Like most people, I take tons of photos while traveling but never display them. While I share pictures here, if you walked around my home, you’d never think I was so passionate about art and travel. (That is, aside from the first painting of my “art collection”.) So when I could get canvas prints from Printcopia, I jumped at the chance.
Posts tagged ‘Athens’
While this practice seems unthinkable today, across the Mediterranean, ancient Greek and Roman structures were salvaged for building materials in subsequent centuries. Given the prevalence of the Catholic Church in the Middle Ages, pagan buildings were at best a curiosity. The Parthenon in Rome is said to have only survived because it was converted into a church.
The Pentelic marble used to construct ancient Athens proved to be too alluring for Byzantine builders. You can see blatant example of stone theft in the piece-meal construction of the 13th century Panagia Gorgoepikoos Church in Athens. While the materials were stolen, the care with which pieces were selected and incorporated suggests some appreciation for classical art.
Don’t go to Mycenae if you want classical Greek architecture. It does not have elegant ionic columns or passionate friezes of Gods battling. It is not sophisticated artistically but still worth the trip. You visit Mycenae because it is a fortress so impressive and old that is was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (And #6 in my series.)
It’s been a while since I worked on my UNESCO World Heritage Site series so let’s get back to it with an easily recognizable site – The Acropolis in Athens.
Entering Athens, you are walled in by buildings and can easily lose your orientation but before long you turn a corner and there on an imposing plateau is the Acropolis. The complex of temples including the Parthenon atop the rocky hill was originally filled with great art, commanding architecture and human activity in Classical Greece. I could write long posts about each of the site’s elements but I’ll try to give an overview here.
While there had been religious buildings and fortification on the rock for centuries already, the greatest construction effort was completed under the rule of Pericles during the height of the Greek empire (460-430 BC). Visitors would have entered the site through a grand gateway known as the Propylaea. Once inside, along the right toward the Parthenon would have been the Brauroneion, a temple dedicated to Artemis protector of pregnant women and childbirth, and the Chalcotheke which is believed to be the Parthenon treasury. Left from the entrance was a complex religious building called the Erechtheion which honored Athena as Protectress of Athens, Poseidon as rival for Athens and several ancient heroes. Today the building is most recognizable for a porch of columns shaped like maidens known as Caryatids. The small Temple of Nike could be found to the right of the Propylaea before entering the site and is largely restored today. A Greek and a Roman amphitheater were carved into the South side of the Acropolis rock.
The Parthenon was dedicated to Athena, the Patron Goddess of Athens, and was believed to house a 40 foot tall ivory and gold statue of her. The outer structure of Doric columns is 228.0 x 101.4 feet in size and has several “optical refinements” such as bulging columns and a bowed base so that the structure’s geometry looks perfect to viewers. The triangular pediment facing the Propylaea depicted Athena winning over the city of Athens with her gift of an olive tree while the opposite pediment described her birth from Zeus’ head. Square panels, or metopes, depicting mythical battles adorned the exterior of the Parthenon. The interior cella was decorated with a continuous carved frieze of riders, priests, and pilgrims completing the annual Panathenaic procession from the cemetery through the market and on to the Acropolis.
The Parthenon has been attacked, repurposed and robbed several times. The video below from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture does a good job chronicling the destruction.
You’ll also note that the video above spends a significant amount of time highlighting the removal of art collectively known as the Elgin marbles. There is strong movement in Greece to return these sculptures from the British Museum to Athens. The recently opened Acropolis Museum in Athens displays copies of all the Parthenon sculptures for context but I assume would prefer to have the originals. If you can’t see them in either museum, there is a great virtual exhibit available online that lets you tour the Parthenon frieze.
While virtual recreations and artistic reconstructions are helpful, I still find it difficult to imagine the Acropolis during the Golden Age of Athens. As fantastic as I picture it, the Acropolis was probably more colorful, more cluttered with statues and more imposing.
When I travel there are certain things I plan – like making hotel arrangements before I depart or reading up on the sights. I am not however someone who plans out every hour. In fact, I like to wander some which is how I happened to get 10 ft from the President of Greece last month. Let me explain…
On our second day in Athens, we wandered through the (rather touristy) shops of the Plaka and happened across Hadrian’s Gate and the Temple of Olympian Zeus. It was around 6pm so the sun was getting low in the sky and giving off that gorgeous orange sun-light. We walked through the ruins as the sun slipped below the Acropolis.
We left the park just before it closed at 8pm. I heard oompa music in the city park across the street and followed it thinking we could see an outdoor concert. There was a brass band standing in a large courtyard. I could see tents set up off to the left. Families were milling about, kids were dancing to the music and I guessed it was some public festival.
The music came to a stop. A group of well-dressed people began lining up in front of the band. One woman even had a huge bouquet of flowers. Next, 6 or so unmistakable special security officers (tall, in suits with ear pieces) began running around. At this point the crowd started getting more dense. Everything looked ready for some arrival but we waited for another 10min or so. I was then able to look up in my guidebook (discreetly of course) the yellow building behind us which was the Zappeion, an all-purpose event center.
Finally, four motorcycles come racing up on the right followed by a black four-door Volkswagen Passat. An older man got out, shook hands, received the flowers (which one of the security guys threw in the trunk of the car – very classy) and made his way to a seat near the podium. The TV cameras got into place and the crowd shifted to circle a small area of 60 or so seats in front of the podium. A visibly nervous man got up to speak; even though his remarks were in Greek, I could still tell his voice was wavering. My attention started to wain but I did catch him saying “UNICEF” and “Yuri Gagarin”. A second older man, that I had not seen yet, got up to talk. I kept whispering to my hubby, what is going on here?!
We wandered into a tent next to the podium which was filled with, of all things, Yuri Gagarin and Russian Space Program memorabilia. At this point I wondered the VIP from the car was perhaps the cosmonaut Gagarin himself. Moving further from the podium and into the fair, there was a informational booth. I grabbed a program and waited to talk to the attendant.
In my best Greek I asked, Καλησπέρα, μιλάτε Αγγλικά? Or, Good evening, do you speak English? (An essential phrase!) She did, and so I asked who had arrived to speak. She said, “Karolos Papoulias, the President of Greece. He is well loved by the people.” My jaw dropped, surely something had not translated correctly. We wandered back to the podium.
I’m use to American politicians who have an army of secret service agents that keep spectators in defined zones and aren’t allowed to just wander around the VIP. Also, isn’t Greece facing severe austerity measures? Where are the protesters if this is the President?
Finally, the President said a few short remarks and returned to his seat. He was joined by the second speaker in the Russian Space tent for a private tour. Here’s where I got the best photo of him.
Since my camera has a delay, most of my pictures look like the one below. I think it is time for a new camera.
The President came out of the tent, through the crowd and right past me. In a bubble of security guards, he walked down the festival street past the book vendor stalls. I followed along behind him. I loved watching people’s reactions as he past by or they looked up and there he was. It was touched to see little old ladies come up to him and just start chatting. The conversations seemed pleasant and I could see admiration and a little awe in their faces. Eventually, the President stopped by the UNICEF booth to buy a book and one other stall to say hello. At the end of the street, his Passat awaited. After shaking the nervous man’s hand one more time, he was off with his 4 motorcycle escort.
Afterward, we still couldn’t believe what we had witnessed. We kept going over and over the details while we ate dinner. It seems so surreal to just happen across the President of a country in such an un-orchestrated environment! At least the Greeks attending the festival seemed to be just as surprised as us but were also respectful and amused by the President’s visit. I guess Karolos Papoulias is “well loved” by his country after all.