Classical Athens

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Flag of Greece  , Attica,
Sunday, October 10, 2010


Slept in pretty late, then made my way to the Acropolis (or "Acropolips," as Philip repeatedly called it), only getting horribly lost once. After starting over at the hotel, I figured out that it was literally at the end of our street.  Honestly, I don't know where I get these skills!

Luck was with me because all of the old monuments were free that day, as part of some four day festival that no one knew the name of.

I headed up the south slope, past the Theater of Dionysus, where the plays of Euripides, Aristophanes (and maybe Socrates?) were first performed.  Sitting down on the worn stone seats of the theater, I felt the first of many thrills that day, feeling myself walking (or in this case, sitting) in the footsteps of powerful, intelligent, people who would strongly influence the culture and government of the Western world forever.

Heading into the Acropolis was a surreal moment.  I sat on some rocks and read my guidebooks to have some idea of what I was looking at.  Actually, the stories were more interesting than the Acropolis itself.  For example, I read that one of the buildings used to be a harem and thought, “Ooh, wow,” but mostly all you see is bare stone walls and foundations.  Nothing looks anything like what it did back in classical Athens, so it’s only moderately exciting.  Nonetheless, it’s important to see it in person so you can later understand what you’re seeing in the museums; plus, there are spectacular panoramic views of Athens. 

From the Acropolis, I could see the ancient agora and I actually found my way there with any problems at all.  Ok, so there might be a path connecting them, but I was still proud of myself!  I wanted to see the Hephaisteion, since it’s probably the best preserved temple in the city and dates from the 5th century B.C.  The whole agora was cool, although, like the Acropolis, you really have to use your imagination to put a picture together.  All of the piles of rocks were well-labeled, with stories about what went where.  My personal favorite was the story about the water clock and how it worked.

The agora is really cool once you realize you’re standing exactly where St. Paul preached and where Socrates taught Palto and then drank his hemlock.  They looked up at the Hephaisteion, just like I did.  Crazy! 

I wandered back past the Stoa of Attalos and the Aguii Apostoli, a church with 11th century frescoes, then headed back past the Acropolis and towards the new Acropolis museum.

On Corfu, as many people praised the new Acropolis Museum as warned me about Athens.  I was not disappointed in the museum.  Approaching the entrance, glass floor panels reveal the ruins of old houses dating from the early Christian era (400-600 A.D.).  Like Anna warned me, you feel a bit dizzy as you look down through the glass.  My natural instinct was to jump off since it really felt like I was going to fall through.

After a preliminary wander inside, I realized I needed a break and headed to the museum café.  I ate some spanakopita and drank thick, delicious Spanish hot chocolate, while enjoying the beautiful views up to the Acropolis.

Refreshed, I headed back into the museum, eavesdropping on an art history class tour, from which I learned that “kore,” which I kept reading on the exhibit plaques means young girl.

The new Acropolis Museum has an incredible collection.  As Alexia said back in Corfu, all of the best bits of the Acropolis have been carted off and some have ended up here.  The museum’s pristine, carved sculptures and display cases of tiny sculptures that were offerings to the gods are almost a better representation of what the Parthenon used to look like than the bare stone walls currently standing at the top of the Acropolis. 

The Parthenon gallery on the top floor of the museum is its crowning jewel.  At the entrance, a video shows you the progression of destruction in the Parthenon.  It was so sad to watch the little animated people in the video chipping away all of the beautiful friezes and sculptures, then blowing the whole thing up in 1687 as the Venetians battled to take the building back from the Turks who controlled it.  When will people learn to respect venerable things instead of placing personal gain first?

Inside the gallery, huge glass windows showcase uninterrupted views up to the Parthenon, but what I liked best was that the sculptures and friezes were placed exactly where they would’ve been up at the Parthenon.  Because the artwork was placed in its authentic order, you could follow the story told in the friezes.  The birth of Athena was portrayed on the East pediment.  Athena and Poseidon fought for control of Athens on the west pediment.  The Trojan war and the Athenians’ battles with the Amazons, the lapiths and giant were especially cool.

Highlights on the lower floors included the famous caryatids from the Erechtheion, the Moschophoros statue of a guy carrying a sacrificial calf that dates from 570 B.C. and some awesome giant monster statues, like the “3 Bodied Demon.”

Back towards the entrance, a great exhibit on marriage gave lots of information about the marriage process as illustrated on the fragmented pottery below.

At the end of the night, I was souvenir shopping and answering all of the merchants’, “Hellos” with, “Kali spera.”  One older gent got talking to me about the Greek I spoke and was thrilled that I knew, “malaka” and “malakismene.”  After we’d chatted for awhile, he said, “I will always remember.”  I asked why, thinking it was because I knew bad words in Greek, but he answered, “Because you are so very beautiful.”  It goes without saying that I am loving these Greek men!  They have consistently been so complimentary without being creepy at all.  The older ones always tell me to watch out for the younger ones, but who knows?
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KT on

I love Athens too! And the Greek men did have a certain charm about them. I got lost so often, I figured out that I could just ask all the newspaper stand guys where stuff was

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