Annie at the Sphinx

Saturday, January 2, 2010


The Parthenon

Annie and Lind in front of the Parthenon

detail of the Porch of the Maidens on the Erechtheum

Detail of the Temple of Zeus

Temple of Zeus

Modern Olympic stadium built in 1895

The changing of the Guard at the Presidential Palace

La Plaka

The Europeans don't fool around with the warning about smoking.

Angelo and Butch at a formal dinner on the boat

Annie and Linda at a formal dinner on the boat

May 25 Athens
We met Werner and Joanne at 9 and walked through the terminal. Taxi drivers tried to accost us but they wanted 250 Euros! When we got onto the street of the town (Piraeus) another cab driver, named Angelo, offered to show us the sights for 120 Euros, 40 each. We took him up on it. We saw the port of Piraeus and were on our way to the Acropolis, a flat-topped rock that stands 490 feet above sea level and is visible from all areas of Athens. No tall buildings are allowed that would impede the sight. We bought a combined ticket to see all the antiquities and started hiking up the hill. It was very crowded with tours even though it was a Monday morning. The temperature wasn’t too high, maybe 75 degrees F but it was very sunny and there’s no shade at all. We passed the Theatre of Dionysos. The first theater was constructed during the sixth century B.C. During the fifth century B.C. politicians sponsored dramas by such writers as Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides and comedies by Aristophanes. The current theater was constructed in 342-326 B.C. of stone and marble and had a seating capacity of 17,000 spread among the 64 tiers of which 20 survive. It was destroyed by Sulla in 86 B.C. The reliefs at the back of the stage of headless figures depict the exploits of Dionysos, also known as Bacchus. He was the god of theater and agriculture and known the Liberator, freeing people from their normal selves via madness, ecstasy, or wine. He spent a lot of time charging up the mountain to consort with nymphs. I am not at all sure we saw this theater. The pictures we took show one decorated with Egyptian symbols.
We went through the gate, the Propylaria, the towering entrance built in 437-432 B.C. that is currently undergoing mass reconstruction. The original building was Ionic and Doric and made from white Pentelic marble with accents of gray Eleusinian marble or limestone. This gate controlled access to the Acropolis to only those ritually clean and kept out runaway slaves and criminals who might claim the protection of the gods. The state treasury was also up there.
At last we crested the hill and saw the Parthenon built during the fifth century B.C. to honor Athena, the protector of Athens. There were eight fluted Doric columns on each end and seventeen on each side. The columns seemed to lean outward but actually leaned inward. They were smaller toward the top and created an optical illusion. The only statue in the temple was that of Athena done by the sculptor Phideas was taken to Constantinople in 426 A.D. and never seen again. Its likeness is shown on coins and vases of the time. Reminder to self: The pyramids were built two thousand years BEFORE the Parthenon.
I kept losing sight of Linda, Joanne, and Werner, but we finally found each other. There was a bathroom next to the Parthenon and we used it.
Across from the Parthenon is the Erechtheum, built 421-407 B.C. and named for Erichtonius, a legendary Greek hero. The temple was dedicated to both Athena and Poseidon. The Athenians did not want to slight Poseidon as he was the god of the seas and they situated on the water. We got great pictures of the “Porch of the Maidens,” six columns of women with each sculpted differently.
The Temple of Athena Nike was built 427-424 B.C. “Nike” means “victory.” Hmm, I understood where the sneakers got their name. The Athenians worshipped there to pray for victory in the war with Sparta.
Walking down the hill was rather scary as it was mobbed with people going up and down and no one was following any line or order. We finally got to the bottom, tired and sweaty. We met up with our cab driver, Angelo. He took us through the thick traffic to the Temple of Zeus.
The Temple of Zeus, dedicated to the king of the gods, was started in 520 B.C. It was made of local limestone and had Doric columns. It was finished 650 years later by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. It was made of marble and had 104 Corinthian columns, three rows of eight columns on the ends and two rows of twenty columns on the sides. Only fifteen remain standing. It was pillaged by barbarians in the third century and damaged by an earthquake in medieval times. Much of the building materials were hauled to other parts of Athens for other projects. Hadrian’s Gate to the temple was built in 132 A.D. as a passage from old Athens to Roman Athens. We saw more sleeping dogs.
Next up was the Olympic Stadium, built in 1895, to herald the beginning of the modern Olympic Games. The Olympic torch starts in Olympia, our destination tomorrow, and comes to this stadium. Then the host country of that year’s Olympics determines the route and manner of its delivery to the site of the games.
We went to the Presidential Palace and saw the outlandishly dressed guards. We went into the National Gardens (formerly the Royal Gardens) and I luxuriated in all the greenery, trying to save it up for when I’m back in the desert.
When we went back to the Presidential Palace, the street was lined with taxis and tourists. We watched the changing of the Guard. Golly, did they look ridiculous! The guards wear these huge shoes with rounded toes. They pick up each leg so it’s bent and perpendicular at the knee, then stretch it in the air, then take a step. They had wool tights on and must have been terribly hot. And what do they wear under those short skirts?
We went to the Plaka, a pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants. We ate there and greedily drank our libations. It was good to rest. Of course I had spinach pie, again. Angelo, our taxi driver, posed for a picture. In the duty-free shop we realized the Europeans don’t beat around the bush about the perils of smoking.
Back on the boat it was Italian night in the dining room. The waiters sang, waltzed with us, and we danced a line around the room. There were quite a few birthdays being celebrated and Angelo liked the looks of the cakes that were being served in the celebrants’ honor. The padre suggested that we fake a birthday so we could try the cake!

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