Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Greece | Athens | Acropolis | Parthenon

I have been through the Athens airport eight or ten times but had never gone downtown. Deciding that it was time to finally see the birthplace of Occidental civilization I booked a room literally in the shadow of the Acropolis, the huge hill in the middle of the city topped by the Parthenon. Unfortunately I picked a bad day to arrive. The train service from the airport to downtown was on strike and I was forced to take a taxi, which immediately set me back 38 Euros plus 2 for the freeway toll.  Welcome to Greece. This was quite a bit more than my hotel room. At least the taxis were working, When I visited the Greek Island of Crete a year earlier all public transport was on strike and I was forced to hitchhike from the airport to town. Fortunately I was picked up was a charming young woman and her two friends who went out of their way to drop my off right in front of my hotel and also gave me an informative introduction to Crete. 

My hotel, with a balcony view of the Acropolis, is located right next door to the site of the old Capuchin Monastery. Established in 1669, it hosted numerous illustrious guests, including the England poet and world-class cad Lord Byron. Oddly enough, on my First Visit To Venice I stayed a few doors from the hotel where Lord Byron first stayed when he arrived in Venice for the first time. This reminded me that the term paper  I wrote on Lord Byron`s epic poem Don Juan earned me the first “A” I had ever gotten on a college essay. Anyhow, the monastery was destroyed in 1824 during the Greek war for independence from the Ottoman Empire. The site is marked, however, by The Monument of Lysicrates, built in 334 B.C. Apparently Lysicrates was a patron of the arts who paid a poet, flute player, and actors to appear in a contest for the best dramatic production in an early version of “Greeks Got Talent.” His group of performers won, so he was required to built a monument to Dionysus to honor them. The monument was later incorporating into grounds of the Capuchin Monastery. The monastery was destroyed, but the Monument of Lysicrates remains to this day, 2351 years after it was built.
View of the street from the balcony of my hotel (click on photos for enlargements)
View of the Acropolis from the balcony of my hotel
The Monument of Lysicrates, built in 334 B.C.
After throwing my portmanteau in my room I headed straight for the Acropolis. The southern entrance was only a couple of hundred years from my hotel. I was prepared to pay the rather stiff tariff of €20 but was informed that admittance today was free. I did not bother to ask why but I assumed this was because it was Sunday. Entering the grounds I began to steep trudge to the summit, 511 feet about sea level. The southern hillside is heaped with ruins of ancient structures, most of them signposted, but in my haste to see the Parthenon I hurried by most of them. I did stop to gaze at the rebuilt Odeon (theatre) of Herodes Atticus. The theater was built by the Athenian business tycoon Herodes Atticus in 161 A.D. in memory of his wife Aspasia Annia Regila and originally seated about 5000 people. It was heavily damaged by the Neruli, a Germanic people from northern Europe who trashed Athens in 267 A.D., and lay in ruins for centuries. Not until the 1950s was the theater restored. One of the first big acts to appear in the refurbished theatre was the opera singer Maria Callas, main squeeze, along with Jacqueline Kennedy, of shipping tycoon Aristotle Onasis. Others who have performed here include Placido Domingo, Frank Sinatra, Dianna Ross,  Elton John (!) Jethro Tull (!!), and Liza Minelli (!!!).
Odeon of Herodes Atticus. To think, Liza Minelli once strode this stage.
Another view of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus. Definitely an Elton John venue.
Entrance to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
Just above the theatre is the Propylia, the monumental gate opening onto the summit of the Acropolis. The summit area covers about seven acres. Directly ahead looms the Parthenon, built in honor of the of Goddess Athena, for whom Athens is named.  The construction of the Parthenon and other structures on the Acropolis were overseen by the great Athenian general Pericles. The famous sculptor Phidias, according to some sources, was in charge of building the Parthenon itself, and he employed the renowned architects Callicrates, Mnesikles, and Iktinos to come up with the actual plans. The first stone of the Parthenon was laid on 28 July 447 B.C. and it was completed nine years later in 438 B.C. I must admit the structure is much larger than the impression I had gotten from photos. It measure 228 by 101 and  originally had forty-six outer columns, each thirty-four feet high.
 The Parthenon
The Parthenon has had a checkered history. Athens later became part of the East Roman (Byzantine) Empire and under Constantine the Great (272-337 A.D.), founder of Constantinople (Istanbul), the city was Christianized. The Acropolis became a center of Christian worship and the Parthenon was eventually converted into a Byzantine church. In 1204, during the Fourth Crusade,  Franks and Venetians led by the Venetian Doge Enrico Dandalo captured Constantinople and Athens also came under their control. Under Frankish rule the Parthenon was turned into a Catholic cathedral. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks and after Athens became part of the Ottoman Empire the Parthenon was eventually converted into a mosque. Then in 1687 the Venetians tried to oust the Ottomans from Athens. The Parthenon was subjected to artillery fire and heavily damaged when munitions stockpiled within the building exploded. From 1800 to 1803 the notorious Englishman Thomas “Marbles” Bruce, the 7th Earl of Elgin, ransacked the ruins and carted off many of the surviving sculptures to England, where they eventually ended up in the British Museum. To so-called Elgin Marbles remain there today, although there has been concerted efforts by the Greek government, spearheaded by legendary Greek bombshell Melina Mercouri, to get them back. Not until the late twentieth century were serious efforts made to restore the Parthenon to its former glory, and the work is still continuing, as can be seen from the unsightly construction cranes on site.
The Parthenon
The Parthenon
View of Athens from the Acropolis. Mount Lycabettus, which I intend to ascend, can be seen in the middle.
View of Athens from the Acropolis

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