I flew to Athens from Rome, took a bus from the Athens airport to downtown, then a quick ride on the metro (subway) got me to the Easy Access Backpackers Hostel. It was a very nice hostel with free internet and free breakfast. At a nearby restaurant I had a wonderful lunch/dinner of moussaka, beet salad, and beer, sitting outside in perfect temperature.
The next morning I tackled the Acropolis with a short ride on the metro and a long walk up, up, up to the Parthenon. The Parthenon really is pretty much ‘skeletal remains’ with almost all of the (existing) beautiful friezes removed to the British Museum (where I saw them in 1980!) and has much of the inner part missing also. I have seen similar styled buildings, for example at Baalbek in Lebanon, and in southern Italy and Sicily, which were much more complete but perhaps not so artistically pleasing? I can’t tell. I gather that the Parthenon represents the BEST of Greek temple building by the best architects and sculptors and in the best location—atop Athens!
The originals are in the Acropolis Museum, which I saw the next day.
Then the theatre of Dionysos—not so much left of it, either,
and another theatre, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, built in AD 161 (much more recently!) by a wealthy Roman in memory of his wife.
These Acropolis buildings mostly date from the 400s BC although there were previous buildings and temples before that which were destroyed by the invading Persians in 480 BC. It certainly evokes a long-ago life—what would it have been like to have lived then and attended theatre productions here? Well, for one thing (so said my Lonely Planet guide book) the women had to sit in the back rows!
After a lovely lunch with a HUGE serving of baklava and a bit of rest, I went back to the Acropolis to walk the three-km ‘ancient promenade’ that covers that whole area. I got a little mixed up going home on the metro as some tracks were closed but a woman explained the detour to me and all was well.
Leading up to the building there were excavations of ancient sites visible below through see-through walkways. After the first two floors of treasures, I stopped for a Greek coffee, which I savored looking up at the Parthenon.
The 4th floor was based exactly on the dimensions of the Parthenon and had the friezes and metopes (decorations around the top of the temple) in place for one to walk around and view. Of course only a certain number are originals but many have been reconstructed. It gave one a real feel for what it would have been like to view these decorations in place.
I walked to the ancient Agora or market which I had glimpsed the day before from the heights of the Acropolis. The Temple of Haphaistus was in the style of the Parthenon, but smaller and much better preserved and looked so pretty in its woodsy setting. There were many ruins of stoas (market-places) but one, the Stoa of Attalos, had been totally reconstructed in 1959. It was a large enclosure, which now housed the Agora Museum with a fine collections of artifacts. The original Stoa had been built by King Attalos II of Pergamum in 140 BC as the first-ever shopping arcade. Nearby was the Church of the Holy Apostles, a pretty little church in the shape of a cross with nice Byzantine frescos, built in the 900s to commemorate St. Paul’s preaching at the Agora in the year 49 AD.
When I found the Monastir Metro Station, I saw a really old church in the plaza that must have been part of a monastery, hence the name of the station. Located here also was the 2nd century AD Hadrian’s Library, an attractive building.
Before going home, I happened upon a very busy restaurant with good-looking’ gyros sandwiches so I stopped for that and a beer. I’m surprised that the Greeks aren’t fatter—the portions that I have received so far have been gigantic! That morning for breakfast I forsook the hostel breakfast and had yoghurt and honey with some cinnamon bread at a little place around the corner. It was wonderful but a HUGE portion.
On Sunday I took a four-hour walking tour, which was a bit much for my feet. Goodness, many Greek women (also Italian) wear tiny sparkley sandals and long colorful dresses with spaghetti straps showing much cleavage—I must really look like Hicksville with my black sneakers, jeans, and LLBean tee shirt. So be it!
The highlights of the tour that had 25 ‘stopping points’ (there really were no low-lights) were: a) the Panathenaic Stadium, originally built in the 4th century BC for athletic contests. It fell into disuse and crumbled but in 1895 it was completely restored, 70,000 marble seats and all! It was used in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 and also recently in 2004; b) the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the biggest temple ever constructed in Greece. It had 104 52-feet high columns originally—only 15 remain with one lying tumbled over from a windstorm in 1852. It is POWERFUL!; c) several beautiful little Byzantine 10th to 12th century churches although most were not open even though it was Sunday morning; d) the Klepsidra Cafe which appeared just in time as I badly needed water and a rest. It was charming—first I had a Greek coffee served in a bronze vessel with long handle in which to settle the grounds before pouring it into a porcelain cup, and TWO glasses of water. Then I saw some lemon cream pie that I had to try. It was THE most wonderful treat I think I’ve ever had! I sat outside overlooking the Roman Forum and the rest of Athens—WOW!; e) The Tower of the Winds in the Roman Agora built in the 1st century BC by a Syrian astronomer. This octagonal monument originally had a sundial, weather vane, water clock and compass. It was beautifully decorated on all eight sides with marble reliefs, depicting the wind. Speaking of the weather, it is hot and sunny but beautiful, even if I did soak my tee shirt with perspiration—see, I should have worn a strappy dress!
On Monday I saw two stellar museums—the National Art Gallery and the Benaki, a private collection. Both had full English descriptions in addition to Greek—lucky me! I especially enjoyed the 19th century Greek painters, particularly Lytras and Gysis, and I surreptitiously photoed a couple of examples—no flash!
After walking a ways (it was HOT) to the Benaki Museum, I thought I had better start in their coffee shop with a huge glass of water, a Greek coffee and some lemon cake. Much revived, I absorbed 30 centuries of art—most especially the Byzantine icons featuring many that came from 15th and 16th century Crete. The top floor offered many paintings and artifacts relating to Greece’s 19th and 20th century history. Their military uniforms (as worn by today’s guards in front of the Parliament building) featured white knee-length skirts. A fellow museum-goer told me that these skirts have 400 pleats and must be maintained by the wearers, even today. Goodness, how did they have time for any fighting?
After all of this, both mental and physical fatigue set in and I didn’t go on to the Archeological Museum as I had planned. I shall save that and others for when I get back to Athens later in my trip. Tomorrow I shall bus off to Delphi, to see what the Oracle has to say to me!