Oct 7, 2019
We boarded the train for Athens in Thessaloniki a week ago for the 4 hour journey, waving to the gods as we passed Mount Olympus, ducking a lighting bolt chucked our way. These gods dislike non-believers, apparently.
The dry land between us and the gods supports cotton fields and olive groves. White stucco houses populate the small villages sitting in the bright sun under cerulean blue skies.
From Athens surprisingly small central train station we took a taxi to our apartment, from whence it is a short walk to a lovely view of the Acropolis, with the Olympic stadium at our feet and at its original site. Here terminated the run from a town called Marathon when, in 490 BCE, a vastly outnumbered Athenian army defeated the Persians.
The next day we walked the 2 kilometers to the Acropolis – acro meaning high point, polis meaning city. The temples there evoke both vast appreciation for the skills of the ancient Greeks and a sadness for all that has been lost, much of it in fairly recent times with the explosion of stockpiled weapons and the removal if not theft of sculptures and more by the British, whose impressive collection resides in the British Museum.
The Parthenon is the largest of the structures atop the outcropping. It dates to 447 BC when Athens was at its zenith. The temple is a superb example of Doric style that I speculate came from the invading Doric tribe who settled in a place called Sparta. The temple gave home to a 13 meter, 40 foot wooden sculpture of Athena, clad with precious metals and accompanied by her snake and shield. The goddess who gave her name to this city is no longer is with us, so I was spared the lightning bolt. Per the video we know what she looked like and how she was adorned, an altogether impressive sight to greet those who climbed the steep hill to pay their respects.
The sculptures and friezes that adorned the temples were legion. There were 92 elements to the frieze atop the Parthenon alone. An impressive number survive to this day. Here a few examples:
My pen and ink sketch of one of the statues in the Acropoli Museum. I was particularly impressed with the flowing robes.
My favorite temple is this small one, for the caryatids that support the roof. Another fabulous view beyond.
The originals are in the museum:
The reconstruction of the Parthenon continues, as well documented in the films shown in the Museum, located near the base of the outcropping upon which the temples rest. In the films workers chisel on marble, showing also the templates they use to match the ancient designs. The old stone has a yellow tinge compared to the bright white of the new so you can see what changes have been made.
Modern cranes effortlessly lift the repaired columns with their older bits now joined with new stone. There is a model of an ancient crane, hand cranked yet capable of raising the original columns as well.
Perhaps the most gorgeous piece in the museum is the floral decor that was on the pediment of the Parthenon:
Below the temples is the Odeon Theater, still in use. It is next to the Theater of Dionysus. The black bags in the photo contain seat cushions wrapped for protection from the elements. The acoustics are excellent. I could hear Peg despite the noise of the crowd as I sat about half way up. We wonder if the sound was even better in the days of Euripides and Sophocles when it was at its peak of completion. Great views abound.