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Friday, October 21, 2016

10/12: Athens: The Acropolis, Hadrian's Library & Evzones Guards

It was a much nicer day so we headed to the Acropolis itself today after just getting teaser views of it yesterday. Towering over a city of 4.5 million inhabitants much as it stood over the ancient capital of 50,000, the Acropolis – literally meaning ‘high town’ – continues to be Athens’ most spectacular, photogenic and visited attraction despite hundreds of years of renovations, bombings and artistic lootings. The buildings were designed during the city’s golden age in the 5th century BC.

The first monument that we came to was the Theater of Dionysus Eleuthereus. Built at the foot of the Athenian Acropolis, it was a major theater in Athens and was dedicated to Dionysus, the god of plays and wine. 

A view of Athens as far as we could see from atop the Theater.
The Theater could seat as many as 17,000 people and had excellent acoustics, making it an ideal location for ancient Athens' biggest theatrical celebration, the Dionysia. It was the first stone theater ever built. Cut into the southern cliff face of the Acropolis, it was supposedly the birthplace of Greek tragedy. 

See the pee holes in the seats!

The Honorary Monument of Dramatic Poets:
We had had to wait for a long time to enter the Acropolis. It turned out we had just missed seeing these miltary guards participate in a celebration of the liberation of Greece from the Nazis.

There was a huge crowd of people, some trying to leave the Propylaea – the main entrance to the Acropolis - and others, like us, trying to enter with the result that no one was going anywhere fast. Guards kept trying to hurry people along saying, ‘Go, go, come on, come on.’ I don’t think they realized we were all trying to go and come on! I hate to think how much worse it would have been in the summer months because this was pretty insane.

The Propylaea was designed to instill the proper reverence in worshippers as they crossed from the temporal world into the spiritual world of the sanctuary. The structure showed the first use of both Doric and Ionic columns. Once we set foot just inside the Propylaea, the Parthenon was suddenly revealed in its full glory, framed by the columns.

Just as we entered from the Proplyleia, we saw the large Shrine of Athena Hygina and Athena Hygiea on our right.
Nestled just beshind it was the small Temple of Athena Nike built in 427-424 BC to celebrate peace with Persia.  The temple was dedicated to Athena Nike, the goddess of Victory. The cult statue had no wings, as Nike usually has, because the people of Athens didn’t want her to leave and fly away from their city.

In 1998, Greek archeologists began dismantling the entire temple for conservation. After laser-cleaning the marbles to remove generations of soot, the team reconstructed the temple on its original site.
The Temple of Athena Parthenos, known normally as just the Parthenon, is surely the most well known building of ancient Athens. It was dedicated to the city´s patron goddess Athena. The Parthenon name is thought to derive from the statue of Athena Parthenos. The building has been under restoration and conservation since 1975 so it was practically impossible to get any picture of the Temple without a lot of construction materials and cranes hanging around it.
From the top of the hill we had magnificent views of the whole city of Athens in a 360 degree angle.
Athens' highest hill, Mt. Lycabettus, was off in the distance. Myth claims that Athena removed a chunk of Mt. Pendeli intending to boost the height of her temple on the Acropolis.While she was en route, a crone brought her bad tidings and the flustered goddess dropped the rock in the middle of the city. That then became Mt. Lycabettus!
A view back toward the Theater where we had just come from.
The Parthenon is the best known of the remaining buildings of ancient Greece and was decorated with the best of Greek architecture. Its decorative sculptures are considered one of the high points of Greek art. The Parthenon is an enduring symbol of Greece and democracy and is seen as one of the greatest cultural monuments of human history. To be able to stand in front of such a monument was nothing short of breathtaking.
An archeological worker –wonder what his training had consisted of to be toiling on one of the ancient wonders of the world?

The Acropolis is often referred to as the 'rock.' It was definitely easy to understand that after we clambered on said rock for a long time!
As Steven pointed out, we were lucky that we’d visited the Museum first to know what the Parthenon had originally looked like. That was especially true when we saw all that was left of the east and west pediments. After seeing fabulous copies of them in the Acropolis Museum yesterday, it was great actually being in the place where they had once been.

In front of the Erechtheion: This elegant buiding was named after Erechtheus, the mythical king of Athens, and it was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. Construction began after the outbreak of the Peloponneus War in 431 BC and was finished in 406 BC. It was associated with some of the most ancient and holy relics of the Athenians.  On one side, there was a magnificent porch with five Ionic columns.

The famous Porch of the Maidens dominated another side of the building. Six draped statues of young women, known as caryatids, standing on a podium supported the roof of the porch. In 1801, one of the caryatids and the north column of the east porch were removed by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his Scottish mansion. They were later sold to the British Museum along with the pedimental and frieze sculpture taken from the Parthenon. Elgin attempted to remove a second caryatid. When technical difficulties arose, he tried to have it sawn to pieces. The statue was smashed and its fragments were left behind. Athenian legend had it that at night the remaining five caryatids could be heard wailing for their lost sister. 
The six caryatids here were all replicas; we were incredibly fortuante to have seen five of the originals at the Acropolis Museum yesterday. Perhaps one day we will see the sixth one at the British Museum.
To think what ingenuity and technological knowledge and manpower it took to build the Acropolis without the use of mechanical power was incredible. We were both awed by such a monument to human endeavors. The fact that all the buildings that comprise the Acropolis were built over two centuries ago and still stand after so long was amazing. It was beautiful to see such a place being preserved and cared for for generations to come.
After spending a couple of hours wandering around the Acropolis, we headed over to Hadrian's Library next. It was erected in 132-134 AD by Emperor Hadrian. The interior courtyard was surrounded by porticos with a total of 100 columns. 
In the early 5th century, an imposing church with an atrium was built in the interior courtyard. It was later destroyed and converted into a three-aisled basilica. Other churches were subsequently built atop the ruins.
The books - papyrus scrolls - were kept in a large central two-story building as was evident by the 40 storage niches for them along one wall. An estimate of the dimensions of the papayri gives an approximate number of 16,800. 
Larger niches probably housed statues of Athena and the emperor. On either side of this space were two smaller rooms that probably functioned as reading rooms. Two corner rooms with curved seating were lecture halls. 
From the sublime to the ridiculous!  As we headed toward Synyagma Square, we saw this shop and the adjacent Buff sign, Alexander and Nina!

An interestingly shaped trash can!
The very imposing Annunciation Cathedral of the Virgin Mary was built in 1842. Workers used marble from 72 demolished churches to build the Cathedral's immense walls. 

Glad the dog was doing such a good job acting as the sentry!
For some reason, the chairs were all roped off so we couldn't sit down and say a prayer or take a moment and reflect.
In a silver reliquary were the bones of St. Philothei who built a convent and was martyred in 1559. She is honored for ransoming Greek women enslaved in Ottoman Empire's harems.
The Cathedral is a major landmark in Athens and the site of important ceremonies with national political figures present, as well as weddings and funerals of the rich and famous.
The Little Mitropolis Church, which dated to the 12th century, was in the shadows of the ornate Cathedral. Unfortunately it was closed.

A large hotel had just been built over this miniscule church a few blocks away. Thank God, it had not been torn down in the name of progress.
Syntagma Square is another inner-city marvel that, sooner or later, everyone visiting Athens passes through. Syntagma Square has become the new frontline of mass protests against the harsh austerity measures and the ongoing economic crisis in Greece. The square neighbored the chic shopping district of Kolonaki, also one of the city’s most fashionable residential areas. In recent years, 
The spacious Syntagma or Constitution Square was surrounded by sights that spanned Athens’ history from the days of the Roman emperors to King Otto’s reign after the 1821 War of Independence. 
Some have likened his palace, now the Parliament, to a barracks but they shouldn’t complain. It was paid for by Otto’s father who luckily vetoed the plans for a royal residence atop the Acropolis itself, using one end of the Parthenon as the entrance and blowing up the rest! The palace was finished just in time for Otto to grant the constitution in 1843, which gave the square its name.
After resting a bit in the Square, we walked up to the Parliament building making sure to be there a little before 3. We were hoping that The Changing of the Evzones Guards, which only occurs at intervals throughout the day, would be taking place on the hour in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 
On a wall behind the Tomb was a bas-relief of a dying soldier. The text is from a funeral oration said to have been given by Pericles.
We were so fortunate that The Changing of the Guard did happen then as it was one of the more colorful ceremonies we've ever seen.
Pretty fancy shoes, don't you think!
The Evzones is a special unit of the Hellenic Army, also known as Tsoliades, who guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in front of the Hellenic Parliament and the Presidential Mansion. The duties of the soldiers are part of a ceremonial nature. Every soldier guards for about an hour. Throughout those 60 minutes, they have to stand perfectly still until it is time to switch with another guard. 
During the changing, they work in pairs so they can perfectly coordinate their moves. The steps that the official ceremony requires at the time of changing are carried out in really slow motion to protect their blood circulation after one hour of immobility.

They had what appeared to be tacks on the bottom of their shoes which made quite a noise as they repeatedly kicked their feet back and forth along the ground.

The soldiers of the Presidential Guard are selected according to their height, excellent physical condition and psychological state as well as character and morality, as they follow a hard training before they become part of this honorary unit. The training lasts for one month and includes exercises to keep the body and mind still. Apart from staying still, the soldiers must also not make any face or eye move and must not show any expression.
Seeing the fascinating Changing of the Guard capped off a great part of our day that had begin with touring the fabled Acropolis. The day was still far from over though, and there was more we still wanted to see. Please stay posted for my next update!

Posted from Cairo, Egypt on October 22nd, 2016.


  1. WOW, Athens is really awesome. Lil Red

  2. Athens truly is the historical heart of ancient Greece -- loved the photos of the ancient landmarks and the gorgeous smiles of the travelling couple who posed in front of them! xo Lina

  3. I have a video of the guard changing if anyone wants it btw.


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