Myth and Magic. Athens Greece

God distributed soil through a sieve and used the remaining stones to build Greece states a Greek legend.   So when ancient Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus (643-548 BC) said “the world is wonderful because it is a creation of God” he probably was referring to his own country.

My flight from Bari, Italy touches down in Athens at 12:25 p.m., and 50 minutes later, I check in to the Elegant A1 Apartment in the heart of Plaka.

Plaka is the oldest historical neighborhood in Athens and was originally developed mostly around the ruins of the ancient Agora. It is known as the “Neighborhood of the Gods” and lies beneath the northeastern slope of the Acropolis and stretches almost all the way to Syntagma Square.

The Plaka comprises a maze of cobblestoned streets, buzzing with people, edged on either side with shops selling souvenirs, antiquities, shoes, branded clothing, and is a veritable tourists’ delight. My apartment is situated right in the middle of all this buzz! And just a stone’s throw from Monastiraki, the heart of Plaka.

Athens, the capital of Greece, is made up of myth, magic and a glorious history dating back to the beginning of civilization. It is the city where democracy was born and the where some of world’s wisest men thrived.

And overlooking all of this is the Acropolis, one of the seven wonders of the modern world. The Holy Rock of the Acropolis dates back to the 5th BC and can be spotted from anywhere in Athens. This period is known as the Golden Age of  Athenian culture under the leadership of Pericles (495-429 B.C.), a brilliant general, orator, patron of the arts and politician—”the first citizen” of democratic Athens, according to the historian Thucydides.

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

The “Herodeon” was built between 160AD – 174AD by the wealthy benefactor of Athens, Herodes Atticus as an ode to his late wife Rigilla. With its Roman arches and three story stage building, it was originally partly covered with a wood and tiled roof. The circular orchestra has now become a semi-circle, paved with black and white marble. With 35 rows, the marble auditorium extends slightly beyond a semi-circle with a diameter of 80 metres and is now used for musical shows with seating for 4680 people.

There is a performance tonight and the musicians practice as we enjoy this stunning location.

I climb the steep steps to the top of the rock where the ancient structure of the Parthenon stands.

To see it, finally, is fulfilling a wish of a lifetime. It stands tall and proud, its glistening white marble and limestone columns rising slowly, as archeologists and conservationists piece back, one stone at a time. Dating back to the 447 BC, this temple was first dedicated to the Greek Goddess Athena, before it was taken over by Christians and converted into a church. It was then taken over by the Turks and transitioned to a mosque with a minaret erected over it.  In the late 1600’s, the Venetians and Turks were fighting over Athens and the Acropolis was used as a military point because of its elevation. There were explosives stored in the Parthenon that went off and blew up the interior of the Parthenon.

In the early 1800’s a British nobleman, Lord Elgin, convinced the Turks to let him take some of the carvings from the Parthenon to England. One of the boats carrying the carvings sank and for two years many of the carvings were stuck on the ocean floor. The carvings are also known as Elgin’s Marbles. Today, many of the original carvings from the Parthenon are still scattered abroad in the British Museum in London, England, the Louvre in Paris, France, the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, and of course, Athens, Greece. Apparently Greece has been trying to get the Parthenon’s marbles back for 150 years with no success yet!

The temple of Athena Nike (Athena as a goddess of victory) is the smallest temple at the Acropolis in Athens, placed at its southwest corner, at the edge of a high cliff. The stone columns are stunning and the sunset adds to a beautiful photograph.

A pair of clay Nikes watch over the visiting crowds. Circa. 1-3rd century AD

At the bottom of the Acropolis is the Museum. This modern, glass encased museum is a must-visit place and a perfect sanctuary for the ancient artifacts that were found in and around the Acropolis. I follow the signs and am transported back to a once wondrous, mythical and exciting age of ancient Athens. I avail myself to historians who are standing by to answer some of my questions.

On the first floor are the five Caryatids, the original maidens that once held up the roof of the southern porch of the Erechtheion, considered the most sacred part of the Acropolis. They were removed in 1979 in order to protect them from the elements. Intricately detailed and hand-carved from Parian marble, each Caryatid is unique in their depiction and stand 7ft 7inches tall. A place remains vacant for the missing sixth Caryatid in the hope that someday she will rejoin her sisters. She is currently held in London at the British Museum.

A reconstruction from both original and plaster pieces of the floral ‘Akroterion’ which crowned the top of the east pediment of the Parthenon, measuring 4 metres high.

The Roman Agora

Athens has plenty of ‘agoras’,  places where people congregate.

But the open plateau of the Ancient Agora  is, by far, the most complex and important contributions to civilization where ideals, political consciousness and the foundations of democracy were laid out. It was a dynamic place, where the great thinkers Sophocles, Socrates, Protagoras, among others, would meet and where ordinary citizens could come and interact with their peers, voice their concerns, agree on solutions and courses of action. It represented the ethos of what most of us ienjoy today; a sense of freedom, justice, equality and social conscience.

Built to honour Hephaistos, the patron of metal workers and Athena Ergane, patroness of potters and crafts in general, the Temple of Hephaestus (circa. 460 – 415 BC) was built around the same time as the Parthenon.

 

The Stoa of Attalos (159-138 BC) was a place for Athenians to meet, walk and do business. It was a Hellenistic version of a mall, with 42 shop spaces over two levels.

Built in the 11th century and altered repeatedly throughout the centuries, the church of the Holy Apostles was restored to its original form from 1954 – 1956. It is the only structure in the Ancient Agora apart from the Temple of Hephaestus, to survive intact since its foundation.

A day tour on the Hop On Hop Off bus takes me to the historic center in Faliro, Glyfada, Voula and Vouliagmeni, and further up North to neighborhoods of Marousi, Melissia, Vrilissia and Kifisia.

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