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Thursday, October 20, 2016

10/11: Athens: The Acropolis Museum & Ancient Markets

We arrived at the Athens airport about 8:30 last night and made our way using the Metro to our hostel getting there safe and sound about 90 minutes later. Our experience returning to the airport four days later was NOT so pleasant but I am getting ahead of myself. Our room was called the 'Master Suite' but that was rather fanciful as the bedroom was miniscule by any standards. 

We did have, however, our own bathroom and a separate small kitchen in which we only used the kettle for tea. A cold breakfast was included in the $50 per night rate which we thought very reasonable, especially considering its good location near all the major city sights. What I liked especially about the hostel was that it had a 'living room' where I spent a lot of time writing posts in the early morning or late evening hours. Unlike any other hostels we've stayed in, those staying in the dorm rooms on the upper floors never used the main floor living or common room as they had their own communal areas.
Another very rainy day dawned so, instead of seeing the Acropolis first as planned, we decided to change gears and head inside to the warmth of the Acropolis Museum which was also at the top of our list of sights to see in Athens. Luckily we didn’t have a long walk in the rain. Thank goodness I studied Latin for five years eons ago as I remembered Acropolis meant 'high city' because of its location on a rocky outcrop high above the city of Athens. The Acropolis contains the remains of several ancient buildings, the most famous of which is the Parthenon. Look for more, way more on that, in the next post!

The museum, which occupied a large plot of the city's most prized real estate just below the Acropolis, opened to worldwide acclaim in 2009. It drew 90,000 visitors in its first month and more than 6.5 million in the first five years. Because of the rain, I didn't dawdle and take any exterior shots before we entered. I was back to using my original camera as the newer one was still messed up from the rain yesterday in Corfu.

The museum is a museum within one as, when they were excavating to build this, they discovered many centuries of ruins underneath the building site. Thank goodness I wasn’t wearing a skirt as the glass floors on the ground floor had great views down to, and up from, the excavations! The ground floor exhibit, The Acropolis Slopes, featured objects found in the sanctuaries and settlements around the Acropolis. 
Athena, the goddess of the city:
Athenians worshipped her in the Erechtheion, the most sacred area on the Acropolis. The statue that was once inside the Temple was not preserved although many believe it closely resembled this figurine. It wasn't made of terracotta but of olive wood.
Two Nikai or warriors, leading a bull to sacrifice:
One of the most impressive charateristics about the museum was that most of the items on display weren't encased in glass. We could get right up close and walk around them and thus see the art, the chisel marks and the beauty without anything between us and the statues, etc.

In the Parthenon, a huge sculpture of Athena was constructed made out of marble, gold and ivory and measuring about 40 feet high! In this statue of her, she was armed with a helmet, spear and a shield and she held a small Nike in one hand.
Reconstruction of what the west pediment (the decorated area just below the roof) of the Parthenon looked like according to a drawing done in 1896.
How absolutely amazing it would have been to see this rather than small model.

On the top floor, we watched a video on the Parthenon before entering the museum's star gallery, The Parthenon, devoted to the temple's Pentelic marble decorations. The hand-carved marble slabs that surrounded the outside of the temple told all the stories about Athena, Zeus and the countless host of vestal virgins, gladiators, gods and horses. 
It was fascinating to read that museum politics were unavoidable. The Parthenon Gallery was designed to hold the Parthenon Marbles in their entirety. That included the sculptures Lord Elgin brought to London over two centries ago. Currently 50 meters of the frieze are in Athens, 80 meters in London's British Museum and another 30 meters scattered in museums around the world.

The floor to ceiling windows had breathtaking views of the Acropolis, the surrounding historic hills and the modern city of Athens very close by.
The Lion-head waterspout on the northeast corner of the Parthenon:
Procession of four hydria bearers (hydria were water jars): The description stated three of them were carrying the water on their shoulders and the fourth temporarily set his down before preparing to lift it again.

Poseidon’s chest: Only tiny fragments were original as the rest were in the British Museum in London. 

I just loved this magnificent plaster reconstruction of the combination of leaves and a phoenix fan pediment which crowned the ridge of the Parthenon.
Reconstruction of the eastern pediment of the Parthenon:
Imagine being able to have seen this, oh my God!
A mix of the original and the reconstructed plaster copies:
There were a number of artists attempting to recreate the fabulous pieces.
The original of this work is in the Louvre in Paris.

The ongoing excavations going on under the museum:

In the great, bright eyes of the owl, the ancients saw the eyes of the goddess Athena herself. Native to the rock of the Acropolis, with its natural caves and fissures, the owl became the sacred bird of the goddess.
The weather had cleared up somewhat by the time we left the museum so I was able to finally take this exterior photo of it. It was amazing to think that after all the pillaging, arson and other events that befell the Acropolis, that there was anything left to exhibit.
We walked next to the Plaka, the historic heart of Athens. Even though only a few buildings date back further than the Ottoman Empire, it is the oldest contunuously inhabited area in the city. There were loads of antique shops and tavernas or Greek restaurants but we weren't up to shopping then nor stopping to eat. The area's Lysikrates Monument was built to commemorate the winners of the annual choral and dramatic festival at the Theater of Dionysus.
We had hoped to see the Greek Folk Art Museum in the Plaka but, after having so much difficulty finding it, discovered it had closed down! There were a number of churches in the Plaka so we headed toward them instead. Because of the very overcaast skies and the drizzle, the following pictures are unfortuantely very washed out.

Across from where the museum had been was the 11th to 12th century Church of Metamorfosi Sotira Tou Kottaki - what a mouthful!
Its garden fountain was the main source of water for the neighborhood until sometime after Turkish rule.

The next church up was the 11th century Greek Orthodox Church of Ayia Aikaterini aka Church of St. Catherine.
The Museum of Popular Art and Tradition had been the home of Angeliki Hatzimihali who was born in 1895 and was brought up in the Plaka. She traveled all over the Greek countryside dedicating her life to Greek popular art that had seemed to be neglected.

It included examples of very ornate wood carving as well as weavings, costumes, embroidery, loom-made carpets and metalwork representing different areas of Greece.

As we were the only visitors in the museum, one of the employees had to go ahead and turn on the lights in each room just before we got there and stayed with us the entire time.

What I enjoyed most about this museum was that, unlike most of the ethnographic museums we had previously seen, this had been this woman's home and thus also filled with her personal belongings she had used on a daily basis. As such, it seemed more alive to me.
It was great fun wandering along the pot-filled narrow lanes of the Plaka. 
We noticed a lot of 'artisitic graffiti,' the term you coined  so well, Judy, at the Church House!

The building had once been a Turkish police post and home to Richard Church who led Greek forces in the War of Independence.
At the top of one of the Plaka’s hills was Ayios Nikolaos Ranyavos, an 11th century church built with fragments of ancient columns. 

It was a fabulous church with a very dark interior that made it harder to view and appreciate its stunning icons.

More wall art:
The church marked the edge of the Anafiotika Quarter, a village smack dab in the middle of the huge metropolis of Athens. We spent some time wandering through this area as we finally saw patches of blue sky for the first time.
The very intriguing Church of Ayios Georgios of the Rock was truly built directly into the rock.

This house was located at the top of the steps overlooking the church.

We walked down Panos, one of the main lanes, next to the Roman Agora, Athens commercial center from the 1st century BC to the 4th century AD. The Bazaar Gate or Gate of Athena Archegeris, was completed around 2 AD. Its inscription recorded that it was erected with funds from Julius Caesar and Augustus.

It was our first time seeing the European Heritage Label.
Holy Archangels Church beside the Agora:
Surrounded by a cluster of old houses on the western slope of the Acropolis was the Tower of the Winds, one of the best preserved Roman monuments in Athens. Keeping time since the first century AD, it was originally a sundial, a water clock and weather vane topped by a bronze Triton with a metal rod in his hand which followed the direction of the wind. Its eight sides face the direction of the eight winds into which the compass was divided.

Expressive reliefs around the tower personify the eight winds called the Windy Ones by Athenians.

Details of the interior of the Tower:

On the north side of the Roman Agora was one of the few remains of the Turkish occupation of Athens, the Fethiye or Victory Mosque. It was built in the late 15th century on the site of a Christian church to celebrate the Turkish conquest of Athens and to honor the conqueror. During the few months of Venetian rule in the 17th century, it was converted into a Roman Catholic church. After those glorious origins, it was sad to learn it is now used as a storehouse.

From the Roman Agora, we made our way to the Ancient Agora; yup, yet another commercial hub of ancient Athens! This Agora was lined with statues and expensivce shops and was the favorite strolling ground of fashionable Athenians as well as a mecca for students and merchants.
Another tantalising view of the Acropolis!

The long colonnades offered shade in summer and protection from rainin winter to the throng of people who transacted the day-to-day business of the city. Under their arches, Socrates discussed matters with Pluto.

The carefully landscaped grounds displayed a number of plants known in antiquity, such as the almond, myrtle and pomengranate.
A really nice walk through the ancient Agora led us to the stairs in the rock leading up to the Temple of Hephaistos, the best preserved Doric temple in all of Greece. Its great state of preservation was due to the building being used through the ages as a church and as an Archeological Museum until the 1930s.
A little older than the Parthenon in the Acropolis, it was surrounded by 34 columns. It once was filled with sculptures and was dedicated to the god of metalworkers. It was interesting that metal workshops still existed nearby all these many centuries later!
 Like the other monuments, it was roped off but we were able to walk around it to admire its preservation as long as we didn't step on the grass - Steven was admonished for doing so when he took a photo of me!
The only remaining sculptures were the frieze which had once been brightly colored.

Steven and I were both pretty awestruck by the Temple of Hephaistos because of its superb condition, its commanding location overlooking the Agora even though it couldn't be seen from below and also the glorious views up to the Acropolis.
The remains of the circular Tholos, the principal seat of executive power in the city.

The 11th century Church of the Holy Apostles was tucked away in a corner of the Agora. It was the only one of nine churches in the Agora to have survived, saved because of its beauty and location.

As we admired the church’s frescoes, we chatted for a moment with a man wearing the MSU Spartans’ tshirt.

Another view of the Temple:
The Agora's showpiece was the Stoa, or colonnade, of Attalos II where Socrates once lectured and incited the youth of Athens to adopt his progressive ideas on morality and mortality. The two story building was first designed as a retail complex and was erected in the 2nd century BC.

The colonnade, designed for promenades, is protected from the blistering sun and cooled by breezes.
On the ground floor were sculptures of historical and mythological figures from the 3rd and 4th centuries BC.
The sign said, 'Statue of the personification of the Iliad from the 2nd century AD.' Not sure what that meant though!
From the personification of the Odyssey from the same timeframe:
One of the most special pieces was this votive relief from 330 BC depicting Hermes handing over the infant Dionysus to the Nymphs in the Cave of Pantheon.
The juxtaposition of the old world and the new world: It seemed so incongruous hearing the Metro that was just a few steps away in the background from these ancient monuments.
From the 4th century, a fully armed warrior jumps off a moving chariot:
The head of a goddess, probably Nemesis, 1st century AD. I had never known that Nemesis was a person before seeing this head.
A sleeping Silenus herm; herms were originally cult images of the god Hermes but they were used as markers on roads and graves.
Our first day together in the agelessly beautiful city of Athens had only served to whet our appetite for the Acropolis and other sights the next day.

Posted from Cairo, Egypt on October 20th, 2016.

1 comment:

  1. I remember where all this was! I can't believe you haven't even seen my pictures still


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