Athens, 9 October 2018.
(Click on any image to see it in a larger size, if you are on a PC or tablet at least.)
Having arrived in Athens, our first objective of course was to visit the Acropolis.
The Acropolis sits us on top of a huge flat rock and here is the Parthenon from below, from near the stage of the Theatre of Dionysius. The Acropolis is the whole complex; the Parthenon is the main building.
The rock is also encased on all sides by an ancient wall. I infer that was to ensure it was not climbable. Access is only from one end (to the left).
From about the same point, here is the Theatre of Dionysius.
We go up a path to the right of here and if you look closely (or click to expand) you can see a line of people walking along at the base of the walled cliff. They first head to the Ticket Office, then back up through the entrance to the Acropolis (both out of sight to the left).
And here it is from much later, looking down from the Acropolis.
The theatre was constructed in the sixth century BC and at its peak could accommodate an audience of 17,000. It continued in use in the Roman period but gradually fell into disuse in the late Byzantine era.
Again from below, this is the Temple of Athena Nike. Athena was the Goddess of Wisdom and Nike was the Goddess of Victory, so it is a temple of wisdom and victory rather than celebrating the shoes Athena wore.
And though we haven’t ascended to the Acropolis yet, we are looking down on the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, where some people are setting up for a concert.
It is much more recent than the Theatre of Dionysius. It was built by Roman citizen Herodes Atticus in 161AD in honour of his wife, but was destroyed be the Heruli, a tribe of Scythian raiders, in 267.
Mounting the steps of the Propylaea, the monumental gateway to the Acropolis.
Although not fortified, the Propylaea denied access to the sacred areas to people such as the ritually unclean and runaway slaves.
In 480BC, after winning the Battle of Thermopylae, the Persians sacked Athens, including overrunning some forces holed up in the Acropolis. The Propylaea was part of the rebuilding of the Acropolis subsequently undertaken by Pericles. Construction started in 437BC and terminated unfinished in 432BC.
Looking back at the Propylaea.
… and now, heading towards the Parthenon.
The front steps of the Parthenon (obviously, under reconstruction).
The Parthenon was another project to restore the Acropolis following the Persian War. It was built from 447BC to 438BC and decoration continued until 432BC. As well as a temple to Athena, the city’s patron, it also served as the city Treasury.
It was converted into a church in the 6th century AD and a mosque in 1460. Unfortunately, in 1687, when a Venetian army was besieging an Ottoman force in the Acropolis, a mortar shell hit the Ottoman ammunition dump and blew the roof off the Parthenon and damaged many of the columns. The Venetians took Athens, held it for a while, and then withdrew.
Restoring the Acropolis doesn’t just involve trying to reverse the ancient ravages of time. It also involves trying to reverse some of the less-than-competent restoration attempts of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The Parthenon from the far end.
Unfortunately you are not allowed inside the Parthenon, probably for reasons of safety.
This is now the Erechtheion.
The Erechtheion with the Parthenon in the background.
You can see this doorway in the previous image.
Classical Greek buildings are usually symmetrical but this has quite different aspects on each of its faces.
The Erechtheion was built in 440BC on uneven ground. It was designed to avoid disturbing altars to Poseidon and Hephaestus, the spot where Poseidon hit the Acropolis with his trident, a sacred olive tree, a sacred sea water well, the tomb of Kekrops, and the Pandrosion sanctuary.
The female figures serving as columns here are the Caryatids. They are actually replicas. Five of the originals are in the Acropolis Museum and one was carried away by Lord Elgin in the nineteenth century and is now in the British Museum. He actually wanted to take all of them but was not able to obtain a suitable ship in a restricted timeframe.
The Temple of Athena Nike, beside the Erechtheion, that we glimpsed earlier in the fourth image of this post. It was completed in 420BC, converted into a church in the 5th century AD and dismantled by the Ottomans in the 17th century to construct fortifications (presumably to defend against the Venetians). It was reconstructed after Greek independence (in 1832) and further restored in the 1930s.
This is a closer view of the frieze at the top of the Temple of Athena Nike from the previous image.
Details of surviving structures from the Parthenon.
This stela appears to be in the Propylaea. I can find no reference to it online. I’m not about to try to painstakingly enter Greek characters into Google Translate as in any case, the words probably run toghether and it’s in ancient Greek, not modern Greek.
Surviving relief sculpture high in the eaves of the Parthenon.
Many of these show serious erosion over time, including recent deterioration due to air pollution.
Lord Elgin removed many of the sculptures from the Parthenon in the early 19th century with (somewhat questionable) permission from the Ottomans but not the Greeks (who were of course not independent at that time). They may have been better preserved in the British museum but still suffered some deterioration from pollution and inappropriate cleaning methods. Greece would like them back for the new Acropolis Museum.
This is probably the best preserved example on the Parthenon. You can see it in situ in the top left corner of the first image.
Conservators at work (on the Parthenon).
Roof of the Church of the Holy Unmercenaries of Kolokynthis.
This and following images are views from the Acropolis.
The Gate of Athena Archegetis, the largest remaining part of the Roman Agora (or Forum), constructed 11BC.
View looking north-west from the Acropolis.
Zooming in to the top of Mount Lycabettus.
Probably roof of Church of St Nicholas Rangavas (11th century).
Temple of Olympian Zeus.
Looking down towards the Port of Piraeus.
The main harbour of Piraeus is out of sight past the promontory to the right but we are looking towards another smaller harbour we can’t quite see.
Rebuilding Athens after it was destroyed by the Persians also included constructing protective walls. Athens itself was fortified with a wall with about a one kilometre radius and the Acropolis in the middle. Pireus was also fortified, so most of the populated area we see in the middle distance as well as the main port to the right (out of picture) was enclosed by walls including on the coast. Then there was also a stretch of twin walls over the six kilometres from Athens to Piraeus.
This came into its own in the Peloponnesian Wars with Sparta of 432 BC to 404 BC. Sparta was land-based whereas Athens was a sea power. Sparta could not breach the walls and Athens could supply itself by sea and also launch raids of Sparta by sea. Sparta eventually won in 404BC when they built a fleet that successfully challenged Athens at sea and they then tore down the walls.
However, Athens rebuilt the walls from 395BC to 391BC. Sparta was defeated by Persia in this time and Athens rebuilt the walls with Persian support (because Persia though Sparta had got too powerful). Roman General Sulla destroyed the Long Walls in 86BC.
We are looking a bit further west. Some buildings in Piraeus are at the bottom and the land in the background is the Island of Salamis. Just in case there is any ambiguity, the vessel you saee is a container ship, and not an Athenian or Persian Galley.
In 480BC the Persians had won the Battle of Thermopylae and were advancing on Athens. Rather than surrender, the Athenian citizens moved across to the Island of Salamis and abandoned the city for it to be sacked by the Persians. Then the Athenian fleet pretended to flee in the Straits of Salamis, drew the Persians in and destroyed the much larger Persian fleet.
Most of the Persian army was forced to withdraw back to Persia and the forces left behind were defeated the next year at the Battle of Plataea. The Persians never invaded Greece again.
After leaving, looking back at the entrance of the Propylaea.
Thank you for this tour. I was last in Athens in 1977.
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That’s a long time ago. Were you able to wander round inside the Parthenon then?
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Yes, I could.
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Thanks for sharing, another place on my must visit list.
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Perhaps, the more places you visit, the longer that list becomes….
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Very true. Too many places not enough time!
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