At night the Parthenon is lit with an inner glow to display this national treasure’s great beauty.
Down the hill from the Parthenon is the Theatre of Dionysus (Greek god of wine, intoxication and ecstatic dance). Here, up to 17,000 Greeks gathered to watch performances of works by Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophenes and others.
In 2007, Athens created the current Acropolis Museum. Smaller museums had existed in the past but weren’t large enough to contain all the ancient treasures. For decades prior to the final completion, Greek politicians including Melina Mercouri (once a Greek actress and then Minister of Culture) planned and campaigned for this structure to be completed. The construction includes glass flooring at the entryway to show glimpses of the ancient passageways and buildings unearthed below modern Greece.
The whole Acropolis as it once was is reproduced inside the museum in a 300,000-block Lego structure created by the Australian artist/architect Ryan McNaught. He has depicted numerous ancient and modern visits to the Acropolis including Sigmund Freud, Agatha Christie, and Elton John at a grand piano.
Most of the remaining statuary from the Parthenon and other buildings of the Acropolis have been removed to the museum for preservation. In some cases relatively small bits of statues have been recovered and the missing sections are filled in with plaster, like a giant 3-D jigsaw puzzle. Six statues of maidens, the Caryatids, served as columns supporting the Erechtheion.
A large amount of the Parthenon’s frieze (80 meters!) was removed from the Greek hilltop in the 1800s by Lord Elgin for “protection” in the British Museum. In the Acropolis Museum, missing bits of frieze are filled in with plaster. The Greek government and many museum curators around the world now urge the British to return the Elgin marbles to their rightful home.
Melina Mercouri campaigned for her position with a platform of the return of the Elgin marbles. Even the Lego reproduction represents the removal of the marbles.
Nearby, the changing of the guard at the Parliament Building is an interesting display of pageantry and tradition. Two very tall guards stand at the entrance in kilts and pom-pommed shoes. A new regiment of replacement guards arrive, appearing out of nowhere. After their uniform is checked down to the stocking garters, they high step into place with their shoes tapping a bit of a shuffle ball change. Note the Greek writing on the wall behind them.
Athens is actually a very large city. Infrastructure installed for the 2004 Olympics makes it quite navigable, with a very nice subway/train that reaches from the city center to the port area of Piraeus. Here we saw the Peace and Friendship Stadium, built for Olympic basketball and volleyball, now a bit less glorious.
The port area shows that at least some visitors to Greece are doing quite well. Lots of large sailboats and motoring yachts.
Michael has been driving all over Greece and we’re navigating using street signs. But guess what…It’s all Greek to me! Interestingly, we did start understanding the place names by remembering some of the Greek alphabet: pi is P, p is rho or R, sigma is S, v is nu or N.
So we could get to where we needed to be without wandering into Turkey or Albania.
Πειραιάς = Piraeus
Αθήνα = Athens (Athena)
Ναύπλιο = Nafplio
We didn’t see a single toga, except on a few of the statues, but we did have dinner with an honest-to-goodness Greek. We met up with Liz’s friend Nick who is living in Athens on a Fulbright scholarship.
Next we’re off to the Peloponnese.