|At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier|
A residential neighbourhood, street signs in an unintelligible alphabet, three oddly dressed soldiers goose-stepping along the pavement. What is wrong with this picture? Everything. Twenty minutes out of the hotel and I was lost. I had begun the day bright and early; packed a hat, water bottle, walking shoes, camera; checked the map, guide book instructions and the view from my window; then strode purposefully out into the Athenian morning. The wrong way. Ah well – on the positive side, I had an interesting glimpse into the early Sunday morning activities of Athenian residents (hosing the sidewalk, walking the dog, waiting at the bus stop), and a close-up view of the changing of the guard at the Greek Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
|A peek of the Parthenon viewed through the |
massive columns of the Temple of Olympian Zeus
My goal was the Temple of Olympian Zeus, the largest temple in mainland Greece, over a kilometre in circumference, and fronted by a massive Roman Hadrian’s Gate. You would think it would be hard to miss. Pausing only to marvel at a lovely scribbly gum growing on the roadside (*moment of homesickness*) I finally made my way to this huge temple standing, or rather lying fallen (as my trusty guidebook put it) in an open field by the side of a highway. It was begun in the late 6th century BC and completed seven hundred years later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who was a great traveller. You can find triumphal Hadrian’s Gates all over the ancient world; and walls of course – Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England illustrating how far he roamed. It seems he was a fan of Greek classical culture, and Athens in particular. I took a photo for a pair of Spanish tourists, and was berated (in Spanish) by la mujer for not doing it right. A chance to practice my Spanish!
|Ionic - Temple of Erechtheion|
|Doric - The Parthenon|
But before we go any further, I need to get straight the question of the ‘orders’ of classical Greek architecture, or confusion could ensue. It’s all about the capitals, folks. DORIC are the plain ones, perfected on the Parthenon. IONIC are curlier; and CORINTHIAN are particularly ornate. There are other distinguishing features of these ‘orders’, but that’s for another time. I just wanted to make sure that was all straight before I ventured further.
|Corinthian - Temple of Olympian Zeus|
Like all sites which are extremely old, imagination is a key element in appreciating them. When you’re looking back 2,500 years, you need to get used to phrases like ‘foundational suggestions’ and ‘probably’ and ‘slight remains’ and – ‘there is not much to see but a great deal to imagine’. In the case of the remaining Parthenon marbles, the have hopeful-sounding signs like the one on an unprepossessing lump of marble that could be anything, saying: ‘fragment of Zeus’s hand holding a thunderbolt’; or on an almost eroded-smooth panel: ‘Greek soldiers disembarking from a ship’. Really? And in between there are any number of narky little mentions of the ‘BM’ and ‘Elgin’ (not even allowed the dignity of his title).
|My little Roman Aphrodite: just like the one in the museum|
|Looking down on the Theatre of Dionysus with the|
New Acropolis Museum behind
Then out into the heat of the day and on to the mighty rock of the Acropolis itself, where the first site you come to is a theatre, that of the god Dionysus – yes, the very popular god of wine and ecstasy. The theatre here is the birthplace of Greek, and thus western, drama: the plays of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides were first performed here (though possible not in such a grand theatre as it later became).
There is a second (smaller) theatre – the Odeion of Herodes Atticus – which is used as a working theatre today; and a small fragmentary shrine to Asclepius (of medical fame); and then the long hot slog to the top of the Acropolis, rewarded with the huge ‘gate house’ or Propylaia and several thousand eager tourists. Perched to the right is the exquisite little Temple to Athena Nike, looking out high above the city and the coast. Today the air was clear and the views extraordinary.
|The beautiful Temple of Athena Nike - my favourite|
and views to the coast on a clear, hot day
|Me at the...where was it?...oh yes, the Parthenon!|
Amongst all those tourists on the site, I chose at random a passing couple to ask them to take a photograph of me on my camera – de rigueur. In all those thousands, I lit upon Australians (from Armidale).
|Porch of the Caryatids|
The other building still intact (sort of) on the Acropolis is the Temple of Erechtheion (one of the names of the god Poseidon, god of the sea and Athena’s rival). This is said to be the site of all kinds of ancient wonders, including the contest between Athena and Poseidon for control of Athens, when his summoning of the sea was judged less useful than her summoning of the olive tree (a contest which is the subject of one of the pediment sculptures of the Parthenon itself – see the BM!) The Erechtheion also boasts the ‘porch of the Caryatids’, a porch held up by six sculpted maidens. Four and the remains of a fifth are in the New Acropolis Museum (see above), and a sixth in the dastardly BM. Copies are in place, showing how they looked. (I have seen a weirdly similar thing on a back entrance to The Hermitage in St Petersburg).
|Temple of Hephaestus in the old agora|
So as you can tell, I had a busy day. I did break for a Greek beer (brand: Mythos). By mid-afternoon (what with the heat and the beer) it was time to find the hotel. I wandered through the narrow streets of Pláka, passing a Roman Forum with a very interesting ‘Tower of the Winds’ (a kind of combination compass, sundial, weather vane and water clock, as the Rough Guide has it), the ruins of Hadrian’s Library, and a very old mosque and medressa. And another gum tree. I finally made it back to base, and a welcome swim. Then I discovered how sunburnt I was, but you don’t want to know about that.