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Sunday, July 26, 2009



JUNE 7/09 The day after my birthday some of the party guests met to tour around the archaeological sites of Athens. This happened to be a day that I somehow forgot my camera so the photos shown here are from the last birthday party two years ago. We did the same things, though, and saw all the identical sites.

The usual program is to go first to the Theatre of Dionysos. It's at the foot of the Acropolis south side, and when you buy a ticket it covers all the sites around the Acropolis. Lucky us! That day it was all free! When we go to the theatre we sit on the marble seats where the people used to watch the dramas and Anna Britt gives her lecture about the ancient Greek theatre. (She is writing her doctorate on Aristophanes). She's not supposed to do this as only credited guides can give lectures on the sites, but we're very discreet and manage it. It really is interesting, espcially to those who know nothing about the ancient theatres and how the dramas were performed. This theatre was reconstructed in the 4th century BC. It had a seating capacity of 17,000 spread over 64 tiers of seats (only 20 survive).


This enormous theatre also on the flank of the Acropolis, was built in AD 161 by a wealthy Roman who dedicated it to his wife. This theatre is still used for theatre, music and dance performances. It's quite a thrill to attend one.

Of course, the Acropolis and all it's magnificent temples, especially the Parthenon, is the most significant site in Athens. When I lived there, I used to go up at least once a week. Now, even though I've seen it hundreds of times, I still visit and I'm still in awe.

The Parthenon, which means "Virgin's apartment" as it housed a splendid statue of Athena, goddess of the city, was built in 400 BC, the largest Doric temple in Greece. It's built entirely of Pentelic marble. Over the years the marble was eroding so in the past years a lot of restoration work has been done and now the Parthenon is gleaming like new again (well, almost like new! There are still pieces missing from the famous pediment that the Greeks are trying to get back from the British Museum.) And unfortunately the building suffered serious damage back in the days when the Turks were storing munitions there and it blew up.

With the new Acropolis museum open now, all the treasures and statues that were in the museum up on the Acropolis have now been moved into their splendid new home. (More about the new museum in another post). For now, the reconstructing continues. This time the scaffolding was around the little Temple of Athena Nike. Finally the beautiful Caryatids are showing themselves off without scaffolding hiding their lovely forms. These are copies of the originals which are in the museum because the others were damaged by weather and pollution or taken away to other places by treasure seekers. (I think one of them is in Paris). Still, you get the idea of how they looked, holding up the roof of the Erectheion which was one of the Acropolis most sacred sites. When you view the holograms on the east wall of the new museum at night, you will see the Caryatids who will wink and smile at you, then shake their heads. You'll also be able to get a good view of their elaborate hair-dos.


Once we've taken our time looking at all the beautiful temples on the Acropolis, we make our way down the Sacred Way into the ancient agora. This was Athen's meeting place in ancient times, where administrative, commercial and political life was the focal point as well as social activity. To really appreciate the agora I think you need to educate yourself a little about the life in ancient Athens. There's a lot of government buildings in the agora besides the great Odeon that was from Roman times. You can find the little shop ruins where the shoemaker lived who was a friend of Socrates. It is said Socrates used to hang out with him there. You can also find the prison where Socrates was held before given the hemlock.

The site was first developed in the 6th century BC but when the Persians raided the city in 480 BC they destroyed it and a new agora was built in its place, flourishing by Pericles' time and continuing to do business until AD 267 when it was destroyed by more invaders. The Turks build a few residential quarters on the site that were later demolished.

The Temple of Hephaestion is the main monument in the Agora as well as the Stoa of Attalos which is a reconstruction and contains a small museum. The beautiful Temple was on the western edge of the agora that was surrounded by foundries and metalwork shops so it was dedicated to Hephaestus, god of the forge. It's the best preserved Doric temple in Greece, built in 449 BC by Ictinus, one of the architects of the Parthenon.

There's lots more to see around the agora, and you can wander there for hours. It was a hot, hot day though, so we headed over to Plaka to find a shaded taverna where we could eat lunch. We usually go to the one right beside the agora where my old friend Aris works. I've known him since my first trip to Greece in 1989 and he is always very happy to see me.

This was the end of our week in Athens. Tomorrow we'll head for the Islands. Mykonos will be our first stop.

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