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Sunday, June 19, 2005


A hot, humid day in Athens. Patrick was leaving to return home to Germany today so we left the apartment early for a little field trip to the Pnyx Hill. Yesterday he accompanied me on a short walk through the National Gardens searching for the exact place where Aristoteles had his Lyceum, the School of Peripatetics (Walking Philosophers). The spot I had first identified was, according to the Blue Guide maps, actually the gymnasium, so I wanted to stroll through the Gardens to locate the approximate place where the school was, just to get the idea of the distance from the Agora and Acropolis. It was actually toward the back of what is now the National Gardens, just across from where the Stadium is and nearby on the other side of the park was the Garden of Theophrastos.
Both of them were quite a distance removed from the Agora. The River Ilissos ran along between the school and the stadium and no doubt it was a peaceful, sylvan setting conducive to walking and philosophizing.

Today's mini field trip took us up the Aereopagitou pedestrian path along the foot of the Hill of Muses. The path follows the ridge of a hill along what was the Diateichisinic walls which had been built to connect with Themistocles Long Walls, and enclosed the ancient quarters of Koile and Melite, site of many ancient dwellings dating to 5th C. B.C. (the time of the Peloponnesian War). It leads past the site of the North tower of "Dipylon above the Gates' where now stands the little church of Agios Dhimitrios Loumbardhiaris. The name comes from loumbardha
or "canon" and is derived from a miracle attributed to the Saint in which a Turkish canon, located on the Acroppolis, was struck by lightening at the moment it was about to open fire on the congregation. Just above the church rises the Hill of the pnyx, in Classical times popularly called "The Rocks."

This was the meeting place of the Assembly or Ecclesia, where the great statesmen such as Aristides, Themostocles, Pericles and Demosthenes held their audiences.
Pnyx means "the place where people were tightly packed". Piknos: compact, dense, crowded.
This was in reference to the single entrance way. The area itself could hold about 5,000 citizens as well as the Assembly officials. The Assembly was presided over by the Prytaneis. The citizens were hustled to the Pnyx by Scythian archers who held cords daubed with red paint across the streets of the Agora and neighbouring streets in order to hurry up the laggards and prevent citizens from cutting a meeting. There was only the one entrance, and everyone was scrutinized so no unauthorised persons could slip in. Nobody who was not a citizen could attend without special permission. Late comers who had been marked by the red paint, forfieted their allowance.

The Pnyx itself is a huge rock terrace in the form of a semi circle with a colossal retaining wall built of stone blocks. The excavations are more clearly marked now, including the Bema, a broad terrace levelled from the rock which served as the speaker's platform. (Up until a couple of years ago this is where they held the Athen's Sound and Light Show each night.) There's a magnificent view of the Parthenon from there, it also looks down over the Agora on the East side and a sweeping view of Athens right out to the port of Pireaus and the sea on the west. As well, there is a clear view of the Philoppapou monument on the Hill of Muses nearby.

Once the Assembly had gathered, prayers were offered at the altar of Zeus Agoraios and the shrine of the healing god, Zeus Hypeistos. The Assembly met ten times a year. The Chairman of the Prytaneis presided, assisted by a secretary and a Herald who made the announcements. The audience sat on wooden benches. At the lower level of the Bema sat the Prytaneis assisted by Scythian archers who kept order. After the 4th century BC the Pnyx was abandoned and the Assembly met at the Theatre of Dionysos.

I'd been to the Pnyx many times before but today was the first time I'd ventured beyond it, along the crest of the Hill of Nymphs where there is an old observatory (Asteroskopion) built in 1842, and nearby there are traces of the long Walls and the Barathron, the ancient place of execution. On the top of the Hill is the tiny Church of Agia Marina with its multi-domed modern successor dominating the hill. An inscription found on a rock here marks the limits of the Precinct of Zeus.

Patrick and I walked down the hill and arrived on the pedestrian walkway in Thisseion where we stopped for a frappe at a very expensive side-walk cafe. Then home again as he had to make it to the airport for his flight.

It's such a muggy day, and I have no energy to do more than just get myself over to Christina's. She's leaving for Sweden tomorrow and I'll be house and garden sitting for her this week. Dinaz is going to Evvia after work today so I won't see her again til Tuesday. Hopefully this week I will motivate myself to make a couple more day-trips, with the focus on travel writing material and also some trips to the beach. It's a long weekend holiday this weekend so I was advised travel would be too hectic til Tuesday as all Athens vacates for the villages when it's a holiday. Today as we walked around, passing various churches, we were treated to the harmonious choir singing and chanting of the priests celebrating this Saint's holiday. It made the little trip around a little more special.

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