No. 1 - Athens

15 July 2021

Yesterday afternoon, our flight arrived at Athens International Airport. Today, we embarked on an eight-hour tour of the city itself as well as the many villages that dot the Aegean coastline just outside of the city limits.

Our first destination was, fittingly, the Acropolis, home to the most important religious sites of ancient Athens. The majority of the structures that still stand at the site were built about 2,500 years ago on the orders of Pericles, one of the most respected leaders of democratic Athens. It is said that he was chosen by the people to lead the city in nearly forty consecutive elections.

To enter the Acropolis, one must pass through its main gate. The great doorway was once occupied by a pair of massive wooden doors covered in bronze decoration. Though the gateway’s wooden roof has long since deteriorated, much of its stone structure remains; remarkably, the Ionic column capitals and ceiling coffers are intact. The ceiling would have once been painted blue, with each panel containing a gold star, to give the illusion that one is passing beneath the sky.

The Parthenon is the largest and most important of the temples located within the Acropolis complex, consisting of a Doric collonade that wraps around an internal structure that originally housed a massive bronze statue of the goddess Athena, to whom the temple is dedicated (and the city in which it stands is named for.) The frieze of the temple once featured carvings of heroes, warriors, and monsters, as well as the triglyphs (sets of vertical grooves) that still exist there today. The pediment, or peaked element atop the temple, once housed detailed sculptures of all twelve Olympian gods, depicting the scene of Athena’s birth.

The Erechtheion is another temple located on the site, dedicated to both Poseidon and Athena. It is known for the famous Caryatid Porch, the roof of which is supported by sculptures depicting women from the nearby village of Caryae.

The temple was built upon the site where, at least according to legend, the city of Athens got its name. Myth has it that Athena and Poseidon were fighting to determine who the patron god of the city (then called a different name) should be. Zeus threw down a lightning bolt to break up the fight, and instead suggested a contest— whoever could procure the greatest gift would become the patron of the city. Poseidon struck the ground with his trident to create a saltwater spring; beautiful, but undrinkable. Athena, goddess of wisdom, instead planted the first olive tree, thus winning the contest. The city was then renamed Athens in her honor. 

The temple has a hole in its ceiling where Zeus supposedly threw his mighty thunderbolt; additionally, one can see the hole said to have been formed when Poseidon struck the Earth with his trident.

This theatre was built roughly a century after the rest of the Acropolis complex, and once had a wooden roof. Its marble seats have been restored, and the structure is now used to concerts and other events.

Here, the remains of the complex's original ampitheatre, with portions of its original tiled flooring intact. It was here that the great Greek tragedies, such as Oedipus Rex and the Oresteia, were first performed.

From the top of the Acropolis, one can see Athens in its entirety. At the base of the Acropolis once stood the Agora (public space), shown above, which housed all important government buildings as well as the courts, where wrongdoers would be tried before a panel of ten judges.

Our next destination was the Acropolis Museum, a modern structure completed in 2009 and designed to house the most significant archaeological artifacts recovered from the site. Above, the original statues that held up the roof of the Caryatid Porch; the missing statue is on display in the British Museum in London.

Photography was forbidden in much of the museum due to the sensitive nature of the artifacts, many of which still had traces of their original paint; most of the white marble sculptures and reliefs found at the Acropolis were once brightly colored.

We then ventured out of the city and along the coast, driving through tunnels hewn by hand from millennia-old rock and on roads perched precariously above the azure Aegean. We eventually arrived at the Cape of Sounio, which was once an important strategic position; all ships entering Athens would have to round this cape. For this reason, a massive temple to Poseidon, god of the sea, was constructed at its summit.

Our last stop was the Panathenaic Stadium, which hosted the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 as well as some events of the more recent 2004 Athens Olympics.

Tomorrow, we leave Athens in the early morning and board a high-speed ferry to the island town of Santorini, four hours from Athens by sea.

- Hayden Strong

© Knstrong 2013